Screener Review: ANGELS (2012)


Director Wych Kaosayananda's craft took quite a turn overseas in the years since landing his first major Hollywood motion picture, Ballistic: Ecks VS Sever. It was a crowning achievement and a sign of better things to come prior to a challenging post-production process, and a career that eventually pivoted back overseas in Asia where he would ultimately start anew with the 2012 thriller, Angels.

Set in Thailand, Kaosayananda writes and directs with actors Dustin Nguyen and Sahajak Boonthanakit starring as Johnny and Peter, former CIA operatives of yesteryear with Peter now working as a Thai detective. Driven by an earlier incident, Peter has spent two decades working as Captain and heading the sex crimes division, a job that ultimately leads him to the body of Johnny's daughter, Angel (Kristin Douglass). After convening with Johnny after many years apart to break the news, Johnny joins Peter and his partner and subordinate, Karn (Prinya Intachai), to investigate as many leads as they can, and it's not long before Johnny, stricken with grief and rage, begins using them to his own advantage, despite the Peter's shortening leash. Soon enough, their investigation forces them to mitigate their differences for Peter's sake as a family man while Johnny struggles to cope with loss and looming self-destruction, but the pot is boiling and the deeper their search goes, the more blood will spill, and more and more, the truth gets closer to revealing itself.

The film sets up nicely as a gritty crime thriller in its own right with an introduction to something inviting for viewers. Nguyen and Boonthanakit lead a fine pair of roles that share its fair load of ups and downs with some good support along the way from Intachai and actress Ammy Chanicha among others. Respective chemistry between certain characters works throughout and while the story doesn't exactly hit the ground running with action, the plot still brings something truthful and genuine to the table through its character-driven set up with plenty of momentum for some hard-hitting fisticuffs and close-quarters violence that doesn't let up.

Angels is definitely a film that works in its own right for all its efforts, but that isn't to say that either more or less could have been done to make it a truly substantive pic to help it fully carry itself. The plot progression is weighted by a lot of meandering drama with a slow-burn approach that slows down a little too much in its emphasis, and certain underdeveloped and non-developed characters tend to hinder one's overall support for our main protagonists. You get why Nguyen's character is present in conjunction with Boonthanakit's role, and unfortunately certain elongated scene of drama meant to strech and capitalize off of drama delivery cause much of this purpose to fall flat from time to time, leaving what little there is in the few action sequences there are to help keep things afloat.

Actor Gary Daniels puts his fists and kicks away for a good share of dramatic chops as a Thailand bar owner with a performance that brings something slightly more stellar to the film's overall tone, and depending on who you are, this is a pretty good thing. The rest of the film sits on the ample performances of smaller characters that otherwise maintain the principal backdrop of Angels, along with the accentuation of neon colors and contours at nighttime, and a soundtrack to help set the mood between certain scenes.

Looking at the motivation for a film like Angels brings the realization of just how close to reality film can get with certain subject matter at hand. That said, we have a movie that delves right into a world of sex slavery and human trafficking, and though not all of the ins-and-outs are present, what we are shown in conjunction with the journey our protagonists take present enough of a grim, gruesome and suggestive look into how ugly it gets. Moreover and with specific regard to the characters and narrative, we are granted a story that not only garners mystery with the chilling, tragic nature behind "missing persons'" cases, but also a story that speaks to the core of lost innocence and the ensuing need for redemption.

Kaosayananda brings a truly brilliant crime drama that isn't afraid to take its time for the sake of something much more cerebral and compelling, and it certainly has its moments of both. Slow pacing goes the extra mile a bit more here than preferred and so the film does suffer terribly, and all you're left with are chunks of excess that hinder the film's progression. Alas, the upside to Angels really does rest on its overall vision as an Asian neo-noir piece with serviceable delivery from its cast, setting, and the action that takes place when it does with Nguyen certainly lending his signature appeal.

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