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It’s 1990, and the child, Manit, has just witnessed the killing of his parents by corrupt cops. Shot at point-blank range, Manit survives, but with a bullet in his skull that prevents him from experiencing emotion. With his fighting chops and emotional dysfunction, Manit is efficient, albeit with his extremities, not firearms. He brawls anywhere: a gym, a bar, a subway car, an elevator, a car interior.
For more about Bangkok Revenge and the Bangkok Revenge Blu-ray release, see Bangkok Revenge Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 23, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jon Foo, Caroline Ducey, Michaël Cohen
Director: Jean-Marc Minéo
» See full cast & crew
Bangkok Revenge Blu-ray Review
Where's Robin when you really need him?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 23, 2013
When Tim Burton rebooted Batman in 1989, the character returned to its moody roots which had been forsaken in the camptastic 1960s television series starring Adam West. One of the most interesting aspects of this revisionism (which might in fact be more properly termed re-original-ism) was Batman's tamped down, emotionless demeanor once his cape and cowl were donned. An intense whispered voice became his hallmark, one which rarely if ever revealed any change in affect. This aspect continued through Burton's follow-ups and was only magnified once Christopher Nolan began his reboot effort with Batman Begins in 2005. Once again the Caped Crusader was posited as an almost robotic fighter for justice, a dark and perhaps tormented soul who wore little if anything on his spandex sleeve. There are a number of parallels between these contemporary depictions of Batman and the 2011 effort Bangkok Revenge. (It should be noted that this film has evidently been released under a number of different titles, including Rebirth, not to be confused with a couple of other fairly high profile properties bearing that name, including a documentary about survivors of 9/11. Adding to the general confusion is the fact that there is evidently another 2011 effort called Elephant White, starring Kevin Bacon and Djimon Hounsou, that was apparently released in some markets under the name Bangkok Revenge.) Like Bruce Wayne in the iconic DC Comics franchise, Bangkok Revenge's hero Manit (played as an adult by Jon Foo) witnesses the horrible murder of his parents, though in this case he is also wounded, with a potentially debilitating bullet to the brain that has acted as a sort of lobotomy, separating the boy from his emotional core. When Manit (as a young boy) is spirited away after the attack by a well meaning nurse, he's schooled in martial arts and then becomes obsessed with avenging his parents' death. Sound familiar?
It's hard to think what the creative team behind Bangkok Revenge wanted to accomplish with this film. Was it meant to catapult up and coming martial arts fighter Jon Foo into wider mainstream appeal? Was the odd decision to have a cast obviously largely unfamiliar with English recite their lines in that language anyway a patent marketing ploy to make the film more accessible to international audiences? And are those parallels to Batman simply mere coincidences? The fact that some audience members will be asking themselves these (and other) questions is indicative of the dramatic weaknesses of the film, for aside from one or two decently staged fight scenes, there's not much else here to engage anyone but the most undemanding viewer.
Part of the problem with Bangkok Revenge is ironically due to the very emotionless aspect that Manit exhibits throughout the film. It's a bit inexplicable, for certainly Batman had the same lack of affect in his many Burton and Nolan outings, and yet those films were (at least generally speaking) spectacularly exciting. But due to often inept writing, a complete lack of character development and some underwhelming fight choreography, my hunch is that many viewers will feel a certain simpatico with Manit, namely that they couldn't care less what happens next, reacting to it all with a shrug and an overall "meh".
The film relies on too many time worn clichés to ever develop anything more than a completely rote feeling. Nowhere is this more evident than in the supposed love interest, a crusading journalist (is there any other kind in movies?) named Clara (Caroline Ducey) who is investigating gangs and intersects with Manit's quest for justice, but who of course instantly becomes a damsel in distress (repeatedly, it should be stated). Wouldn't it be refreshing to have a martial arts film where the winsome female kicks as much butt as the hero, maybe even extricating him from the clutches of the bad guy once in a while? Alas, no such innovations are on tap throughout Bangkok Revenge, a film which plods along on a predetermined course with nary a surprise in store.
There are two kind of "what were they thinking?" elements scattered throughout the film, including a bizarre sex scene that seems particularly ill conceived (no pun intended) considering Manit's lack of emotion. The other element is a rather bizarre utilization of transvestites, perhaps something more "normal" in the wild and wooly ways of Thai nightlife than it is here, but which again just sticks out like a sore (albeit nattily dressed) thumb. On the plus side, while director Jean-Marc Mineo tends to "cheat" in a lot of the fight scenes, cutting quickly at the moment of impact so that no complete moves can be seen, some of the action sequences are relatively involving, including the spectacular beat down that occurs in the climax, which sees poor Manit having to contend with a giant meathook (it's not easy to watch).
Still, undemanding martial arts lovers may in fact get a kick (sorry) out of the film, at least in dribs and drabs. Though Foo (perhaps by intention) has absolutely no acting to do here, considering his character's "disability", from a purely athletic standpoint he's obviously more than capable and perhaps with the right vehicle could in fact explode into international superstardom. He's charismatic and has a fairly commanding physical presence, two necessary elements for this genre of film. Whether or not he can actually act is an unanswered question, at least with regard to Bangkok Revenge, but then again, martial arts stars have yet to win any Oscars for their work.
Bangkok Revenge Blu-ray, Video Quality
Bangkok Revenge is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. If I'm reading the (French) credits correctly, this was a Red shot feature, and it looks rather good most of the time, at least when Mineo lights things properly. For example, the whole final act of the film plays out in very dimly lit environments, with the (perhaps intentional) result being that you can't really clearly make out any of the fighting. These darker scenes never devolve to outright crush, but there's a serious lack of shadow detail that is kind of annoying, especially in the action sequences. That qualm aside, the bulk of this high definition presentation is very sharp, with excellent fine detail in close-ups, accurate looking color (although this has been color graded in several sequences), and a generally clear and precise picture. There is one completely peculiar anomaly in the final credits that I have to assume is intentional. The credits kind of shimmer and warp incessantly. It's either the worst case of instability I've seen recently or a really odd (and ineffective, since it makes things so hard to read) choice for a font.
Bangkok Revenge Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Bangkok Revenge features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is listed as being in the "original Thai", but which in fact is almost entirely in (mangled) English. Foo himself seems to have a fairly competent command of speaking English, but several of the other actors are so unintelligible it's best to have the optional subtitles (which tellingly come in two forms—one only for the Thai spoken segments, and the other for the entire film) handy to turn on at a moment's notice. Diction and pronunciation elements aside, the soundtrack is clear and extremely well prioritized, with excellent fidelity, dynamic range and some nicely immersive moments in the fight scenes (a foley artist must have had a field day creating all the bone crunching sounds that abound in this movie). Quite unexpectedly, the score by Christophe Gerber is rather good for this kind of film and helps to establish a kind of creepy vibe in several key sequences.
Bangkok Revenge Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Bangkok Revenge Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
My hunch is we're going to be seeing a lot more of Jon Foo, for he has a kind of affable quality mixed with some nice moves and an appealing athleticism. But he needs a much better vehicle than the one provided to him by Bangkok Revenge to reach a wider audience. This film has moments of adrenaline, but they're few and far between, and the overall story is too predictable by half to really offer much in the way of interest. Martial arts fans wanting an okay time killer may still want to check this out, but even they will probably be fast forwarding through large swaths of this movie to get the butt kicking sequences.
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