CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Back in 2003, director Yuthlert Sippapak made Buppha Rahtree, an interesting little Thai horror film which played at FrightFest in the Prince Charles days. This new film (dated 2011 but only now getting a UK release) is a Thai action movie which unfortunately veers dizzingly in tone, from serious social issue to superhero fantasy, from sadistic cruelty to unrequited love, from high school silliness to Heroic Bloodshed revenge. In all honesty I don't know enough about Thai action movies (beyond a handful of Tony Jaa films) to tell whether this wild channel-hopping variety in a single movie is a widespread technique or a rarity, but certainly it's a bit of a distraction.
Bangkok Assassins begins quite soberly and seriously with statistics of child disappearances in Thailand, credits playing over some children being captured, and then shocking scenes of violence as little kids are blinded, deafened and brain damaged. But they're rescued by a kindly kung fu master who brings the disabled boys up along with his own daughter. Fifteen years later, having been taught superhero powers, one of them has become a top assassin while the others still live at the temple, seeking their revenge on the gangsters who brutalised them....
The fact that Bangkok Assassins barely makes a lick of sense almost seems irrelevant, but it's annoying nonetheless. For example, the kindly kung fu master's daughter has the superpower of levitation: a power she uses precisely once, to audition (unsuccessfully) for a talent show, but never uses this magical gift at any point when it might come in handy, such as climbing a flight of 899 stairs or evading capture by the bad guys. Then: the villain may have the perfectly rational intention of eating the heart of the man with brain damage (because he has had a special medicine known as the Dragon's Tear) as well as the heart of the young girl (because she's a virgin) so he can become immortal - but why does he have a monkey army of tumbling acrobats (all of whom prove to be typically useless in a fight and can be killed easily by throwing coins at them) and a henchman with a Yorkshire accent?
Still, if you can get past the horrible early sequences of children getting mutilated, there is some enjoyment to be had, though the violence as a whole isn't enough to get beyond a 15 certificate, being more fantasy-based with combatants throwing balls of CGI energy at each other. Meanwhile, we might feel awkward at the sight of a man acting, to quote Tropic Thunder, "full retard", but the mix of sentimentality and implausible fight sequences is really not far removed (except geographically) from Hong Kong action classics such as A Better Tomorrow II, God Of Gamblers or Bullet In The Head. Certainly it continues for too long after the action climax with several emotional character arcs to complete. By the time we get to the tearful farewells and family reunions, we've come a long way from abducted kiddies being blinded with toothpicks.