Since I don’t usually give a one-star or no-star rating to a movie unless watching it starts to make me angry, Poj Arnon’s Dangerous Boys gets a two. It is trying very hard to get the audience to like it, and honestly, having been subjected to a number of movies where it appears that a director couldn’t care less whether the audience enjoyed itself or not, catering to our desires should count for something. He is trying hard. Want to watch some action, here you go. Want a story about a band on the rise – check. Star crossed love story complete with a quirky best friend and airport “farewell” scene – yep. Gay lovers, also star-crossed – of course. Non-gay male characters kissing – whatever floats your boat. Social drama about student gangs – yes. High school parody complete with incompetent teachers – got that, too. Family drama about alcoholism and divorce – hey, it’s in there. It’s like bits and pieces of several movies have been sewn into a script that’s supposed to be enjoyed by as many different movie-going markets as possible, hoping that none of those groups will notice that none of the parts are complete. I admit I enjoyed it a little (I liked the fighting) – but that doesn’t mean it is a very good film.
One of the interesting things about reviewing a movie like Dangerous Boys is trying to figure out what set of film-goers it was supposed to appeal to so that I can provide an empathetic and relative rating. The movie stretches so broadly in its violence, romance, and melodrama that it could be trying to appeal to lots of different markets. Or it could be reaching a very specific market that might only exist in Thailand. I’m going to guess the latter – that it is a movie that appeals to a subset of teen-aged girls who enjoy watching boys beat each other senseless, but who are romantics at heart, and like edgier than usual pop music. A special niche film just for them. There may be hundreds or millions of them somewhere. Anything is possible. But if that niche sounds like you, this is going to be quite a thrill.
For the rest of you, be prepared to wonder what the purpose of the movie is other than pandering to a market. Dangerous Boys is about the leader of a student gang and its associated rock band. The gang is led by a boy of about 17 named Peng (Nick Pinpradab) who is in a constant battle with the rival gang from a different school, led by Ting (James Vechwongsa) over everything. These are student gangs, not a street gangs, and what we are dealing with is really something similar to an out of control fraternity row rather than fights for control of territory to sell drugs or extort businesses. Ting and Peng have been fighting forever over things beyond just school honor. Peng is dating a girl who is the sister of the rival gang’s number 2. Ting has the hots for her, too. Peng’s brother, Pang, is in a rising band on Youtube, so Ting has decided to form his own band to compete musically, or ruin Pang’s chances of success. What is incredible is that both these jokers have managed to convince most of the boys at their schools that their personal issues with girlfriends and bands are worth getting black eyes, crushed noses, and smashed teeth over. Honor, I suppose is what is really at stake.
Dangerous Boys could be a “social issue” drama. Student gangs, especially at the high school level are a social problem in Thailand. But the film doesn’t really tackle the problem very seriously. It uses the gangs and the high school milieu as a springboard for action scenes and conflict, and musical numbers, but it doesn’t really give much in the way of deep thought to any of it. The boys are fighting because they are in school gangs and because they are in them, exiting things happen. Gangs may be the cause of tragedy, but they make life interesting, for sure. The movie is more of an exploitation of the dramatic and comedic potential of gangs rather than a challenge to them. The violence is actually rather too slickly filmed for the physical cost of street fighting to be taken seriously. Bodies fully recover from horrendous beatings, restoring the pretty faces of the boys as quickly as needed..The movie layers in other social issues and micro-dramas, but never really does more than check them in. It treats them with the same level of realism that it treats recovery from head trauma. There is a same sex couple in Dangerous Boys, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why it is there. The pair are onscreen for maybe three minutes and don’t add anything to the story. I guess it adds to the tragedy of the big final confrontation fight when both boys find themselves fighting each other, but they haven’t been onscreen long enough for us to really feel badly for them. I mean, they could just stop fighting each other. Pang and Peng also have an alcoholic mother. Their broken home may explain why the brothers find meaning in gang life and are so protective of each other, but in the film, those issues just go away. All a long term alcoholic needs to do is promise that she won’t drink any longer, and she’s recovered.
Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be a genre of Thai student gang exploitation films. considering that it is an acknowledged problem. 2012’s Friends Never Die is the only other example I can think of. That is a slightly weightier film but might make a good pairing with Dangerous Boys for a Thai student gang life movie night. If you could only watch one youth gang movie from Thailand, you’d probably best stick with the earlier film. But movies like Dangerous Boys seem specifically designed for the undercard of a double feature. I have two more similarly themed movies in queue currently – Night Flight from Korea and Tokyo Tribe from Japan. We’ll see how will this movie stacks up in the pan-Asian youth gang movie festival I’ve got running this month.