Bangkok Assassins (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: MVM Entertainment) Running time: 104 minutes approx.
Four young boys are kidnapped and maimed by their brutal captors – one is blinded one deafened, one left retarded and the last has his tongue cut out – then sent onto the streets to beg for money. A former Shaolin monk comes to their rescue and takes them in, training them in his special brand of martial arts. Years later with the boys now all grown up, the death of their master brings them together to find the killers and seek revenge.
When a film’s promotional blurb comes with the claim “from the producers of” or the like, it is either a hefty recommendation to check it out or a warning to stay away from it. Bangkok Assassins aka Bangkok Kung-Fu falls into the latter category despite the boast of sharing the choreography team involved with the groundbreaking Ong Bak. Of course this will attract the attention of many martial arts/Tony Jaa fans and with the likes of JeeJa Yanin of Chocolate and Raging Phoenix fame able to follow up Jaa’s success, they could be forgiven for thinking they well find a similar gem in this title. Unfortunately they won’t.
There are many problems that besiege this film the least being its direction. It’s being sold as a martial arts action film but this is only one part of it; it is also a teen romance, a sort of comedy (I think) and possibly a musical. It may even be a vocal indictment against the abuse of children in Thailand (a sobering statistic at the start of the film informs us that 1,128 children went missing between 2004-07 with only 573 found). Only writer-director Yuthlert Sippapak can tell us but I am curious as to whether he knows himself.
Referring back to the last point of child abuse, the opening ten minutes are deeply disturbing and frank in their depiction of the brutality that really could have been left off camera. If you don’t want to see a young boy being stabbed in the eyes or another about to have his tongue ripped out then look away or hit the fast forward button. These callous inflictions play into the personalities of the boys for when they get older. Chi (Artikitt Prinkprom), the blind one, is touchy and aloof but blessed with an apparent sixth sense; Ga (Vitsawa Thaiyanon) is the deaf and emotional one; Na (Mario Maurer) was the one left mentally slow and his affliction has been laid on pretty think to drive the message home, to the point his master refuses to teach him how to fight; and Pong (Arak Amornsupasiri) who was left mute is the first to leave the coop – although for a mute he doesn’t half have a lot of lines!
Aside from eventually avenging their master – whose death occurs almost an hour into the film – the boys need something else to preoccupy them so what better to fulfil this role than girls? The main attraction is the master’s granddaughter Gorya (Jarinya Sirimongkolsakul) who has no fighting prowess but has learned her grandfather’s levitation skill. Groya’s major ambition in life is to be a pop star so her time is spent failing auditions for a TV talent show to provide the comic relief – as if the acting hasn’t already had you in fits of hysterics. Oh wait, what about the romance? Well, Gorya fancies Pong but he is away so she had to deflect the longing looks of Ga. Meanwhile mute Pong is getting it on with the bratty Bebe who is shocked to find out that Pong has no tongue which surely she would have discovered when they kissed?
This final development teases a messy ending but the whole thing is so underdeveloped it feels forced into the plot, serving little purpose in the long run. Or maybe it was by design to disguise the fact that the main villain and his motives is woefully underdeveloped that one doesn’t even realise that they are watching the main villain in action! It doesn’t help that at least three people are suggested as being the main antagonist, including a friend of the master named Moor who looks exactly like and old Shaw Brother kung fu master complete with the long white beard, moustache and thick eyebrows! The one who does eventually assume the role is an English speaking chap who sounds like he is he learned the lines phonetically despite them being in his native tongue!
And another drawback which is supposed to be the main attraction for the audience are the action scenes. Few and far between and hugely lacking, they’re usually over in a flash or shot from a great distance to avoid revealing the stunt doubles. A similar diversion tactic is drenching the screen in cheap looking CGI to disguise the complete of ability of the cast. Out of 104 minutes probably 10 is accounted for by the martial arts punch ups. Was it worth bringing in the choreographers of Ong Bak for this?
With an apparent low budget, largely inexperienced cast and a confused story one would have thought that a ten year veteran like Yuthlert Sippapak would at least have enough savvy to make something decent out it? Having not seen his prior work I can’t say what credentials he brings to the table but little evidence is given to suggest it is anything beyond obscure indie status. Perhaps his hope was with the main cast, a group of young Thai pin-ups with One Direction style haircuts and equally bland personalities to bring the girls in, including popular heartthrob Mario Maurer who has the least screen time as simpleton Na, while Jarinya Sirimongkolsakul, also missing any charisma, is there for the chaps.
Whatever breakthrough Ong Bak achieved for Thai martial arts cinema, Bangkok Assassins threatens to undo. It’s not completely unwatchable but it doesn’t offer much for international audiences, its appeal hampered by its genre hopping. Mildly diverting at best.
Thai 5.1 Surround Sound
English 5.1 Surround Sound
Rating – **
Man In Black