Contemplate the number for a moment…$8 million. One Sixtieth of what The Dark Knight has made so far this Summer. One tenth of the average budget for a mainstream movie. The salary some undeserving TV actor is earning to make the unnecessary (and unwarranted) jump to the big screen. Yet that is exactly how much money the first film of the Fall Season, the clumsy crime thriller Bangkok Dangerous took in over the three day weekend ending 7 September. Averaging less than $3 million a day, this certified flop argues for the end of America’s fascination with all things Asian - at least from a cinematic standpoint. With J-Horror remakes regularly tanking and Eastern filmmakers having a hard time connecting with blasé Western audiences, this latest blow may not be a true death knell, but it sure feels like it.
Now no one was expecting a runaway blockbuster. After all, the talent involved suggested a minor cult hit at best. And when you think about it, the revamped storyline robbed the original movie of its substance and meaning. For those who didn’t see it (and there’s a whole helluva lotta you out there), Nicolas Cage stars as Joe, a hitman whose having a sudden crisis of conscience. Sick of his solitary life as a killer for hire, he decides to take on a protégé, and befriend a deaf pharmacy clerk while on his last job in the title city. Naturally, nothing works out for the murderer for money, each of this marks becoming more and more difficult to ‘execute’. In the end, Joe decides to take out the mobster who contracted him, even if it means losing everything he has - his student, his lover, and his life.
Nicolas Cage, Charlie Yeung, Chakrit Yamnam
(Lionsgate; US theatrical: 22 Aug 2008 (General release); 2008)
With its anemic action scenes - poorly staged and awkwardly edited - and its lack of deliberate depth, it would be easy to dismiss this box office bomb as the typical Tinsel Town tainting of a once viable motion picture product. But what does it say about creators Danny and Oxide Pang that they are the one’s responsible for this regressive redux? Sure, there is plenty of blame to go around, but unlike the ripples that occur after a movie turns into a monetary monster, a failure has its own unusual way of cherry picking out the parties responsible. So as we did with Iron Man and The Dark Knight before, SE&L will venture a guess as to how Bangkok Dangerous’ business model embarrassment will play out among everyone involved. As you will see, there are some who don’t have to worry. Others, obviously, are on the last few minutes of their already borrowed time.
Long considered the company of last resort for any lame, unwatchable horror hack job floating around the direct to DVD universe, new company president Joe Drake has announced that he’s moving the production paradigm away from money draining mediocre macabre and back into more PG-13 oriented mainstream product. With an infusion of cash, and a claim to some of the more intriguing titles this Fall, it appears that Drake is a man of his word. Of course, when the repercussions arrive from Bangkok‘s failure, the fallout should be minimal at best. After all, Drake can merely blame the man he replaced - ex-studio guide Peter Block. It was his bumbling baby after all.
The 1999 Original
As their first foray into feature filmmaking, the brothers truly delivered a naïve tour de force, a movie that makes no bones about its unabashed sentimentality (in the original, our amiable antihero was the deaf one) or love of violence. Some have suggested that it’s just as slow and overly mannered as the Tinsel Town makeover, but the language difference alone helps compensate for such artistic underachieving. When the dust final settles from this fiasco, the original version will end up heralded as some kind of cult classic. It neither deserves nor demands such superlatives. Instead, it’s just a decent debut, nothing more.
Poised to take one part of the bi-furcated blame for this unqualified disaster, our Southern California scribe has very little legitimacy to stand on. After all, his other Summer film, the equally uneventful Swing Vote, also came up short when coffer counts were mounted. Yet if there is one main lesson to learn from Bangkok Dangerous’ shortcomings, it’s that screenplays rarely take the full brunt of any responsibility. That’s because of all the pieces in a multimillion dollar production, the scribe is the least considered - and that stinks come post-success praise. But it definitely helps once pink slips start arriving.
The Pang Brothers
Okay - here is the true ground zero for this cinematic stink bomb. The Pangs may have been heavily touted talents for their endless Eye movies (as well as Bangkok‘s inspiration), but Hollywood functions under a “what have you done for me lately…as in yesterday” mentality, and the boys’ miserable track record speaks for itself. The Jessica Alba version of the blind babe ghost story came up short, and the Pangs own attempt at a haunting mainstream horror movie - the equally ineffectual The Messengers - suggested a certain flash in the pan status. Of course, there are a couple of Pang productions unseen by Western eyes (2007’s Forest of Death, 2008’s In Love with the Dead and Missing) that may moderate such a cold classification. But one thing’s for sure - don’t be looking for Danny or Oxide to take on any future high profile projects. They’ve more than used up their commercial cache in La-La land.
There is no need to worry about Cage being unable to find work. Reports have him linked to no less than nine new or currently in development projects - and that’s not counting a proposed Ghost Rider sequel sometime in the near future. And more than a few of his upcoming efforts - Alex Proyas’ Knowing, Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and Roman Polanski’s The Ghost - sound absolutely incredible. Apparently even with junk like Next, The Wicker Man, and the National Treasure films as part of your recent resume, a single Oscar and a quirky onscreen persona can still get you some sensational scripts. It will be interesting to see how long his losing streak can last before the studios start pulling the (hair) plugs.
The Hitman Movie
While the ending does leave an opening for a sequel, it’s hard to see how anyone could greenlight a return to this already overdone material. Part of Bangkok Dangerous’ problem - at least in this American revisit - is how redundant and formulaic it feels. John Woo at least offered a little motion picture panache when he served up his take on the typical gangster gunplay stereotypes. The Pangs simply desaturate the colors and consider it a stroke of aesthetic genius. Frankly, journeyman jokes like Brett Ratner and Tim Story have created more compelling action scenes, and with the exception of this Summer’s sensational Wanted, the professional killer genre is more or less terminal. Again, Bangkok Dangerous won’t necessarily kill it, but this body blow will be hard to overcome.