BANGKOK REVENGE is a story about, yes, some type of revenge that takes place in or near Bangkok. It starts out almost like a Thailand-set remix of HARD TO KILL where the good cop attacked by the corrupt cops is not that hard to kill, he dies instead of going into a coma, so it’s his son who has to set things straight years later. The kid, Manit, got shot in the head, but he survived, and like Sonny Storm (or the Skywalker twins) he was hidden away from the bad guys. In this case it’s a kind nurse who sneaks him to a friend who, reluctantly at first, gives him shelter and martial arts training.
Actually, at this point it switches to KICKBOXER. Young Manit trains on roped posts and hanging coconuts, aging to adulthood (and the actor Jon Foo) during a montage. They even do the scene where the teacher takes him to a bar and convinces a bunch of toughs that he talked smack about them so he’ll have to fight them off. The fight is done in an interesting, partially successful handheld POV type approach.
Then one day he happens to be walking by when some jerks are roughing up a French journalist lady named Clara (Caroline Ducey). He beats up the guys and sort of becomes her protector, staying with her and discovering that she’s on a hot story that connects to the ring of corrupt cops who his father was investigating when he was killed. They work together, with him following leads that are too dangerous for her.
The unusual thing about the character is that “his spirit is with us, but he is between two worlds.” Basically, his brain injury makes him unfeeling, like the killer in MALEVOLENCE/BEREAVEMENT. It’s a risky choice because Foo has to play everything cold and distant, the opposite of the type of charisma that you usually want for a young martial arts hero, but it’s interesting. At first glance he looks like a handsome pretty boy, but his eyes are more character actor than leading man. He goes through all this looking calm and dispassionate, which works well when he’s snapping bones and making smart ass comments. He’s kinda funny and kinda scary.
The best sequence starts when he follows some bad cops onto a hospital elevator. It’s a nice closed-quarters fight, slamming the guys against the elevator walls, splattering blood on them. “Look, I like you all right,” he says to a nearly unconscious cop just as a tooth is dropping out of his mouth in a waterfall of saliva. “Don’t make me hurt you.”
He uses the guy for his pass code and then holds him like a shield as a bunch of dudes shoot at him. He steals their guns but just uses them as blunt objects. Once he gets through them, five dudes in Muay Thai gear step out. He points two handguns at them but then gives a weird smile, drops the guns, and puts his fists up. I don’t know, maybe he was supposed to be out of ammo, but I prefer to take it as a sign of respect and honor. Not the classic “I don’t like guns, I prefer to use my hands” as much as “these guys are fighters, they deserve a fight.” Or maybe he even wants the challenge.
The way he manages to take them is really cool. They swarm in on him and it seems like he’s done for, but they’re all so close together that alot of their blows are hitting each other, not in a wacky Three Stooges type way but a fairly plausible one. And he sort of ducks and dodges and lets them wear each other out before getting in some good gut punches.
There’s another bad guy lair that’s more colorful. It’s staffed entirely by women, including one transgender and a couple little girls. They drive in in a convertible wearing crazy outfits ranging from biker gang to pink bunny, there’s disco music, dancing, a bar. At one point one of the little girls is practicing kickboxing while being lectured by her mother: “Stop playing around and do your homework!” When the camera pulls back you realize she wasn’t kicking a bag, it was a prisoner hanging upside down! Manit makes the Blade mistake of treating her as a little girl and getting viciously stun-gunned by her.
Manit and Clara develop a relationship, but there’s an unexpected disturbing scene where she’s asking him about intimacy, and he takes it as asking her for sex. “I can do that!” he says and just jumps on her and starts doing it. She doesn’t stop him, but lays there and cries afterwards. The next day she’s devastated and breaking things off with him, and he doesn’t even understand what he did or that she’s upset. Pretty heavy for this movie, but effective as drama.
A more joyful turn of events is when he gets a fighting buddy. While following clues he comes across this place where white tough guys pay to live out their fantasies of being Thai boxers. They get to beat up an alcoholic ex-champ who’s good at taking punches. Later that guy happens to be coming out of a building as Manit is in a scuffle with the bad guys, so just like Manit helping Clara earlier he joins in the fight. He’s clearly invigorated by the chance to dish it out again. They make a good team.
The fights are pretty good. There’s a cool scene where he fights guys in an elevator, shot much more clearly than the similar scene in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. There’s fighting inside a car, with seat belts. One fight is shot entirely as a shadow on a wall, carefully coordinated so that the outlines tell the whole story. There are times when the camera or edits are a little too fast, but on the other hand there’s plenty of times when it’s pulled back to show him from head to toe. So that’s good.
BANGKOK REVENGE is mostly in English, with some subtitled Thai, but it’s written and directed by a Frenchman named Jean-Marc Mineo. He only has one other movie, GATES OF THE SUN, which is “the first Algerian martial arts movie” and has Mike Tyson in it playing himself. Mineo has worked mostly as an actor, including in BAISE-MOI, which he was also stunt coordinator for. He also played “Seated Guard” in FEMME FATALE, so he’s cool in my book. I like that movie.
As you can hear in his accent, Foo is English (of Chinese and Irish heritage). He’s had some pretty good martial artist bit parts: “Wushu Fighter” in THE PROTECTOR, one of the League of Shadows ninjas in BATMAN BEGINS, “Unisol 2” in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION. But he’s best known for playing two video game characters: Such and Such in the movie TEKKEN and So and So in STREETFIGHTER: LEGACY (originally a webisode deal, I believe). This is his first non video game starring vehicle. Next he’ll be playing the Jackie Chan character in a TV series of RUSH HOUR. I think he has some potential. I’ll keep an eye out.