Bangkok Dangerous - Production Designer

Here is Production Designer James Newport's personal blog about the making of the film...


July 4 - A remake of "Bangkok Dangerous" – a landmark in Thai cinema.

Starring Nicolas Cage. Same directors – Danny & Oxide Pang – from Hong Kong.

So far (I've been in Bangkok one week) I've only met one Pang brother – Danny. They are twins, and apparently you rarely get them both together. They share both the preparation and the shoot (one directs on Monday, one on Tuesday, etc.) Seems like a good system – takes a lot of the stress out of the job.

The 17 hour (non-stop) flight was quite pleasant.

July 25, 2006 - OK. Met them both by now (The Pang Bros)– but they are identical – so never know who I'm speaking to (or spoke with.) Nicolas Cage will spend one week each in the Presidential suites of the 9 best hotels in Bangkok while he's here. In a meeting the other day – the accountant announced they had secured the rate of $1800 U.S. per day at the Oriental. "But breakfast is not included." She dryly informed. "Breakfast?" The producer blurted out. "He has his own f**king chef!"

July 26 – Official memo: "Please note that Mr. Cage uses the pseudonym Frank Cadillac. When referring to him in official paperwork please be sure to use his pseudonym."

July 28 – I now have approximately 100 carpenters, painters, and laborers working on 6 sets on 2 huge stages. The paperwork is staggering and every request requires my signature. Every other day amongst the pile there are always a number of requests for "name changes."

I asked Ochu, my faithful art department coordinator about this and he replied that we were housing 6o or so of these workers in temporary flats near the studio and that a number of fortune tellers had moved into the area and the men were regular customers. Often the fortune teller's advice included a warning that the worker had an "inauspicious" name – (usually an unlucky number of letters) - hence the tide of name changes.

July 29 – Nic Cage (Frank Cadillac) will fly in a private jet from L.A. to Bangkok. This will cost upwards of $`250,000 and will take close to 4 days (the plane needs to touch down 4 times to refuel.)

Aug. 7 – (5 days before starting Principal Photography.) In the flurry of paperwork I sign everyday I noticed the Animal wrangler's Budget (6 elephants will be used in the shoot) included a budget of 3,000 Baht ($85 U.S.) for 6 days work for the "shit correcting boy."

Aug 8 – Production meeting. It is noted that every day we will be providing meals for a minimum number of 250 crew and cast. We are shooting some scenes in Prague but we are dressing a street here for Prague. I see the signs that my set decorating department has prepared today for the first time and note that they've made a big sign for a "Café Boat" with a nautical theme. Nice. But then I notice the copy below the logo reads: "Boat for Rent & Auto Pasta." …. Hmmmm?

Aug 12 – Principal photography begins on a street in Bangkok that we have dressed with signage, medieval stone walls and foreign cars as a stand-in for Prague.

Frank Cadillac likes the Oriental and will stay there the entire time.

Aug 12 – Second day – all night shooting in a notorious Go-Go bar street called Soi Cowboy. Within 24 hours local newspaper reports: Looking dangerously shifty in a Hawaiian shirt and black wig, Hollywood superstar Nicholas Cage was, last night, spotted lurking outside the Tilac Bar on Soi Cowboy - the very same Bangkok go-go bar where fellow thespian Hugh Grant famously had his tackle felt.

Aug 23 – Day eleven. Opening scene of film – Nic's character sits alone in a Prague workingman's pub, quietly eating. He looks at his watch (which counts down – 22 minutes) and gets up to leave. This sets up his pattern – the watch means its 22 minutes before the 'hit.' This intense personal scene was shot in a 2 storey bar/restaurant/disco decorated (again) for Prague. But we had the next 2 days off and Nic wanted to fly off somewhere so he 'paid' to go into the club while it was open – at 9:00 PM and do the scene – rather than wait until 1 AM and we could close it. This meant that we shot on the second floor while downstairs was open to 200 drunken punters who did everything but flash their tits to get his attention. The deejay spun tunes and a band belted out their routine.

But Nic is amazing. When you see the scene I defy you to tell that there is anything distracting him from concentrating on his assignment.

Sept 11 – Time literally flies. Hard to believe its been five years since 9/11. And hard to believe that we are now half way though our shooting schedule. When you do this – work in a position like mine on a foreign production, you immerse yourself in the project. You live it day And night. Week in, week out – with the sacrifice of all else in your life.

And that, my friends, is why film making is so seductive. We live in first class hotels, are driven everywhere and if you're fortunate enough to be a Production Designer – people accept that you must be doing something important – and generally leave you alone.

