Joe is stuck in a dead-end job.
Really, where does one's career go after a longtime gig as a professional killer? Accounting? Public relations? Writing movie reviews?
Being an assassin is young men's work, and Joe's already made a killing at it (so to speak). One more job, and he'll retire rich, he tells himself: Kill four targets in Bangkok and then hang up the long-range scope for good.
But maybe poor ol' Joe mentally checked out a little early, because he's making mistakes. For one thing, he starts taking an interest in people—a definite no-no for an assassin. He turns Kong—his anxious, in-town messenger—into his apprentice. He develops a crush on an attractive deaf pharmacist—a perfect match for him, since Joe's not much of a talker.
Now, instead of taking people out, Joe's taking them to dinner.
More alarming still, from an assassin's point of view, Joe seems to be developing some sort of conscience. So his career's in chaos. And those four Bangkok targets aren't going to off themselves.
One day, while Joe and Kong are kicking back in front of the TV, a popular Thai politician pops up on the screen and Kong says, "He's a very good man. Same like you."
Which just goes to show what a poor judge of character Kong is. Joe, after all, is not a good man. But he does show signs of not being a hopelessly irredeemable man. In fact, he risks life, limb and even his 401(k) plan to save Kong and his girlfriend from the film's designated evildoers. And, at one critical juncture, Joe also refrains from killing one of his targets.
Joe and his Bangkok love interest visit a Buddhist shrine, full of statues and stupas (little mini-shrines) and a rather curious revenue-generating device: A sign tells visitors that they get "50 wishes for 50 coins" as long as the coins are dropped in metal buckets surrounding a reclining Buddha. Joe's date methodically pauses over each bucket with each coin, solemnly dropping them in, clink after clink after clink. Joe looks on, and we get a sense that he's pondering deep, weighty matters. Perhaps he's considering the irony that he—a paid killer—would be in a Buddhist shrine, when the historical Buddha (and, by extension, the religion he founded) was (is) such a strong proponent of nonviolence.
Joe may be a killer. But when it comes to women, he's quite the gentleman. His girlfriend and he don't even touch hands until at least their second date, when the girl brings Joe home to meet her mother. The apex of physicality in their relationship? When the girl gives Joe a peck on the cheek. The emotional apex? When she confesses to him, in a note, that, "I am happy together with you."
Not everyone shows such restraint, however. Bangkok is, after all, notoriously sex-drenched, and we see a handful of sex tourists (and scantily clad prostitutes) wandering Bangkok's shadier red-light districts. Kong asks these tourists whether they're interested in meeting any girls or boys for the evening. Kong also visits one particularly plush party pad several times—a place where the primary entertainment seems to be watching 20 or so women dance while wearing all manner of fetish-favoring costumes.
One night the girls are dressed in a leather bikinis of sorts. The next they're dressed as nurses. Kong starts dating one of these women—a girl who, heretofore, was connected with a Bangkok bad guy. (It's another clue that Kong isn't the best judge of character.)
Kong's girlfriend is kidnapped and, it's suggested, raped. The bad guys threaten to cut off her breasts. And we see one of them peer at her sleeping sister—a child—and tell her that if she doesn't call Kong, "We do to your sister like we did to you." Likewise, one of Joe's targets, we're told, is a notorious underworld figure who "buys" girls from the countryside. We see two of these girls (both of whom appear to be of legal age) nude and having sex with the underworld figure. (We briefly see breasts and bottoms.) Later, the target is shown playing with a woman's exposed breasts.
Joe kills dozens of people, most of them when he's off the clock. The majority are dispatched relatively bloodlessly, during blazing shootouts and such. But several victims meet their Maker with more drama and gore. Joe drowns a man in a pool. (We watch him kicking and hear his heart beating while Joe calmly holds his breath for, oh, 10 minutes.) He blows another up with the victim's own grenade. (We see the top half of the corpse lying on the floor.) And he chugs several bullets into yet another after slicing off the guy's arm with a boat propeller. (We see the hand still twitching, clutching a gun.)
When Joe shoots a prisoner with a long-distance rifle, blood pools under the mark's head. When he kills two would-be muggers while on a date, blood splashes onto the poor pharmacist's white outfit. And when he kills a former helpmate—a Kong-like gopher from a previous mission—by tasering him and then injecting a swollen artery with a presumably lethal dose of heroin, he makes it look like the man accidentally killed himself.
His "assistants," he solemnly intones, "must be disposable." And, indeed, he almost kills Kong, too, holding a knife to his throat.
Kong gets roughed up a couple of times—not by Joe. Joe threatens his employer's wife at a dinner party. And he blows up his own house. He gets shot up and scratched (badly) and chased a lot. At one point we see a whirlwind collage of many of the countless people he's killed during his career. A kid gets smacked on the head.
[Spoiler Warning] Perhaps the most jarring bit of violence takes place at the end of the film when Joe is sitting in a car with a Bangkok baddie. Joe has come to understand, it seems, that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and he's been on the wrong side of the coin for a long, long time. But he doesn't want to let this bad guy walk away. So Joe hugs the guy with one arm (so his head is close to his own), puts a gun up to his own temple and pulls the trigger, killing them both.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Joe has a thing for heroin, but the only time we see him use it is when he injects his former, already dead assistant. That said, he asks his Bangkok employer to send him some—a package he throws into a river when things are going well. When things take a turn for the worse, he apparently asks for more.
Bangkok Dangerous is a sometimes immoral movie with a sometimes moral message about an always immoral profession. By that I mean it teaches this ethically convoluted lesson: Killing good people is bad. Killing bad people is good. Killing all kinds of people for a living is a poor career choice.
None of the bad guys get away with their evil deeds—not even Joe. But as they're being punished, their story glories in the violence they've created. We're supposed to marvel at the way Joe so coolly handles guns and knives and motorcycles. Kong sees the attraction—so much so that he asks Joe to teach him everything he knows.
We're supposed to forgive Joe for all his past misdeeds and hope against hope that he'll make it out alive, reunite with his latest pharmacist squeeze and live happily ever after.
It's great to be forgiving. But it's best not to lose sight of the fact that Joe, as the "good guy," has likely killed more people than all the film's "bad guys" combined. And the blurring of such inconvenient facts makes movies like Bangkok really, um, dangerous.