by Rick Grant
This remake of the Pang Brothers’ Oxide and Danny a 1999 Thai film, which is also helmed by the Pang Brothers using the same script. And it works. It is the story of a prolific hitman, Joe (Nicolas Cage) who gets an incredible four jobs in Bangkok. He sees this as an opportunity to make his nest-egg and leave the business.
Joe’s cold unemotional personality allows him to kill strangers without suffering pangs of conscience. This detachment keeps him alive. He’s a ghost. No one has seen him or knows who he is. Still, he’s lonely and wants to find a soulmate. This search for a girlfriend starts a downward spiral of emotions which reveals a caring side. Hitmen don’t feel.
When Joe befriends his errand boy, Kong (Shahkrit Yammam) it’s the first chink in his armor. He considers Kong his student. Normally, he would have killed the boy as part of his creed of leaving no loose ends. But emotions are creeping into Joe’s consciousness which makes him vulnerable to being exposed.
For the time being, Joe puts his new awareness out of his head to take care of business. He is killing the competition to an organized criminal enterprise led by a ruthless kingpin. Joe gets two kills in without any problem. However, his third kill goes terribly wrong and he has to chase down the target to off him. His student Kong helps him pull off this job. At this point, Joe realizes he’s losing his edge.
Previously he met a beautiful deaf girl Aom (Panward Hemmanee) at a pharmacy and was smitten. He asked her out to dinner. Their storybook date ends when two thugs try to mug Joe. Of course, he kills both of them and Aom is freaked out. Well, he blew that date. Things are starting to unravel for Joe. But he has one last job. So he must keep it together for that final hit.
Shot in dark sepia tones by the Pangs, the Bangkok setting looks ominous and full of corruption. The film is true to the original with Nicolas Cage playing the protagonist. It’s not a typical Hollywood movie, in that there are nuances and dark moods not found in big budget films. Cage is surprisingly restrained, playing Joe with low key affectations and not with his usual overblown acting style. The movie has that seedy foreign film noir look and feel, which is welcome to devotees of the Pang brother’s other work.
Just as things are getting complicated for Joe, he receives his last hit– a political assassination of the popular leader of Thailand. The money will send him on his way to the islands, set for life. However, his new found conscience and compassion for Kong have messed up Joe’s head. This is the turning point for him.
Given Joe’s track record and his previous ability to shut out everything but his next job, it would seem that reaching his endgame would be enough motivation to complete his assignment. However, Joe’s flood gates are open, inundating his consciousness with emotions that have corrupted his detachment from his job of killing strangers for money.
How the scenario plays out is definitely anti-Hollywood and shocking. Nonetheless, it’s true to the Pangs gritty methods of realism in a dark city of corruption that is Bangkok. Cage’s characterization of Joe is one of his better portrayals apart from his flippant big budget roles. The surprise ending shows that the Pangs could care less about what American audiences expect from their films. Bravo!
by Rick Grant