Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: Bangkok Adrenaline - Part One

Every now and again, somebody in Hollywood who has a job that isn't "screenwriter," "producer," or "director" gets the idea, "hey, I work in movies, I could probably make a movie!  How hard could it really be?"  It's because of ideas like this (and the fact that people aren't quick to stop those who have them) that we have movies like Swept Away, a movie so bad that Roger Ebert's review starts with the following sentence:

""Swept Away" is a deserted island movie during which I desperately wished the characters had chosen one movie to take along if they were stranded on a deserted island, and were showing it to us instead of this one."

Fortunately, not everybody who has this idea is Guy Pierce.  Many actors have eventually made the successful leap into film production.  Action heroes, dramatic stars, even people who voiced cartoon characters have all moved on to create instead of simply act in a film.  Many of them have been quite successful and quite good.

Then there's Bangkok Adrenaline, a movie I can really only describe as "some really neat scenes of people being kicked in the face mixed in with people who wouldn't be cast as actors in any high school production of anything.  Anywhere."

I've had this movie sitting on the shelf for several years now, waiting for just the right time to watch it.

It turns out there is no right time.

That's right, we're doing a scene by scene synopsis, in the spirit of Dead or AliveBarb Wire, and Iron Sky.  Because if I had to suffer through watching it, then you have to suffer through reading it.

Let's get started.

Before the movie even begins, though, we need to look at the case.

There are so many things wrong with this case.

Spoiler alerts: the two lead characters never do jump kicks at each other.  Only one vehicle explodes and it's nowhere near as great as the case hopes it would be.  The female lead never wears an outfit like that or walks around with a gun.

If it wasn't for the fact that these three actors actually do show up in the film, the whole thing would be nothing but one big lie.

That should tell you what we're up against right off the bat.

Now into the film itself.

The movie opens with some pretty terrible music.  Some electric guitar riffs played over and over again while a group of guys (I wouldn't be surprised if these were just locals or the actors themselves) scream "BANGKOOOOK" over and over again.

Which is a shame, because we get some pretty nice establishing shots of the city from a helicopter's eye view.  It's obviously industrious and huge, with skyscrapers getting up close and personal while still dominating the horizon.  Many aren't fully completed yet, based on the construction still happening, which tells you a) this city isn't fully "developed" yet and b) there's probably a darker underbelly to it.  There's some interesting architecture, and as the scene shifts from a daytime cityscape to nighttime cityscape, the lights of the skyscrapers start to mix with the myriad lights and decorations of the street, businesses flashing signs and trying to lure in customers.

And it's here where we meet our four heroes.  No context for their trip to Bangkok is given.  Are they students on vacation?  Slackers on a trip being paid for by one's father?  Guys headed out for a wild bachelor party that could go horribly awry?

Of course, if you're in Bangkok, there's nothing better to do than go shoot pool and drink beer, right?  I mean, a completely foreign culture that could introduce you to new ideas, new food, new beliefs, new ways of looking at the world...why wouldn't you want to spend the whole time doing what you could do at any back alley bar in a mid-size town in the United States?

Keep in mind I'm a pretty forgiving person.  I also like to believe the best of people.  So you can get an idea of my opinion of this movie when I say it really looks like the crew had no budget and simply filmed the four main actors at a bar with random women (what's cheaper, paying random women in bars to be themselves, paying Thai actresses to pretend to be random women at bars, or paying Thai prostitutes to pretend to be actors pretending to be random women in bars?) and was desperate enough for an establishing shot that it went "just go with it."

When dawn breaks, the four apparently have no money, and one (no names are given yet) decides the best idea is some back room gambling.  It's at this point I thought the movie was broken, because it goes to a montage of snapshots of the night (people playing cards, people cheering, people tossing cards down in disgust, people drinking) while the music plays.  I thought maybe the disc was skipping or I was suffering some lag from having too many programs open, but no, it's just how they decided to show "time passing."

