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01.21.09

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Phaedra

Bangkok Dangerous: Special Edition

Two discs; Lionsgate; $34.98

Reviewed by Richard von Busack


Looking like Gary Shandling in a Johnny Cash wig, Nicolas Cage plays "Joe," the enigmatically one-named hit man who plays by the usual code: don't get involved with outsiders, don't ask questions, know when to get out. It's a hard, honest dollar carrying out the craft of killing people in exotic locations we can't even see clearly. Thailand's Pang brothers, remaking their 1999 thriller, apparently lit this movie with a dying flashlight. The blue-white aura of fluorescent lights at night is pumped up until the characters have little patches on them that look like azure eczema and their flesh is as oily and coppery as a cupful of bad pennies. Cage's mulish, crestfallen face hangs in the visual grease as if he were playing the title character in a shot-in-Manila Dracula movie. Needing a go-between while on assignment in Bangkok, Joe picks up a street thief called Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm). Kong takes to the role of sidekick with an alarming appetite for someone in a 2008 movie (he calls the American "boss"). People get shot along the way, and there's a klong chase (lookout for the floating fruit cart!) that makes the canal-boat action in The Man With the Golden Gun look like David Lean. Between assassinations, Joe meets a shop assistant at the local pharmacy, a deaf and dumb girl played with silent-movie winsomeness by Charlie Yeung. Those remembering the actor that Cage was once upon a time will be cheered by the few good minutes in this morose and derivative shoot-'em-up. He finds a goofy sweetness to match Yeung's own.

The two-disc version of the DVD set comes with a downloadable copy of the movie, a different ending (not that it matters), a behind-the-scenes doc and a study of the history of Hong Kong cinema, which looks like a long slide downward based on the evidence of this film.


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