What a life.

You get paid to watch an actor of the caliber of Nicolas Cage (a true professional) perform his magic every day. You spend lots of somebody else's money enhancing your own ego (artists love to spend other people's money.) And you're a great group of fellow international gypsies.

Making movies is easy. Real life is hard.

Sept 20 - Left the set early last night with food poisoning. Woke up this morning and found I had slept thru the war.

No CNN, BBC or any other TV coverage. Martial Law imposed and Nic Cage, family & Norm G. (producer) flew the coup (to Korea)

But we'll muster on I'm sure. You can't stop filming!

Sept 22 - Nic is back. Found out that people just wanted to put flowers in the soldiers gun barrels (the Prime Minister was a rat whose overthrow was long overdue.) But we have a few new problems. For one - we can't fire guns anymore (this - of course - is an action picture and we were in the midst of a huge 4 night gun battle when the coup happened.) Also - our end scene involves the attempted assassination of a prominent (unnamed politician.) This is a huge scene, thousands of extras, police, military, etc.

Sept 23 – Nic is nervous. He's uncomfortable being here in this time of instability. He has been protected from the gitgo by a squad of bodyguards, both his own professionals and Thai secret police. He is probably a choice target for anyone wanting to get in the news – and thus he's insisting we adjust our schedule to 'shoot him out' as quickly as possible.

The scene on the set on the night of the 'coup': (As described to me): It was about 10:00PM when the Thai police on our set started to get reports. We were setting up a scene (outside) in the middle of a warehouse complex) where Nic shoots every guard in an attempt to get to Mr. Big. Mr. Big flees in his black Mercedes. Nic shoots the car and all in it except Mr. Big. Just as he's about to do Mr. Big a squad of Thai Police cars burst thru the gate, red lights flashing. At midnight, after an elaborate lighting set-up and many rehearsals, they were all set to roll, when suddenly Nic was whisked off the set by his guards, the Police cars turned and headed off into the night (they were real Police cars – there's a lesson there) and as a final insult, the black Mercedes was seized (it belonged to an official of the party that had just been deposed) and it also drove away. All in a matter of minutes.

The Thai A.D. called a 'wrap.'

Flashback: Sept 9 - Our second day on a huge 2 storey house interior set – Nick's character's 'safe house' in Bangkok. A bunch of boys begin setting up blue plastic chairs (in this part of the world they seem to grow on trees.) Limousines start arriving and Thai security take over the entrance to the stage. Soon the Deputy Prime Minister (actually Deputy "caretaker" Prime Minister – the PM had already been deposed once) arrived with his entourage (grim faced men in dark suits, women with too much make-up.) All there to see Nic Cage. Nic greeted them wearing a Superman T Shirt.

Today the Deputy Prime Minister has been incarcerated. He didn't make it out of the country.

While he was visiting he gave each of our producers his business card: "In case you have a problem." A get out of jail free card. Cool.

A few days later, our producer William was actually stopped for 'littering.' They do this here on busy streets. They'll pick on farangs (foreigners) and take them to police kiosk and shake you down for 20 or 30 dollars. William said that he didn't understand what was happening and would they mind calling this man to explain it to him. He handed them the Deputy PM's card. The cops immediately changed their attitude. Mai pen rai. No problem. And he was on his way.

Last night the producers ceremoniously threw away the remaining business cards. They were advised that the possession of them could be 'misconstrued'.

Changing times in Amazing Thailand.

Sept 28 – SNAKES. We have been inundated with rain for the last three nights – not in the day =- but all night long. What this has done to the major exterior set (yes, the beautiful house that we created on stage was also recreated, with landscaping, garage and driveway, in jungle by a peaceful canal) is to cause it to flood. We shot for a day and a half before the rain, but still 'owe' another day's shooting – including the big explosion that will destroy the house. The rains were so severe that all the canals in Bangkok (the Venice of the east) rose up and overflowed their banks. Our house and its beautiful gardens were flooded. Four feet of water swept in and stayed for three days. Nowhere for it to go.

Since this was in the middle of acres and acres of scrub and wet land, scores of snakes were swept up in the deluge. Not liking this any more than we did, they sought high ground. Inside the set. The house was 'full' of snakes when the first crew member braved the flooded roadway and crept inside. Cobras, pythons, vipers, dozens of them were lounging about the stairs and balcony – enjoying the sun and doing what snakes do.

Needless to say we're not shooting there anytime soon.