The last shot of the scene shows the four standing at the table cheering their good fortune, and then does a full slow cinematic fade to black.

So I guess they got their money and had fun in Bangkok.  Short movie, let's move on to Marvel Disk War-


The local ... I don't know, is he a crime boss?  Gambling kingpin?  Local business owner?  He breaks down the situation the boys are in with the help of a Japanese businessman who owes him three thousand baht (the currency in Bangkok).  According to current currency calculators, this equates $92 American.

That's really not much money at all, considering things.  So how does he handle this Japanese man's failure to pay?  He has the guy's fingers broken, at one thousand baht per finger.

The boys, on the other hand, owe one million baht (conversion: $30,665,44).  Considerably larger than the Japanese man's debt, and in a cute moment the gang lordpin whatever he is breaks it down simply.  "One million baht.  One thousand fingers.  You think you have one thousand fingers?  I don't think so."

He figures the best solution is to simply cut off the heads of the young men in front of him (that should teach them a lesson!), but the boys promise to get the money for him, stating that "their parents are rich" and they can get the money "in a week, tops."

The gamblerpin kingboss (I really don't know a lot about crime) decides that in order to make sure the boys don't run he's going to keep their passports and then hunt them down if they don't pay.

Because God knows there's no British embassy in Bangkok or anything that these guys could run to and say "oh man, thank you so much for being here, this guy stole our passports and money and we have no means of getting home."

I'm assuming they're all British here, because they certainly all have UK accents.

One moment that I think was meant to be comedy was the second guy from the left raising his hand with a question at the end, pointing out that the Japanese guy owed three thousand baht but only had two of his fingers broken so far.  It's a flat joke, one that simply makes the character come across as a total ass to someone in the same situation he's in (although nowhere near as severe), and I think this reaction from the Japanese guy says it all.

That is a look that screams "may your film career be a stagnant dead end culminating in something called Dragonwolf!"

It's a very specific (and effective) expression.

Free on the streets, the guys immediately sit themselves on a sidewalk so they can begin a) blaming each other, and b) drink.  We learn that one character's name is "John" (the jerk who got a guy's finger broken for no reason), and the four men decide they need to get jobs to pay the bills.

We actually get in to full introductions of each character now.  One of the leads (the guy on the far right in both pictures) is Mike, and he gets a job teaching martial arts to children because hey, who wouldn't trust a foreigner with no ID with children?

Next up is (I'm not kidding) Conan, who tries earning money through non-professional wrestling, and I have to admit the guy is certainly big enough for it.  John, with apparently no real sense of self-awareness or what people might actually find "attractive" completely tanks as a male stripper, only attracting one lonely woman who doesn't meet his high standards of beauty.  Alert to potential strippers, don't visibly gag at the sight of your customers while they're watching you.  Or kick them in the face.

John fails both of these tests.

Our last one is Dan, the group's "pretty boy" who doesn't really seem to have a way to earn money but is more than happy to use his martial arts skills to beat up a group of young punks attacking a young woman.  Because we need at least one "hero" here.  Dan, though, has some serious moves.  The guy clearly has some high-caliber skills as a stuntman and martial artist, and there are some pretty impressive moves to get us started in the film.


I couldn't help but notice that while Dan beat up the primary people attacking him, the young "street punk" and young woman he accosted were struggling with all the enthusiasm of two actors being told to "just wiggle like you're struggling."

It'd be easier with an animated gif, but I don't know how to make those yet, so let's just say that in a movie already filled with bad acting (Hi, John!) this is easily the worst acting so far.

Things don't go smoothly though, with Conan losing most of his winnings to things like "entrance fees, taxes, insurance, and highways."

"Why one for the highway?"

"Who pays for it, you know?"

That's another joke that falls flat.  Hopefully this movie ditches the comedy and goes straight to the action soon.

