Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: The Hangover Part II

  • Directed by Todd Phillips
  • Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Crystal the monkey
  • Released in Thai cinemas on May 28, 2011; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

Did money talk when it came to making The Hangover Part II in Thailand?

According to the Thailand Film Office, approximately half a billion baht (around $16.7 million) was spent on the Hollywood comedy during its 40 days of shooting in Thailand, making it one of the biggest productions to visit the Kingdom in recent years.

So if a Thai filmmaker wanted to shoot scenes that involved a drug-dealing, cigarette-smoking monkey simulating fellatio on a monk, would they be allowed?

Perhaps as long as the monk in question is not technically a Thai Buddhist monk, but one dressed in robes usually associated with Burmese monks.

Other scenes involve a transgender go-go dancer exposing her man parts, and that's been controversial because depictions of male genitalia have traditionally been taboo in Hollywood films.

Of course, the naughty bits – male, female or otherwise – are blurred out by Thai censors. Never mind that the movie is rated 18+, and that the ratings system enacted in 2009 was supposed to put an end to that antiquated way of censorship. However, even under the Film and Video Law of 2007, genitalia is generally frowned upon, even in a movie released under the restricted 20- rating.

Watch just about any Thai comedy released in local cinemas today, and there's usually scatological hijinks involving monks and/or ladyboys. The Hangover Part II is essentially the same schtick, only with a much-bigger budget and Hollywood actors.

The big difference is those Thai comedies are rarely shown overseas, and never in worldwide releases like The Hangover Part II. Certainly, more people are going to remember The Hangover Part II than folks who've watched an ad from the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

So Thailand's image as a tourist destination is perhaps taking a big hit, and many viewers have to be wondering what the Thai authorities were thinking when they allowed this movie to be filmed here, reveling as it does in all the stereotypes of the city's dark side of drugs, drinking, transvestite hookers and activities that involve Ping-Pong balls.

It's not all bad though. There are also scenes of a five-star luxury resort on the Andaman Sea – just two hours across crystal blue waters from Bangkok by speedboat, according to the movie.

And Bangkok's exclusive State Tower, home to a high-end hotel and ultra-expensive eateries that offer a panoramic view of the city, also figures prominently.

The cast and crew all stayed at five-star hotels during their stay in Thailand. Nonetheless, star Ed Helms said he suffered from severe food poisoning. "Let's just say my body exploded," he says. And Justin Bartha says he wishes he could unsee the "dirty shit ... that got burned into my eyes".

For many viewers, the gut reaction is that they'll want to steer clear of Bangkok and Thailand on their next vacation. They won't take into account that the Hangover boys are behaving like idiot low-lifes and associating with scum. The things that happen to them are the consequences. Keep your wits about you, use common sense and don't take part in illegal activities, and Bangkok and the rest of Thailand are generally safe.

As for the movie itself, it is a clear cash-in to build a franchise out of the 2009 hit that became the most lucrative R-rated comedy ever. The sequel has already bettered that, ensuring there will be a Hangover Part III and beyond.

As with the first Hangover, the Wolf Pack boys Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) are running around the morning after, trying to piece together the events of the night before, which in their inebriated state, they've forgotten.

They and their buddy Doug have traveled to Thailand for Stu’s wedding, and Stu, hoping to prevent a repeat of the out-of-control bachelor party they had for their buddy Doug's nuptials, aims to just go to bed after the dignified pre-wedding dinner at a luxury resort on Krabi.

However, at the urging of his bride-to-be (Real World and Sucker Punch star Jamie Chung), he relents for one celebratory beer on the beach with his buddies and his fiance's younger brother Teddy (Mason Lee, from Ang Lee's The Hire short).

Somehow they wake up the next morning in a seedy Bangkok hotel room, having been magically transported overnight from the Andaman Sea to the "city of squalor". Teddy is missing. All that remains is his finger. Bearded Alan has his head shaved. And Stu has a facial tattoo that's just like Mike Tyson's.

