Imitations of Life


Proudly derivative, Bangkok Dangerous tries to mainline a speedball cocktail of John Woo and Wong Kar-wai but just misses the vein. This addled, rattled hitman saga boasts the imprimatur of producing juggernaut Nonzee Nimibutr, a leading light of the insurgent Thai film renaissance, but the pedigree is pure Hong Kong—writer-director-editors Oxide and Danny Pang are twin HK transplants with a near comical film-stock fetish, a fondness for pooling blood, and a recklessly kinetic sense of time. The brothers stretch, split, and rearrange fleeting moments until they ricochet like wayward bullets: A backroom shootout’s prelude, execution, and aftermath are shuffled like a deck of cards; a brutal rape on a nightclub floor is spliced by strobes and blackouts to the point of stark abstraction.

The hyperactive Pangs essentialize Bangkok as a pan-and-smear of fluorescent street scenes, red-light discos, and grimy rented rooms, all blaring with hard techno. Jittery and nocturnal, the city bears a striking resemblance to the fish-eyed urban corridors of Wong’s Fallen Angels, what with a deaf-mute antihero, Kong (Pawalit Mongkolpisit), whose character dovetails Angels‘ impassive gun-for-hire with its speechless holy fool, and a chain-smoking queen minx, Aom (Patharawarin Timkul), who wears Michelle Reis’s shag haircut and delivers a Wongian voice-over (a device that the movie soon abandons). Closing out the film’s central triangle is Joe (Pisek Intrakanchit), boyfriend to Aom and—as we see in a training-sequence flashback straight outta Rocky—mentor to the sad-eyed, faintly feral Kong. Once a scarred, lecherous gangster begins leering after Aom, and Kong initiates a tentative romance with an angelic drugstore clerk (they pass much of their first date scrawling notes to each other all over Kong’s skinny arms), business swiftly becomes personal.

The movie brims with nostalgic montages of scenes that have happened only moments before, and doesn’t stint on mawkish kid stuff: A formative humiliation in Kong’s childhood is rendered as a time-battered home movie, ending on a freeze-frame and a moaning harmonica. Like Woo, the Pangs are trigger-happy sentimentalists (and crackerjack action editors); unlike Hard Boiled or The Killer, though, Bangkok Dangerous offers neither leavening slapstick humor nor transcendentally ridiculous pretenses toward grand opera as its body count and vengeance quotient steadily mount. The movie is a technical marvel from its lysergic cinematography (by Decha Srimantra) to its pulsing-vessel sound design, but it has no identity apart from its influences, however dazzlingly they’re deployed.

In the second scene of Sidewalks of New York, the intact twin towers loom behind writer-director-star Edward Burns’s shoulder while his character blathers about losing his virginity. A bit later, doltish doorman Benjamin (David Krumholtz) sputters about intimacy while wearing a Rockaway Township T-shirt (it’s in Jersey, but still). The movie’s conscience, shrill real estate agent Annie (Heather Graham), stands on a Manhattan street and muses ruefully, “We live in such a cushy society—no real threats, no real problems.” And then there’s the WTC again, shimmering in the distance.

The homosocial fantasy realm of the Amerindie romantic comedy—populated by smarmy white professionals stamping their feet and flailing their arms until destiny’s waiter arrives with a neat platter of uncomplicated lifelong love—has always survived by a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the world outside its window. In Sidewalks, an ensemble round-robin including a pixieish college student (Brittany Murphy), a wary divorcée (Rosario Dawson), and an insufferable dentist cur (Stanley Tucci), the genre achieves inadvertent pathos via its own obscene irrelevance. Along with the disaster-porn blockbuster, this brand of rom-com has perhaps reached its sell-by date—you can read it in the skyline.