Mike, in the meantime, has managed to successfully teach a little girl that you "attack when your opponent isn't expecting it and isn't defending himself."

John...we don't need to see John again.

Dan, receiving his chaste kiss on the cheek for being a young woman's "hero" reveals himself to be a pickpocket who stole a... I'm not sure what.  It's a necklace/chain/thing.  So I guess he's not quite a "good guy" after all.

While chewing noodles and admitting that they're pretty terrible at earning money, Mike spots a newspaper being held by Conan and grabs it, pointing to an article talking about a "millionaire's daughter."  He states he's "seen her before" which is news to me, since I've seen everybody he's seen since the start of the movie, and she hasn't been in a shot with Mike yet.

Mike points out that the girl clearly named "millionaire's daughter" in the news article's father "is a millionaire" and then simply trails off without going into any more detail.

But that's okay, because it's clear he has an idea, and that idea is... STALKING!

Yeah, for some reason it's a good idea to stand around in a public market and take pictures of a rich guy's daughter in full view of her bodyguards.  Mike quickly ducks out of sight once spotted.

Dan, meanwhile, swipes the wallet from a backpacker, leading to a lengthy chase scene.  Now, while it's a good chase scene full of clever leaps, it feels...gratuitous and unnecessary, for three reasons:

1)  There's a scene where he runs by John, and John's sole purpose being there is to molest a mannequin (I'm not kidding or exaggerating).

2)  Dan goes to a lot more effort to get away than he needs to.  A very impressive stunt is when he grabs hold of the bars of a fence and swings his legs up and over.  It'd be just as easy (no, easier) to simply jump the fence since it's only six feet high.

3)  There was no money in the wallet, so Dan's now no richer and is only a slightly bigger jerk in our eyes.

Back at the rather large (if somewhat worn down) place that the guys are staying (squatting?) in, Mike breaks down his plan.  It's rather elegant in its stupidity simplicity:

1) Go to the house.

2) Put gas in the air conditioning.

3) Grab the girl when everybody's asleep.

4) Hold her for ransom.

Now, I'm not a professional thief, kidnapper, extortionist, arsonist, or any other type of criminal aside from "occasional jaywalker" and even I know that plan would be doomed to failure if anybody gave it half a second's thought.

John, of course, is in immediately, and even knows where to get "gas masks and the gas."

I'm really starting to hate John.

Dan, however, points out that what they're doing is "criminal," and John says that's "rich, coming from a pickpocket."  John apparently doesn't understand things like "severity" and "degrees" of crime, and equates everything from littering to terrorism as the same thing.  The only thing that gets him to put his hand in is how desperate they are for money.  Conan, of course, is so dumb that when they look to him, he puts down a hand of cards and says "four kings."


Conan goes to pick up his car to use for the kidnapping from "Louie," and-

That's it, I'm done.  An entire mechanic's shop of-  I'm just not even going to talk about it, because acknowledging it only gives it power.  I'm finished.  There's nothing in this movie that can get me to keep going.

...fine, but I'm skipping that scene except to say "Conan can't get his car, so he winds up driving a tiny little car because haw haw haw big people in a small car is comedy gold."

At the mansion, there are the following security measures:

A wall the guys have to climb over.

One room with all eight bodyguards playing cards in.

One spotlight that moves in a regular pattern like the worst video game you ever played.

Their target meanwhile dances on her bed doing what I can only describe as "someone who doesn't know how to dance trying to look like they know how to dance."  It's still better than the "struggle" from before.

While she blasts the "BANGKOOOOK" song from the beginning of the movie, the guys start gassing the house and with what I can only assume is movie logic manage to knock out everybody inside with one small tank of gas.

While Mike and Dan go upstairs to search for the girl and leave the ransom note, John (I hate you, John) decides to entertain himself with the two cooks in the kitchen.  He dumps ketchup all over the chest of one, and then pours ketchup onto a chef's knife being held by the other one.  You shouldn't use any plan thought up by someone who's apparently five years old mentally.

