- Starring Mitr Chaibancha, Petchara Chaowarat Ob Boontid, Kanchit Kwanpracha.
- Released in Thailand in 1970-71, DVD reissue in 2005 has English subtitles.
- Rating: 3/5
Convoluted to the point of being absurd, Insee Tong is one of those films to file under the "so bad it's good" category, if you're into that sort of thing.
From a historical standpoint, Insee Tong is important because it was the film that superstar action hero Mitr Chaibancha died while making.
Sorry if that's a spoiler, but that's not how it was supposed to end. And, I've read in places that the original cut of the film actually showed Mitr falling to the ground after he lost his grip from the rope ladder that was dangling from a helicopter that kept going up, up and away.
This 2005 DVD release, freezes the frame at the end and some Thai text comes on to note Mitr's passing at 4:19pm on October 8, 1970.
The story itself is nuts. The opening finds Rom Ritthikrai (Mitr, pronounced mitt, rhymes with fit) doing what he does best - getting stinking drunk at a nightclub and trying to pursuade others to join him. He's retrieved by his faithful assistant Oy (Petchara Chaowarat).
This behavior as a fun-loving drunkard is a cover, for Rom (or Rome) is actually the masked crimefighter Insee Daeng, or Red Eagle, a sort of polyester-clad, horseless Lone Ranger type of hero. He fights crime and then goes on a raging bender. But, there's another Insee Daeng, an imposter (Kanchit Kwanpracha), who's going around killing people.
Somehow, the fake Red Eagle is connected to the Red Bamboo gang, which is trying to seize control of the Thai government and probably the world. Some ties to communism are implied, which fits with the acute red-paranoid era in which this film was made.
Red Bamboo is led by a goateed villain named Bakin (Ob Boontid), who was trained in hypnotism by Rasputin and is able to kill his intended targets by beaming his thoughts and visage through red ceramic Buddha statues, or simply through thin air. He can split himself into three images, making it impossible for gunmen to shoot him.
The special effects involved with Bakin's trickery just add to the overall cheesiness of this film.
Rom had planned to retire from being the Red Eagle, but the imposter running around killing people makes him abandon that plan and change shades, becoming Insee Tong, or Golden Eagle, replete in matching gold-colored, snug-fitting polyester slacks and shirt and a shiny new golden mask.
Most of the mainstream films of this era were still shot on 16 millimeter with post-dubbed sound, though this might have been 35mm. Anyway, some of the sound still sounds post-dubbed, especially the comic relief characters who have these high, squeaky voices, and the bad guys with their evil laughs. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
The film itself is in horrifically bad condition, and there's probably some chunks missing.
This only adds to the "so bad it's good" appeal, especially when a gang of transvestites are introduced, and a police detective goes undercover to try and find something out. I'm not sure what they have to do with the story, but eventually the detective in drag and Golden Eagle have a knock-down drag-out fist fight in the back of a pickup truck. And I don't think the dress-wearing detective was wearing any panties or hose. A suspicious black blotch has been strategically placed.
It's all too crazy, with the story also involving a kidnapped admiral and his daughter, as well as the pretty daughter of one of the leaders of the Red Bamboo gang, who provides a love interest for Rom, and eventually, another rescue by Petchara's character, whose superpower gives her the ability to stare down her prey with her big doe eyes and leave them absolutely cowed. She's the best part of the film, but her appearances are all too fleeting.
The thing is, as I uncover and discover more Thai films from this era, I am starting to understand more about what influenced Wisit Sasanatieng to make Tears of the Black Tiger. What looked on the surface to be influences of Sam Peckinpah and spaghetti westerns really belong the purely Thai-style action films of the late 1960s and early 1970s. And as painful as it might be from time to time, I'm determined to try and see more.
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)