Sept 29 – Elvis has left the building. Nic Cage finished a day early and departed on the first plane out this morning. At his request I gave him a full set of plans for the house and grounds. He has just purchased an island in the Caribbean and may build a version of the house I designed. I said I'd consider it an honor and he told me how much he admired my work.

When we started the project I wasn't sure how I felt about Nicolas Cage. I had admired his work in some things (Leaving Las Vegas, Lord Of War) and not in others (Con-Air, National Treasure.) I realize now it was the films that were lousy – not the performance. Nic Cage is a pro. I am a fan.

Oct 5 – Rain. Now it rains every day. I tell the producers that we've been lucky. William says "Bite your tongue. Turn around and spit three times."

We're all seated in the car port of the 'safe house' set – the house by the canal. Watching special effects wire and explode fruit. Watermelons, cantaloupes, pineapples. And durian – the delight savored by all Thais and forbidden in hotel rooms and railcars (described brilliantly as "like eating ice cream in a really awful toilet.") We're finishing up the remaining shots outside the house. They all seem to involve Nic's character, but of course – he's gone. So we're shooting his P.O.V., or sometimes the legs of his stand in, etc. etc. Boring. But we're all gathered for the real caveat – blowing up the house.

But real heavy rain sets in for about three hours. We break for lunch, eating alongside a pond (that only appears after about 2 hours of heavy rain. We start to see little beady eyes watching us eat.

The snakes are back.

The producer leaves.

I'm right behind him.

Oct 8 – Winding down. Five days to go. Second day of the big parade scene. 1500 extras. 2 Elephants (and a shit-carry boy,) marching band, 2 WWII Willys jeeps (the Hummers we wanted are, of course, on active duty.) Seven cameras … but somehow the edge is missing. We are obviously a show that's 'in the can.' Even though this is the biggest production number of the show, we all seem to just be going through the paces. For most – thoughts are on home, family… or the next job.

And, of course, there's no Nic. We've lost our star power. Even with this much of a circus, we only draw a measly couple of hundred curious on-lookers, (The second night in Nakon Pathom – a Bangkok suburb, we tied up Main Street for three nights) the word got out about 'superstar' Nicolas Cage, and we had five thousand behind the yellow riot tape.

Even Bruce, my new visual effects friend, and William, my new producer friend, will shortly be off to Prague to film the opening of the movie. Others will go back to the USA, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and the majority – back to their families scattered throughout Thailand.

Oct 10 - Nothing to do with the movie - just a little observation. Due to the multi-lingual nature of its many inhabitants, this country has a habit of using symbols for things such as restrooms. Rather than the words man/woman, men/ladies there'll be a picture. Suppose it makes sense, but often the symbol is so esoteric, (a pipe for a man, a comb for a lady that you end up scratching your head. Or the image used for the man is so long-necked and effeminate that you end up in the wrong room. (No matter, as there's usually a woman cleaning the restroom while you're in the men's anyway.)

But today I encountered the best of the lot. In a nice office building where I had just dropped off my laptop for servicing (4 months of working in a van with no shock absorbers had taken its toll) the international man/woman symbols with red arrow pointed down a narrow hall with two chrome doors. On one was black & white photograph of Marilyn Monroe. On the other, a photo of Jesus.

The only question I have is: "Where do they get those photographs of Jesus?

Oct 12 – Last shot. Chinatown. And just like the film of the same name, when the location manager note three cellphones pop out of three shopkeeper's aprons when we scout the location and decide to add a simple bit of tin to an alley wall to make it match the next location (the phone calls are to property owners, partners, husbands - to determine how much extra money this infringement on their life will cost us) - he looks at me and shrugs: "It's Chinatown."

Cinema repeats itself often.

We start shooting at 5:30 in the evening and finish by 10:30. There is a sense of jubilation, melancholy, and relief on the set as we approach the last shot. We've been shooting a chase scene (a foot race through Chinatown's backalleys) and they've used a steadicam all night (Hong Kong style - covering each scene in one shot - moving fast.) But with a steadicam the entire crew is locked out of the set as the camera operator uses follows the actor, moving 360 degrees around him to get the shot. The last shot is done inside a warehouse with the actor racing through it from one end to the other. On the last take they leave the camera rolling as it bursts through the door - shooting the entire crew who burst into shouts, screams, applause… and a few tears.

We can't believe it. Its over.

How can that be when it seems like we only started shooting yesterday?

See Video on YouTube

Bangkok Dangerous original storyboard illustrations available in a limited series of signed prints
Contact Jim for more information.

‹ Back to 'Film' main page


© 2012 - All Rights Reserved Site Developed By Cre8 Media