Conan grabs as much food as he can carry, which I actually found rather entertaining, considering a big deal has been made so far about how cheap the food these guys can afford is.  Plus, a big guy carrying around tiny cooked game hens is a pretty funny sight.

The guys get the girl to the car and drive off, and in another clearly pointless scene, their car dies partway back and they have to abandon it in an alley.

Back at the mansion, everybody starts to wake up, and the lack of Irene (that's her name) is noticed pretty quickly, though it boggles my mind that one of the guards attempts to comfort her father (before it's revealed she's missing) by saying "Everything is fine.  We all passed out.  We checked the house, no valuables are missing.  But there's a huge mess in the kitchen."

And then a guy shows up going "Irene's gone."

Priorities, anybody?  Priorities?

The ransom post-it note message is found, explaining the kidnappers want ten million baht (because go big or go home, right?) with no cops and no media, or the girl dies.  So wait, are these guys actually supposed to be the villains and we're watching a villain origin story?

The father, however, isn't a total idiot, and immediately has the police contacted because "they know how to handle this."  The police show up, ask the standard questions, check surveillance videos, and tell the father to let them handle everything.  His response: "I just want my daughter back."

Back at the house that's apparently supposed to be a slum but has actual columns in the central sitting areas, Irene is doing a really good job trash talking her kidnappers ("Have you guys ever been to Thai prison before?") until Mike threatens to start breaking her bones if she doesn't cooperate.

John heads out to get some food and fresh air, and discovers Irene's face has been plastered all over the one newspaper in town (the "International Herald Tribune").  The guys start to panic, but Mike calms them down as he goes to start "emailing" with the father regarding negotiations.

Spoiler alert: Mike is terrible at negotiating, and the price goes from ten million to three, with Mike so desperate to keep it from going lower he throws in a "OR SHE DIES!" comment at the end.

Meanwhile, the guys have figured out how to let Irene not be blindfolded while maintaining their "secret identities."

Have I mentioned yet that this movie is dumb?

Dumb enough that when Mike comes out to explain why they're not all going to be millionaires once the money is split up, it takes him a minute to realize why they're wearing masks and winds up looking directly at Irene.  Irene mocks them for being "screwed" since she knows Mike's face, and Conan and John wind up revealing their faces through their own stupidity and Mike deciding it's not fair that John doesn't get to be in the same boat as him and Conan.

Dan, however, never shows his face.  This is important later.

Back at the mansion, Irene's father sends her two bodyguards with a sack to a "warehouse" to "capture their lily-white asses" (the movie's quote, not mine, I don't know how the father knows these guys are white).  They take along a squad of "goons" to confront Mike and Dan (who, showing a rare moment of brilliance, wear ski masks to hide their faces).  What happens next is...

...well, it's a pretty great fight scene, actually.

Mike might not be as skilled a martial artist as Dan is, but he holds his own.  Dan, however, is obviously meant to be the star of the film, and if I wanted to sound like a pretentious art critic I'd say "the camera loves him."  He is extremely photogenic and clearly knows how to move so that the camera can capture each move.  The cinematography here holds up to a lot of the better martial arts action movies I've seen, and I think it's because the guy doing the stunts is genuine (a major influence in his life, if not the biggest influence, was Jackie Chan, and it shows).  It isn't just a lot of quick cut-aways like so many of today's action movies rely upon for "fast action."  The camera is able to pan and move around the action, but doesn't cut away, allowing Dan (and to a lesser extent Mike) show off their moves.

Dan and Mike are able to beat up the goon squad, but the two bodyguards are able to toss the two guys around with little trouble, causing them to flee the scene (but one of the guards is able to slap a tracking device onto one of them during the fight).

Back at the house, we get a really stupid scene that involves John panicking because Conan let the girl go the bathroom, just to find that she's still tied to a chair in the bathroom and has peed herself.

