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One Night in Bangkok (2020) Review

One Night in Bangkok was directed and written by Wych Kaosayananda (Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, The Driver), and stars Mark Dacascos (Batman: Soul of the Dragon, Run & Gun), Vanida Golten, Michael S. New (AI Love You, Paradise Z), Prinya Intachai (Zero Tolerance, Province 77), and Kane Kosugi (Black Eagle, Terra Formars). It follows a man who’s requisitioned a driver as they travel around Bangkok to complete a series of murders.

The Plot: Kaosayananda takes the (vastly underappreciated) movie Collateral and seeks to expand on its scope and change its perspective. It may not seem advisable to tinker too much with greatness, but the script here shows early promise.

Shortly after landing in Bangkok, Kai (Dacascos) is gifted with a ride and a suppressed pistol from a man on a bike. It doesn’t take long for him to hail rideshare driver Fha (Golten) and start his journey. The script begins with some intrigue as Kai’s only luggage from his trip is a toothbrush and it seems as though this trip has been planned to a tee. During the agreed-on trip, Kai offers Fha a lot of money to stick with him the whole night, across 5 stops. His first stop lets the audience in on his goal of taking out people at each destination, hiding the true reasoning from Fha for the introduction.

Stalling One Night in Bangkok out is the lack of developments on top of the basic idea, coupled with an eventual split in the progression of the plot whereupon an investigation headlined by police officers Dom (New) and Korn (Intachai) is spurred on after the discovery of the first couple hits having gone down under their noses. With some proper rewrites, this could’ve been integrated into the journey that Kai and Fha are on, but Kaosayananda doesn’t make the connection. Speaking of connections, an unnamed fixer (Kosugi) is one of the targets, but he doesn’t spice up the proceedings.

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A flip of an established script doesn’t make the opposite end equally interesting; the writer/director tries to throw a twist in to alleviate this, but it’s too telegraphed, making for a subpar reworking of something leagues better.

The Characters: Anyone who’s taken a taxi, uber, or other equivalents can verify that small talk is all you’re in for, if not near-complete silence during the ride. Neither of One Night in Bangkok’s main characters here is particularly chatty, leaving dead air between dead targets.

Kai has some surface-level detailing; hailing from Hawaii but destined for Thailand, he does well with communication and respect for those around him. This does eventually include some life lessons for Fha, but we don’t learn enough about the man himself for these to land the way the movie thinks they should.

Validating his gun skill is his background as a medic in the military and providing a reason for his presence in a country all the way across the globe are his family ties. Ones that the script tries to avoid in great detail as to maintain room for the twist, but they’re too clear to go unnoticed. He’s polite and disarming, making for a decent shift in attitude that’s made solid by Dacascos’s terrifically understated performance.

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Fha, unsurprisingly, doesn’t have many meaningful exchanges with her passenger beyond the basics of her nights being made up of driving and days being taken up by caring for her brother who’s been dealing with the effects of MS for the last decade. She professes that her life is limited by these two things, essentially relegating the character to someone who only carries on with her assignment for the money. Of course, she does eventually begin to bond with Kai, but around that same point is her discovery of the client’s real goal, whereupon she still decides to stick with him. Those reasons for continuing to chauffeur him around are flimsy, even when taking her situation into account.

Neither of the two leads is written with great material, with limited characterization and a direct link to the premise. However, the performances, gradual connections, and silent chemistry between Dacascos and Golten make up for that deficit.

The Thrills: Dacascos’s leading man position in One Night in Bangkok may give off the impression that this is another one of his action vehicles, but Kaosayananda opts to let this one boil instead of grilling the opposition. The approach can work, but the handling of most of the elements here are average at best.

Most will come to see Kai’s targets being taken out of the equation by the man, but those moments come at a slow pace. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a slow doling out of violence, the direction of those earlier scenes is far less charged than they should be. Kai’s first couple stops aren’t handled well, with the scorned man seemingly detached from his actions, despite the realities hidden until the halfway point.

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When his motives are properly discussed, the ensuing kills are given more time to breathe and much more emotional weight. It’s understandable why the helmer decided to withhold some of the connective tissue, but it leaves the first half dry, though thankfully not the second half.

Some time is devoted to watching the police follow the trail of bodies, but this facet of the movie is a complete failure. Since the only two officers attached to the case are almost entirely incompetent, with one calling on his wife who’s taking care of their newborn child having to do research on the details, it’s frustrating to watch since Kai isn’t concerned with concealment or speed.

Both parties do cross paths, making the last act a fury of evasion and retribution. Kaosayananda picks up the pace, making Kai’s mission, despite it apparently already being on a time limit, light-footed. With the cops on their tail and some of the targets still alive, One Night in Bangkok sparks to life, making good on its promise while delivering its drama. Integration of these parts isn’t flawless, but once One Night in Bangkok puts its foot on the gas, it makes up for a low wattage first half.

The Technics: Being back in his native Thailand, the director/writer is able to get more bang(kok) for his buck. His direction isn’t inspired, but it’s acceptable and the locale offers a different backdrop for him to lean on.

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Bringing revenge to Bangkok gives the movie a different feeling, with the neon-drenched, high-traffic city effectively congesting the story’s thriller aspirations for the better. Paired with some decent cinematography, One Night in Bangkok is enjoyable to look at, even if it can be a problem to listen to. Audio issues, from dull dialogue to fuzzy recordings to weak sound design and foley work, all take their toll on the movie. It’s a far better visual experience than an aural one.

Pacing is weak here too, with the ability to use the city as a crutch, the director loses the tempo after introducing Kai and his mission, only to find it again much later on. Room for character depth will never be knocked, but the script doesn’t make use of its quiet time, slowing the movie to a crawl.

One Night in Bangkok is basically Collateral played at half speed and without the polish, though it’s not terribly made. It’s a mediocre reworking of the core ideas, but some phenomenal performances from Dacascos and Golten make it a passable way to spend one night at home.

One Night in Bangkok is available on DVD and Digital from Lionsgate. And if you want more films like it, FilmTagger may have what you’re looking for,

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