Their old enemy, the international criminal Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) is there. Only now he's like an old friend.

Also, they have a monkey. This is Crystal, a Capuchin monkey (native to South America) who's been in Night at the Museum and many other movies. Smoking CGI-enhanced cigarettes and dealing drugs, the cheeky primate steals the show from the three main actors, and the scenes in which she doesn't appear feel slack.

And an elderly wheelchair-bound monk turns up, wearing Teddy's Stanford sweatshirt.

Apart from the mute monk played by Aroon Sriboonruang, there's only a handful of Thai talent onscreen. The most prominent is veteran actor Nirut Sirichanya as Stu's overbearing and disapproving father-in-law. He's currently known for his role on the judging panel of the Thailand's Got Talent TV show, but film fans might remember him as Tony Jaa's serene mentor in Ong-Bak 2 and 3. Stay and watch the end credits for the endless list of Thai names who worked on the crew.

Other cameos include Paul Giamatti as a criminal cohort of Mr. Chow and director Nick Cassavetes as a tattoo artist (he got the role after Mel Gibson was vetoed by the cast and Liam Neeson's scheduling didn't work out). Bill Clinton was on set during the filming in Bangkok, and had photos taken with the cast, but his people apparently came to their senses and he doesn't appear. Chiang Mai's quirky band the Ska Rangers also appear, playing a cover of Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran", which is tragically cut short to make way for another cameo. But the full-length version of the Rangers' song is on the soundtrack album.

Eventually the movie's tagline “Bangkok has them now” emerges as a mantra. And Stu is wrestling with his inner demons, embodying that love-hate relationship many Bangkokians have with their city.

There's vivid cinematography of the metropolis. And there's a car stunt that's probably the most memorably epic thing done by a Hollywood film in Bangkok since the 1974 Bond picture The Man with the Golden Gun.

It should be noted, however, that one of the car stunts left an Australian stunt double severely injured.

Overall, there's a been-there-done-that feel to the movie, despite the location change from Vegas to Bangkok. The jokes aren't as funny as the first film.

Galifianakis tries hard, setting up the monkey-to-monk fellatio scene: “When a monkey nibbles on a penis, it’s funny in any language.”

And everyone does laugh. But who will have the last laugh?

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  1. I dreaded what they'd do to Bangkok from the moment they announced the film, and it sounds like they've reinforced every tired stereotype (and maybe created a new misconception or three of their own). But there was a similar outcry about Hangover 1 from the Las Vegas community that's tried for literally decades to reform the old "sin city" characterization, and the film did no lasting damage. Nevada police were particularly upset about their treatment, but after all.
    Ed Helms complaining about the food is absurd, and no doubt an attempt at humor. It's not as if these millionaire movie stars were roaming the streets looking for food from stalls--they had catering services feeding them whatever they wanted.
    My hope is that other filmmakers will see potential for more high-minded fare. What a year for Thai film... the highs of Uncle Boonmee followed by this. At least Thailand will be on people's minds, even if the majority of those minds think it's a good destination for bachelor parties.

  2. What's missing is a huge part of what made the first film so good: the element of surprise and the actual joy of having all these crazy situations happen. This is a dark and morbid cash-in and nothing more, except with some chuckles. Good review, check out mine when you can!

  3. After all the bad reviews I was surprised that the movie was actually not as bad. I had some good laughs and the rest of the audience, Thai and foreigner from what I could make was having fun too as everybody was laughing.

    For Thai tourism taking a hit? From my point of view thats a total misconception. It might take a boost from this movie.

    And lets not forget one thing: These things like go go bars and ladyboys are not a fantasy... Besides those kind of places...places like Sirocco are also shown so its not all red light and slums.

    I think it wont do any difference to tourism at all. It is totally overrated that the Thai authorities shouldnt have allowed this movie and that it is so bad for Thailand. That simply is not true.


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