Bangkok Revenge (2011)
Director: Jean-Marc Minéo
Writers: Jean-Marc Minéo
Starring: Jon Foo, Caroline Ducey, and Michaël Cohen

The Plot: Bangkok Revenge opens with a disturbing sequence involving the attempted murder of a police officer’s entire family. The mother and father are both instantly killed, but their young child manages to survive even after having a bullet put in his head. The murderers continue to track the boy, named Manit (Jon Foo), because he happened to see the face of his father’s killer. However, Manit is quickly saved from their retribution by a nurse who brings the young boy to a remote Thai village. Although he did manage to retain all of his motor functions after the gunshot, due to damage within his brain the boy must learn to live without emotion for the rest of his life. After he is settled in within his new home, the boy is trained in martial arts by his new master who encourages him to harden his body and mind. After several years, Manit is a young man who may not be able to verbalize his anger or fear, but he will most assuredly express it whenever he tracks down those responsible for the death of his parents.

The Review
Ong Bak. Honestly, you can’t review any East Asian action film without bringing up Tony Jaa and the movement that he and Prachya Pinkaew lit the fuse upon. They inspired filmmakers throughout this region to go balls out, and they also inspired the rest of the world to try and emulate their sense of hard-hitting action. Although many may try and duplicate their success, those who can actually do the genre justice are few and far between. Honestly, even Thai cinema has been struggling within recent years. Tony Jaa went insane on the set of the Ong Bak sequels, and the only other viable draw has been JeeJa Yanin (Chocolate), but her output has been both mixed and sporadic. So, with no huge names regularly making movies within the region, Gareth Evans was able to step up to the plate and bring the Western world The Raid: Redemption. Although Evans is far from just attempting to cash in on the hard work of others, his inspirations are very obvious when watching his films. The same could be said about the movie we are discussing today: Bangkok Revenge. Similar in spirit to Evans’ work, this too is another East Asian action movie directed by a Western filmmaker, however, I do not believe Mike Shinoda will be scoring this soundtrack and I wouldn’t say that a sequel to Bangkok Revenge is a guaranteed thing. While not a bad film, Bangkok Revenge probably won’t find a huge audience within the West, but it serves its purpose in providing decent entertainment with a very peculiar background.

The movie, from its very beginning, has the craftsmanship of a 90s-era low budget action vehicle. Although it is obviously a better made movie, it has the feel of an early Jean Claude Van Damme production or even something made by Steven Seagal. A young boy sees his family murdered and is raised in a rural area with martial arts training, the concept is certainly a traditional martial arts set-up, but the vibe of the movie isn’t nearly as celebratory of its narrative as something one might see from the Shaw Bros. studio. No, this is down and dirty action cinema. The only purpose that this story serves is to move us from one principle action sequence to the next. From the speed of the plot to some of the cheap gimmicks, such as a comedic bit where Manit’s master has hundreds of lessons that he calls out during fights (“lesson 956!”), the movie does indeed reek of silly martial arts bullshido. In the first fifteen minutes there is even a classical bar fight that seems far removed from the concept of martial arts purely as a form of discipline and self defense. If this wasn’t a film targeted towards North American movie fans, then the filmmakers certainly were inspired by some of the conventions of this genre. Because although they may share martial art disciplines, the cinematic work of Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, and Jean Claude Van Damme are drastically different from what a person will find within the history of Asian martial arts cinema.

Jon Foo stars as our lead, Manit, and acquits himself fairly well in the role. This character, thanks to the damage caused by a bullet to the head, expresses little or no emotional expression. Whether or not Foo has a tremendous range as an actor, I do not know, but I do realize that this role would be a blessing for many martial artists who are trying to transition into the acting game. Foo is very serviceable as the lead. He plays it cool with his role and he’s more than proficient when it comes to the action. His accent, however, is very peculiar in context of the film. Seemingly a mix of English and American, maybe with a little Australian in the mix too, Foo hardly seems to fit the role of a young man raised to speak the English language by a gentleman who mumbles his dialogue with a very thick Thai speech pattern. Yet, viewed in the context of a low budget piece of action trash, it only makes sense that everyone speaks perfect English. The secondary cast, including the French hottie who Foo pairs up with, the Thai guy who somehow wanders into the plot speaking very poor English, and the random folks Foo runs into on the street – they all combine to point out a very “straight-to-video”-esque logic.

At first glance, I realize that this title might appear to be another film in the Ong Bak tradition, but Bangkok Revenge is far from that. Missing is the cultural relevance of those true Thai actioners, and gone is the ode to traditional Hong Kong action that can be seen in many other East Asian action films coming out these days. Instead, this is a pure exploitation film trying its best to dress up in very different clothing. By the time we see our main protagonist being chased through the streets of Bangkok by a group of hookers dressed like schoolgirls, with at least one transvestite in the group, along with a group of kung fu students, a series of random thugs, a swat team, as well as one wandering Frenchman… it should become wholly apparent that this isn’t a movie that is too overtly concerned with realism. Still, just because an action movie becomes zany does not mean that it is necessarily all that great. Unfortunately, although Bangkok Revenge might have the right attitude, it does not have the right abilities. The lack of professional actors, the number of performers reading their lines phonetically, and the campy writing that doesn’t try to include the audience in on the joke – it all add up to a movie that had promise, but couldn’t deliver.

The Conclusion
Bangkok Revenge is a movie that you probably wouldn’t shut off if it happened to come on The Movie Channel during the wee hours of the night. Sure, there might be better things to watch, but at least this one offers something different. While I hate to give it a poor rating, there simply isn’t a great deal here to warrant a high recommendation. Overall, it gets a two out of five.