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The Pang Brothers: Twin Talents

Written by Jason Dow Tell a Friend

Within the last decade there has been an obvious shift within the hallmarks of not only Thai cinema but within Asian cinema. Thailand has entered a new era of filmmaking, and like South Korea not long ago, Thailand has developed into a national cinema that is steadily increasing in domestic film quality. Many factors that have led to the maturing of this national cinema, but much of the credit must go to the contribution of the auteurs that have garnered Thailand with international success: the Pang brothers.

Danny and Oxide Pang are twin brothers, born in Hong Kong (Oxide being a fraction older). They began work in advertising before moving to Thailand to pursue their filmmaking careers. It seems that like most of the new directors emerging from Thailand their expertise gained within the advertising industry has provided them with an original and contemporary way of creating a film (Thai directors Ratanaruang and Nimbutr share similar backgrounds). In the case of the Pang Brothers, their ingenuity is usually expressed in their use of film style; creative camera work, fast editing and pumping soundtracks work together to intensify the film's action. In most cases the intensification is used to emphasize how many times someone can get shot within a given minute or how the swiveling of the camera is enough to scare the audience into submission.

Previously working as a colorist, Oxide began directing his avant guarde film Who is Running? (1997). The film is made up of many short films that Oxide had done earlier and it undoubtedly displays the earliest Pang style of quick, fast and repetitive editing and variety in camera movement and composition. The film is about a man who receives a copy of tomorrow's newspaper and attempts to save the lives of those who will soon die (as depicted in the paper). The film garnered Oxide with very little economic success and wasn't particularly well received in Hong Kong or Thailand. It was however a success internationally, winning Oxide the Special Jury Award from the 1998 Asia Pacific Film Festival and nominated for the Dragon and Tigers Award at the 1998 Vancouver Film Festival, thus establishing Oxide as a major filmmaker out of Thailand.

Following Oxide's success with Who is Running?, in 1999 the brothers produced their first collaboration. Bangkok Dangerous is a story essentially about a deaf-mute hit-man running around the busy streets of Bangkok blowing away whoever his boss orders. Despite the overtly simple story, the plot is as thick as any; there are many extra narrative lines crammed into this film that ultimately don't really serve that much purpose. It seems that this cramming of information tends to resemble something straight out of Hong Kong. Often unfairly criticized, the stylistic touches that the Pang Brothers employ in Bangkok Dangerous suit the nature of the narrative very well. The unmotivated fast paced editing and invisible jump cuts serve appropriately to thicken and intensify the films action - a trait that is common to many Hong Kong action films. The film did fairly well in the box office and most certainly at international festivals being nominated for the Tiger Award at Rotterdam 01, and winning the International Critics Award at Toronto 2000. Bangkok Dangerous is the best film to date from the Pang Brothers, and indeed the most true to their cinematic form.

In 2001 Oxide independent of his brother made the film One Take Only: Bangkok for Sale. The film is about Som, a school girl who prostitutes herself, and Bank an unconfident drug pusher. The two live in the same apartment block and their similar fruitless life styles act as a common point between them so they can ultimately confide in each other. One Take Only seems to be a major departure in narrative theme when compared to any other films made by the Pangs. The stylistic points of their filmmaking still prevail; the film is shot in black and white, with beautiful snippets of colour appearing at times of major interest. However, the style fails to elicit any empathy when the narrative is driven by a character study.

Danny Pang also made his solo directorial debut with Nothing to Lose (2002) a year later. The film is similar in narrative theme to that of Oxide's One Take Only. Both films have a plot based on two suicidal characters at the end of their road, who at the last minute find refuge in each other's plight. In this case it is Somchai and Gogo who find each other on a rooftop ready to jump off before realizing that their suicidal tendencies act as an ice breaker to a new friendship. Nothing to Lose, like all of the other Pang Brothers films, conveys their same razzle-dazzle stylistic traits, and when compared to One Take Only, Nothing to Lose benefits much more with the style of filmmaking as the narrative avoids any major evocation of sympathy on part of the audience.

2002 most likely met with the most success internationally and economically for the Pang Brothers with the production of The Eye (Jian Gui). A co-production between Hong Kong and Thailand, the film is about Mun, a 20 year old blind woman (played by Angelica Lee) who gets an eye transfer. However, her new eyes previously belonged to a deceased psychic woman who could see the paranormal, now Mun has inherited the power. The Eye seems like a slight departure from the usual style of the Pang Brothers in terms of its narrative structure, but stylistically the film is just as technically proficient and innovative as their previous work. Its filmic form, in particularly narrative development lies more with the recent Japanese horrors like the Ring, or Dark Water; mood horrors where the suspension of absolute terror is left to be uncovered in the last moments of the film. The Eye is one of the Pang Brothers most successful films, in particular economically. Moreover, with The Eye the Pang Brothers have jumped on the bandwagon like their Japanese counterparts (in particular Hideo Nakata) to do a remake in Hollywood in the near future.

The Pang Brothers in 2004 created the sequel to their hit The Eye appropriately and indeed un-confusingly named The Eye 2 (Jian Gui 2). This time Taiwanese born hot-shot Shu Qi plays the lead role of Joey Cheng, a desperate woman who after a failed attempt at suicide finds that she is not only pregnant with her estranged ex-boyfriend, but also that she can see ghosts. The Pang Brothers have seemingly approached this film in a much different way compared to the original, unfortunately The Eye 2 fails to evoke the mood of doom, which is undoubtedly needed for this type of horror. The result leaves viewers with a sense of curiosity as opposed to any sense of tension. Despite the formula not working as well as the original, the Pang Brothers still deliver amazing editing and cinematography, at times the innovative camera work is awe inspiring.

Just out of the Pang's film stable are two more films from Oxide and Danny. The comedy Leave Me Alone (2004) is Danny Pang's most recent addition. The film stars Hong Kong legend Ekin Cheng playing two of the films characters: the identical twins Man and Kit. The film illustrates the reunion of the twins after years of separation. When they finally reunite the two begin to swap identities, however this time reversion back to their real identities isn't so easy.

Another recent entry by the Pang Brother's is the film Ab-Normal Beauty (2004), this time by Oxide Pang. The film stars pop stars 2R (Rosanne and Race Wong). Rose plays the art obsessed photographer named Race who enjoys photographing the dead. However through her morbid photography she attracts a crazy killer.

It seems that the Pang Brother's plans for future are extremely lucrative. They have opened up the South East Asian region to the Hong Kong film industry and the rest of Asia, inspiring several co-productions. Since then, the Pang Brothers have gained loyal fans not only in Asia, but have extended their fan-base throughout the world. It will be interesting to see how their work will translate to Hollywood audiences when The Scarecrow and the remake of The Eye will be released under Sam Raimi's production house. Either way, their innovative and eclectic filmmaking style will always hold its place in Asian cinema.

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Published January 8, 2005

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