Friday, August 18, 2006

Review: Mercury Man

  • Directed by Bhandit Thongdee
  • Produced by Pracha Pinkaew
  • Starring Wasan Khantaau, Matinee Kingpoyom, Arnon Saisangchan, Jinvipa Kheawkunya, Parinya Kiatbusaba
  • Wide release in Thailand on August 10, 2006

Sylvester Stallone might have shied away from taking on Osama bin Laden in his planned Rambo sequel (he’s going after Burma instead), but a new Thai superhero, Mercury Man, embraces the FBI's most-wanted terrorist as a major plot point in his story.

The latest martial-arts action film from the makers of Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong has an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink plot, where characters and elements keep getting thrown in, in hopes that something will work. The result is a dizzying, and needlessly complex plot involving an international terrorist conspiracy led by a character named Osama bin Ali, Khmer black magic and Tibetan amulets.

What’s good about Mercury Man is the martial arts, choreographed by veteran action man Panna Rittikrai, Tony Jaa’s mentor who did the honors for Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong. So there are plenty of muay Thai kicks and elbows to the forehead.

A wannabe Spider-Man or X-Men, Mercury Man does feature some convincing computer-graphic animation, like when the hero is doing a high dive from the top of the Rama IX Bridge. The movements are fluid and the rendering flawlessly blends with the live-action characters.

On the downside are that insane plot and the script, which overburdens the Thai actors with a lot of clunky English dialogue. But for action fans and folks looking for the next cult film, those could be selling points.

The story starts out in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where a group of young boys are gambling in the back of one of the Angkor Wat temples. The object of their game is to guess when a stopwatch will stop; it won’t be on zero – it stops due to the mental manipulations of a little boy. The gamblers are rousted out by the cops, one of whom takes an interest in the telepath, and the kid is not seen again until much later.

Cut to Tibet – a band of travellers is looking for a temple with a sacred amulet. When soldiers block their way, out come some nasty looking curved blades and the soldiers are no more. These are the real villains, or one of them at least - Metinee "Look Ked" Kingpoyom. She finds the temple, and though a youthful female guardian (Jinvipa Kheawkunya) with formidable martial arts skills is guarding the amulet, Look Kad, or Areena as she is called, defeats her and takes the amulet.

Cut to Bangkok, finally. A heroic firefighter, Chan (Wasan Khantaau), risks all to save a baby from burning building. Thing is, the fire is for practice and the baby is just a doll. Chan, always playing the hero and never willing to work with the team, is called on the carpet again by the fire chief. He is demoted to watching the equipment room.

But soon a real fire alarm comes in. There’s a blaze at the prison. But the fire has been started as a diversion for a prison break. Areena and her men are breaking out their leader – the international terrorist Osama bin Ali (Arnon “Phu Blackhead” Saisangchan).

Chan, who’s bluffed his way onto the firefighting line, busts in on the breakout and tries once again to play the hero. Chan finds himself stabbed with a mysterious amulet that drives a mercury-like fluid into his veins. The hot firefighter is now a super-heated superhero.

Concerned about the changes his body is going through, Chan has some strange visions involving a monk, who tells him about keeping a cool heart (jai yen), but if he finds that his heart is hot, he must use that power. Then that female guardian from the Tibetan temple pops up out of nowhere to tell Chan what has happened to him – the amulet has given him a superpower that he must learn to control. If he has the slightest emotion – anger or passion – his body will overheat and his clothes will burst into flames.

Later at home he tests that theory. This is probably the first time a superhero in a family comic-book movie uses a Penthouse magazine to see if he gets all hot and bothered. And, sure enough, after lingering over the pages of lewdly posed, buxom blondes, his jeans are afire.

Chan lives with his mother (Darunee Khrittabhunyalai) and has a brother who’s now a sister, portrayed by none other than the Beautiful Boxer herself, Parinya "Nong Toom" Kiatbusaba.

Deciding to use that power, he instructs his big sis to sew him a superhero costume out of some fire-proof cloth (it just so happens that sis is an expert superhero costume designer, as well as a kick-ass kickboxer, who manages to get a few well-placed kicks in a number of action setpieces).

Next is a montage of the "dark hero" high-diving from the top of the Rama VIII Bridge to stop some fleeing crooks. He puts a halt to a bank robbery. He captures some rampaging elephants (that had become enraged by the mind-control of that creepy little Cambodian boy). And, he stops a drunken driver from running down a garland seller, yet the scene still manages to advertise a major beer brand. Funny how that works.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Ali is urging his terrorist network on. How they understand him is beyond comprehension, for his English is so heavily accented, subtitles are needed to see what he’s saying. Poor Phu Blackhead. His voice should have been dubbed over, or maybe he could have just spoken Thai and had a translator. Or perhaps his character could have been done away with completely, to let Look Ked star as the chief villain rather than a lackey.

In a clumsy bit of exposition, there’s a flashback to Afghanistan, to see how Osama copped such a huge resentment against the United States and the Western world.

Osama's bombers fan out across Bangkok. One, an attractive young woman, takes a seat in a Khao San Road cafe. A strapping American lad talks her up. She bats her eyes and says, I kid you not: "May the force be with you," as she triggers her bomb. It's a chilling proposition – having terrorists pick such targets, but scene only generated laughter for the audience.

Using the combined power of the Sun and the Moon amulets, Osama hopes to rule the world, or destroy it. Trouble is the Sun amulet is now in the body of Chan, leaving the terrorists with just the Moon amulet. There’s some scientific mumbo jumbo to explain it all, but the upshot is that the Sun amulet does not contain mercury at all; it's uranium. But Uranium Man just doesn’t sound as cool as Mercury Man.

To get the Moon amulet, Osama kidnaps Chan’s mother and sister, which leads eventually to a big confrontation at the Royal Thai Navy base in Sattahip. It involves a missile being a fired at an American ship (that is apparently being sailed by officers of Britain’s Royal Navy, or at least extras from England), and the anti-aircraft guns on the aircraft carrier, HTMS Chakri Nareubet, being fired to save the day.

That little Cambodian boy is using his mind control for something or other. Osama doses himself with a chemical weapon. And Areena stabs herself with the Moon amulet and turns into an acrobatic ice queen. But she dare not bare herself with a form-fitting painted-on costume like Mystique in the X-Men. No nudity please, we're Thai! So Areena has some demurely icy shorts and a halter-top worked into the latex costume design.

Throughout the film there are references to Spider-Man. The fire chief tells Chan, "With great fires comes great responsibility." There are spray-painted notes to Spidey in the scenery. And whenever possible it seems, there are children wearing Spider-Man T-shirts. It's unknown what the filmmakers hope to accomplish by this, other than just trying to be cute.

They did it in Ong-Bak, with notes in the scenery to Luc Besson (who in turn bought the rights to the film and distributed it throughout the world) and Steven Spielberg (who has yet to call). It was funny then, but now it's just annoying. Do they honestly think Mercury Man will find his way into a Hollywood superhero film anytime soon?

There's a rich tradition of Thai mythology that already exists. Maybe someday Mercury Man can join forces with characters from the Ramakien or the stories of Sunthorn Phu (or Sek Loso)? Or maybe he could settle for helping Rambo defeat the generals in Burma?

See also:
Related posts:

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please, no questions or comments about where to download movies or subtitle files.

Please read the FAQ about Thai films on DVD before asking about where to find a Thai movie on DVD with English subtitles.

Make your comments pertinent to the post you are commenting on. For off-topic comments, general observations or news tips, consider sending an e-mail to me at wisekwai [ a t ] g m a i l [d o t ] c o m.

All comments are moderated. Spam comments will be deleted.