I was a Teenage Hitman.
As a dead man’s blood seeps across bathroom tiles, the opening titles to BANGKOK DANGEROUS appear in it. From its first scene, this movie is art.
Writers-directors-brothers Danny and Oxide Pang launch BANGKOK DANGEROUS at us with the intensity of an adjective incorrectly following a noun, in the story of a hitman who finds redemption.
But there’s an inventive hook to this old story. Hitman Kong (Pawalit Mongkolpisit) is a Thai teen who lives in squalor with roommate Joe (Pisek Intrakanchit), a young ex-hitman whose gun hand was injured when both he and Kong were in a street shootout. Kong has no other friends and his only education was the snarling underbelly of Thailand: brutal mobs, dirty dance clubs, seedy streets, bashings, blood and bullets. And he is deaf and mute. And you thought your teen years were screwed up.
Kong’s whacking expertise is displayed in the opening scenes, yet during these supposedly ruthless moments, he does not seem heartless or merciless – not because he has a “heart of gold” – but because he has been desensitized to regard whacking as just another job. We discover through flashbacks that Joe and his stripper girlfriend, Aom (Patharawarin Timkul), befriended the young Kong at the shooting range where he worked sweeping bullets, and took him under their wing to become a REAL bullet sweeper.Kong is a sociopath through nurture not nature.
An excellent scene punctuates this point: Kong takes aim from a rooftop at a mark below. A little girl on another rooftop sees Kong and looks down to see what he is aiming at. Instead of alerting a nearby grownup, she also aims with her little hand. She pulls her imaginary trigger as Kong squeezes his real one. When the mark goes down… she jumps up and down in joy.
This kind of scene is verboten in American movies. But the Hong Kong-born Pang Brothers illustrate that unless anyone tells you something is “bad,” how would you know?
The violence is portrayed like real violence: quick, efficient, sudden; no camera playing lovingly over splattered faces. It’s indie, it’s scarring and raw with forceful sound design and evocative music. It’s movie “making” – Kong enters a room with his gun drawn on six guys, who all look up, frozen. Jump cut. Six guys lie strewn around the room, dead, bloodied, without seeing a shot fired. And Kong looks like he has not moved.
When Kong falls for a teen pharmacist, Fon (Premsinee Ratanasopha), his infatuated reaction is believable because of his age and circumstances. He has never attended any special schools for his disabilities, and he is basically a shutaway who only ventures out to kill, so we imagine his seclusion has left him a lonely virgin.
Even though we know Kong’s “redemption” must be coming, it thankfully does not come via the doe eyes of Fon. One idyllic night, as they get close to that moment when anyone who has watched a romantic movie knows they are going to exchange girl germs, they get mugged. And Fon, who has spent the night trying to guess the quiet, shy Kong’s job, gets to see first hand his greatest abilities. And she is repulsed.
As John Cusack showed us in the magnificent GROSSE POINTE BLANK, a hitman can find redemption even whilst in the process of doing that which he is being redeemed from. BANGKOK’s powerful redemption scene comes as surprisingly as the rest of its scarring adventures in misanthropy.
The other most affecting thing about BANGKOK is its original soundtrack, which is credited to Orange Music. We have grown so inured to Western Civilization’s glossy neo-classical John Williamses and Hans Zimmers and Danny Elfmans that it is a welcome, jarring, evocative earful when hearing composers who have not been influenced by the Hollywood gloss merchants.
A rape, a revenge, a setup, a hit gone wrong. An eye for an eye.
When Fon realizes she digs the bad guy, it is too late. The Pangs have packed up, moved to America and scored funding to remake their own movie with a bad mullet…