I hate every scene with John in it.  I'm just going to set that up now, because it's going to come up a lot more as the movie goes on.

The two bodyguards (Lek and Hans) get chewed out by Irene's father, but you start to get the sense Irene's disappearance is really bothering Lek.

At the house, John lets Conan go to get some food, and, while trying to be snide to Irene, winds up being cold-cocked by him and knocked onto the floor.

Okay, I don't hate every scene John is in.

Rather than escape right away, Irene takes advantage of John lying on the floor to break some dishes on his body and then kick him in the kidneys a few times.  This allows Conan to come back and recapture her, though,  When Dan gets back (sans Mike), we get our official "meet cute" of the movie as Irene and he meet eyes for the first time and, I'm not making this up, cheerful, upbeat romantic music starts playing.

I'll point out she's in a change of clothes since she peed herself and is tied to a chair, but truly, it is a really romantic moment.

Mike, meanwhile, is at what appears to be a Thai S&M leather club to enlist the help of "Bulldog," or as he refers to himself, "Auntie Bulldog."

No, that's not Tim Curry.

Between cuts of Thai dancers shaking their assets for the camera in skintight leather, gyrating their bodies in a mixture of sweat, yellow lights, and smoke, letting the bass of the music run through their systems and-

I'm sorry, I lost my train of thought for a moment.  Anyway, Bulldog fills Mike in on the fact that Irene's father is a "one man mafia" and apparently there's more going on than meets the eye, but every time Bulldog starts to explain it all, the camera cuts away to show more gyrating, grinding, and shaking of very lean, very, um, "sultry" Thai women an-

Okay, we're jumping ahead here.  Nothing gets revealed anyway because of bad cuts and scriptwriting.

We get a brief scene with the bodyguards where Lek explains that he sees Irene as a little sister that he's extremely protective of.  Hans, meanwhile, really does his best try to act, god bless him, but he's awful.  His acting in this scene alone is worse than an hour of fake "struggling."  There's no emotion, there's no inflection, it's just said deadpan with no word getting any more emphasis or timing than any other word.  It's easily some of the worst acting I've ever had to listen to in my life.

Lek isn't bad, though.  He just doesn't have much to work with.

The next day, Lek and Hans are attempting to follow the tracking device by driving around the city until they're within the device's limited range.  Lek shares a bit more of his concern for Irene, but Hans is all business and doesn't seem to really care either way whether Irene lives or dies.

Back at the mansion, a really weird conversation comes out of nowhere as Mike contacts Irene's father and attempts to make a new deal.  Irene's father will pay ten million dollars, and the guys will actually kill Irene for him.  That way he gets to look like a good guy who tried to get his daughter back, the guys get paid, and they hide all the evidence by dumping Irene's body.

Clearly Mike is insane and Irene's father is going to threaten him to an inch of his life and-

Nah, I'm just kidding, we need these guys to be good guys somehow, so Irene's father agrees to the deal with Irene listening on speaker phone.  Irene realizes her father wants her dead (for...reasons?), the guys get to try to figure out how they're going to fix this mess they've gotten themselves into, and Lek and Hans are right around the corner.

Lek and Hans call Irene's father back, and he notifies them that he's sending out the goon squad again to get the job done now that they know where Irene is.  They aren't aware, however, of the fact that he wants her dead.

So we have a huge fight brewing with Irene's father's goons on one side, the "heroes" and Irene on the other, and Lek and Hans somewhere in the middle of the whole thing.  It's a rather interesting twist in the plot...I just wish it was being done in an overall better movie.

Since this is also the middle of the film, it's also a good place to stop for now.  Next time, we'll get into a lot more fight sequences, some comedy that doesn't completely fall flat, some interesting character developments, and some more gratuitous use of the female form.

Plus, John remains a total jerk to everybody and Hans can't act his way out of an invisible paper bag.

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