Bangkok Love Story features a drifting hitman, the morally ambiguous Cloud who kills to support his HIV-positive mother and brother.
Cloud is hired to kidnap a police informant (the virtuous Stone) but balks on killing him – to the wrath of his employers. Forced into hiding, the two men find themselves attracted to each other.
Queering the shoot-’em-up buddy film sounds like a promising premise, and Thai director Poj Arnon sets things up well enough, equally evoking American ’70s cinema and Hong Kong gangster fare in the first half-hour.
As Stone tenderly uses scissors to dig a bullet out of Cloud’s bloody flesh, I was excited to see how the film would make the transition from crime drama to love story —and hoping, perhaps, for a bit of a genre query.
Unfortunately, as Cloud and Stone struggle with their emotions, the film is overwhelmed by clichés and formulae for feelings that will leave most North American viewers rolling their eyes or chuckling.
Never mind that employing objects in the set to obscure male genitals is a trick the Austin Powers franchise has for all times rendered unusable —save in comedy. We can grant the filmmakers a bit of innocence here.
But what about Cloud, lonely and confused, choosing to express his emotions by blowing his harmonica?
Or the scenes where the pining Stone wanders the street as a sappy love song plays —fireworks exploding over him —to signal his intense emotion?
When Stone tracks down his conflicted lover to force him to acknowledge his feelings, the two standing with a window between them pressing their hands to opposite sides of the glass, I was ready to check out.
But the melodrama only intensifies in the last act, which transports us far, far away from the gritty character-driven drama the film initially promises.
Asian popular cinema tends to have a pretty high tolerance for cheese; you’d better, too, if you want to hold down your popcorn during Bangkok Love Story.