Brokedown Palace

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BROKEDOWN  PALACE joins that clique of pictures that lay down a cautionary vibe about using your head when capering abroad as if it’s just down the street: chiefly, watch who you trust and stay several thousand kilometers away from drugs. The sad 1999 drama didn’t get many good reviews or have monetary success, but it’s certainly better than the original, mostly indifferent reception would indicate. *

Recent high school grads and lifelong friends ‘Alice’ (Claire Danes) and ‘Darlene’ (Kate Beckinsale) take a trip to Bangkok. They have a good time, including partying with ‘Nick Parks’, an Aussie charmer who invites them to lark-along and join him in Hong Kong: he even pays for the tickets. The free spree suddenly turns into a sickening scam when heroin is planted in their luggage: they discover that justice in The Land of Smiles is not a laughing matter.

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At the time, Danes was 19, while Beckinsale was 26, but she puts across 18 with no trouble. They’re both quite good, with nice support from Bill Pullman as an ex-pat lawyer who tries, against all odds— including the girl’s own screw-ups—to get them released. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan (The Accused, Unlawful Entry, Love Field), with a screenplay by David Arata (Spy Game, Children Of Men). Did the failure of this project—a gross of $11,116,000 against a cost of $23,000,000—sink Kaplan’s feature career?

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A few establishing shots were done in Bangkok, presumably on the sly, but otherwise Thailand—not big on criticism of their system or culture—was a no-go location, so good-old-standby The Philippines was used. Irony says “Mabuhay!” **

Touching music score is the work of David Newman. Several pop tunes are blended in to good emotional effect, including the haunting “Delirium”, sung by Sarah McLachlan, and “Deliver Me” by Sarah Brightman.

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With Lou Diamond Phillips, Jacqueline Kim, Daniel Lapaine, Tom Amandes, Lim Kay Tong, Beulah Quo (many notable credits going back to 1955), John Doe, Inthira Charoepura, Espérance Pham Thai Lan, and future fast & furious speed racer Paul Walker. 100 minutes.

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* Your passport, citizenship and ‘rights’ can mean zip if you slip: Midnight Express, Return To Paradise, Hostel, Red Corner, Taken, A Prayer Before Dawn.

** Youthful Miss Danes, recklessly imitating the character she played, displayed spoiled American teenager & actress fashion when she railed in magazine interviews that Manila was a “ghastly and weird city” that “smelled of cockroaches, with rats all over, and that there is no sewage system, and the people do not have anything – no arms, no legs, no eyes”. She later apologized, but was banned from the country, along with any film she was in. Even if you have the excuse of being nineteen: THINK!  It wasn’t Claire’s year, with The Mod Squad an even bigger flop, and one actually deserving bad reviews of the kind that helped break Brokedown Palace.

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Chiming in: British actress Amanda de Cadenet, who had a small role as a prisoner, said in a 2013 interview that the movie dashed her desire to act, sparking a career change (successful) into photography: “That was the last movie I did – it was so brutal…It was filmed in a real mental hospital in the Philippines and they only blocked off half the facility for the set. The other half was active and prisoners would be throwing feces over the wall….It totally did me in as an actress.”

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