Na, Chi, Ga, Pong and Gorya are five children abducted by the local Bangkok mafia as part of a slavery ring. Bullied, beaten and, in some cases, maimed, they are forced to perform as street musicians, begging for cash from passers-by, until rescued one day by a benevolent old man with magical powers. A few years later and the kids have grown up, raised by the man they now call Master and similarly bestowed with the same magical powers. Despite their abilities and possibility due to their disabilities (Chi is blind, Pong mute, Ga deaf), they all seem to be seeking a sense of purpose in life and although they are in contact with at least one other in the group and occasionally dish out some rough justice to the local hoodlums, none of them has pursued anything with real conviction.
Things change when they come together to visit Master and Na (whose developmental issues have kept him by Master’s side) at their temple hideout and find that they have been attacked and Na has received an almost fatal dart to the forehead. Retreating to their second choice temple hideout, they now come together to save Na, confront the bad guys who abducted them (and now run an organ harvesting operation from an abandoned hospital) and defeat the shadowy alliance threatening their Master’s life.
Now, if you got through that without a raised eyebrow, you’re either a dedicated fan of films from the Far East or you’re from the Far East. That’s not meant as a slight on either group, but more of an assumption that such a wild mix of story elements will seem like familiar territory to those who are well versed in Thai drama. With a strange mix of child cruelty, a search for purpose, the dilemma of love and honour, mystical powers and super-cool haircuts, the jarring tone can only be put down to differences in film culture and audience expectations, yet that doesn’t mean that the fantasy elements sit well with the serious nature of the majority of the film. The first 15 minutes are almost unbearable as we see the horrific conditions and treatment dished out to the child abductees, yet by the end we’ve had exotically masked ninjas dispatched by coins thrown at them and dialogue such as…
She: “The Suriyan Alliance leader was here. He’s going to eat my heart and Na’s”
He: “They’re dangerous!”
On the plus side, although I’d imagine it’s a fairly low budget affair, the film makes the most out of the rich diversity of locations Bangkok offers. Aside from the fight sequences, it’s shot in a very simple style and this sits well with the sombre mood the film takes for most of its journey. There are some genuinely funny moments in there too and they do help form a bridge between the drama and fantasy. The performances from the leads are decent, if not a little earnest and they do their best with some occasionally ropey lines.
MVM Entertainment present Bangkok Assassins in a good-looking 2.35:1 print. The image is clean and blemish-free and despite favouring a naturalistic and at times muted colour palette, is perfectly suited to the muted tone the film largely takes. Audio is available in two flavours; a Dolby 5.1 mix of the original Thai soundtrack and a Dolby 5.1 mix of the English language dub. Needless to say, the Thai dialogue is the way to go. Although not the most dramatic sound mix you’ll hear this year, it’s clear and serves the film well. Dialogue appears to have been recorded live and has a very natural place within the ambient sounds of any particular scene. This aspect is, of course, completely missing in the English dub, which sounds cold and distant from the characters supposedly speaking the words. The original Thai dialogue is supported by removable English subtitles, which, if I was going to be picky, are a bit big and blocky, but that may be down to them being player-generated on a big TV. They also appear to be a text version of the English language dub, so how they translate from the original Thai, I couldn’t say.
The only extras available on disc are three trailers for Wushsu, The Kick, and The Sword Identity, all of which would appear to be perfect fare for fans of Bangkok Assassins.
The criticism I’ve thrown at this film may seem a little harsh, but it’s not meant to be. I genuinely felt that this was a film that I was simply not wired-up to enjoy. With a knowledge of Eastern cinema that consists of a handful of Hark, Woo and Zhang movies, I’m not really in a position to judge it against its contemporaries and can only go on my own feelings taken in isolation. To me, the kung-fu action felt unnecessary, almost as if it was there to give the film a hook into a wider audience, whereas a more straightforward dramatic telling might have been a more involving and rewarding experience. I can admire the ambition of the filmmakers, if not the execution, but unfortunately for this reviewer, the fantasy elements diluted any emotional hold the film had over me.
As I said, it’s probably a cultural thing…