Opinion: Why 'No Escape' is the worst movie to see before traveling to Asia

Richard S. Ehrlich, for CNNUpdated 12th October 2015
Bangkok (CNN) — When visiting Southeast Asia for the first time this year, some anxious novices might wonder if they'll stumble into a frenzied bloodbath in the streets unleashed by political protests, riots or a coup.
And will those screaming natives also hack, shoot, bomb and rape innocent tourists amid the tacky souvenirs and charming neighborhoods surrounding their five-star hotels?
Could this happen to an American family with two darling daughters as soon as they arrive here in Thailand?
Watch Hollywood's latest Asia-based action potboiler -- "No Escape" stars Owen Wilson and Pierce Brosnan -- and you might see your worst and most absurd fears vividly displayed.
"No Escape" is an over-the-top, so-bad-it's-good, careening, pulsating, murderous chase from beginning to end, heavily splattered with blood and tears.
Countless quivering, desperately pleading Thai actors soon become dead meat, expertly minced by other Thai actors, bug-eyed and grimacing.
These guys just won't stop killing.
Wilson, playing a sincere Texas multinational executive, and his resourceful motherly wife (Lake Bell) also eventually kill.
But the urbane Americans are different from the "locals" who slaughter, because the brave husband and wife are just trying to survive and escape the mobs.

Where is this imaginary, unidentified, land of evil?

Aside from all that ridiculousness, one of the most interesting aspects of "No Escape" is the real-life, behind-the-scenes intrigue that enabled it to be filmed.
The movie was shot in Thailand's tourist-friendly northern cities of Chiang Mai and Lampang.
To avoid implying that Thailand is an anarchistic destination swarming with homicidal Thais, most of the signage that appears in the film's streets, markets, advertisements and elsewhere is actually neighboring Cambodia's Khmer script, lamely printed upside down.
Cambodia also gets smeared as the film's imaginary, unidentified, land of evil.
That's because only one Southeast Asian country -- Vietnam -- is mentioned by name, and is repeatedly hailed as a much safer nation.
The escaping Americans try to row a boat "to Vietnam." They row under a huge sign that reads "Vietnam" on a bridge that forms an international border.
Thailand of course does not border Vietnam.
But Cambodia does, along some of the Mekong River.

Weary formula

Signage appearing in the movie was replaced by Cambodia's Khmer script but the rioters speak in Thai.
Perhaps in an effort to protect its relationship with Thailand, where the film was shot, "No Escape" trashes Cambodia, which subsequently banned the movie.
Despite the rumor that Thailand might prohibit the movie, "No Escape" has been showing at Thai cinemas since early September.
Ironically, much of the screaming by Thai actors is in Thai language without subtitles, so the attempted sleight of hand that would suggest none of this chaos is taking place in Chiang Mai and Lampang ultimately appears clumsy and cosmetic.
On the plus side, the Americans and their British buddy, played by Brosnan, are chased through the streets amid gripping scenes, dazzling photography and concise vignettes.
But the plot of "No Escape" chases a weary formula.
Good, clean, wealthy, intellectual and sensitive white people are brutally bullied by a cruel, yelling, bloodthirsty, darker-skinned, generic Third Worlders.

An unfortunate coincidence

Film credits reveal the story was copyrighted as "The Coup" -- the original working title.
But soon after filming here in 2013, Thailand's military staged a coup in May 2014.
The movie was retitled.
Today, Thailand still lives under the coup's military junta.
But members of the coup-installed regime may be laughing if they watch "No Escape," which they allowed in theaters here.
The regime might be amused by the movie's bloody coup, which topples a pro-American government and unleashes anti-American, anti-capitalist carnage.
Though Bangkok's 2014 coup did oust a pro-U.S. government, the coup was bloodless and didn't result in any street violence.
Perhaps even more pleasing to Bangkok's military regime may be the appearance by many of the rioting Thai actors wearing a piece of red clothing, creating a deadly catwalk of red pants, red shirts, red scarves or red bandanas.
In 2010, Thailand's U.S.-trained military crushed a nine-week insurrection in Bangkok by thousands of self-named Red Shirts, who wore that color while demanding nationwide elections.
The clashes left more than 90 people dead on all sides, but mostly Red civilians.
As a result, the film's red-clothed rioters could easily be (wrongly) seen as Thailand's real Red Shirts, now exaggerated into overwhelmingly vicious slayers.

Response from expats and locals

In real life, some Americans and other foreign expats who live here are worried for their personal safety while Thailand's politics and economy spiral down the drain under Bangkok's dictatorship.
"Where would you go? What bolthole would you run to, if things got out of hand here?" one aged expat executive recently asked journalists in the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand, in the real world.
Some reporters responded by suggesting their favorite countries as ideal retreats.
Other journalists dismissed an apocalypse of Thais massacring foreigners, even if this polarized country further implodes.
"Does living in a foreign country always cause some degree of uncertainty and anxiety for expats? Or is it just Thailand?" tweeted an American nicknamed Lucky Erawan a few days later, also in real life.
A Thai white-collar manager, however, who watched "No Escape," said she'll gladly recommend the movie to her Thai office colleagues and friends.
"It's interesting and exciting. Actually, when you see the movie, maybe you can learn how to escape from that type of situation," she said.
"You can learn how to fight, how to find things and how to hide from the bad guys like when Owen put a dead guy in front of him to hide behind."
The movie's stereotypes and attempt to disguise Thailand weren't so good, she said, asking not to be named because she didn't want to be publicly involved in any controversy over the film.
"I think it makes Thais look bad. But it isn't obviously Thailand," she said.
Perhaps that's true for many viewers.
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