Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mercury Man revisited

Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee's Peter Nellhaus was briefly a resident of Chiang Mai, Thailand, last year, and I welcomed his views on Thai cinema. Though I exchanged e-mails and blog comments with him, I never made it up to Chiang Mai to meet him before he left. But I still read his blog. And he's still reviewing Thai films.

His latest is his account of watching the DVD of Mercury Man (Ma Noot Lhek Lai), a 2006 film that sought to blend Spider-Man superhero action with Muay Thai and Thai-flavored supernatural beliefs. I had forgotten it was released on English subtitled DVD, an all-region disc, by Bonzai Media.

Directed by Bhandit Thongdee and featuring action choreographed by the Panna Rittikrai team, it was a weird mix that never really gelled.

It has far more troubling aspects, which I'm not sure I ever put a finger on when I reviewed the film. Peter nails it though:

What may make the film more troubling to a non-Thai audience is that the story is also one of Buddhists versus Muslims.

Putting this into some kind of context may be tricky. Even though most Thais are Buddhists, it is not a state religion. Still the Muslim versus Buddhists plot is questionable considering that there is a sizable Muslim minority primarily in southern Thailand. Those more familiar with Buddhism will recognize that the Buddhism displayed in Mercury Man is both generic and exotic, the with the kind of sage advice uttered by Sam Jaffe in Lost Horizon. This world view is somewhat more comprehensible based on the point of view of most Thais which is that the world is divided between ethnic Thais and everyone else.

The divided culture of South Thailand wasn't likely given much thought, even as the filmmakers threw in bits of Khmer black magic, Tibetan mysticism, and brought suicide bombers to Khao San Road cafes and had missiles targeting the U.S.

Much as I actually enjoyed parts of it, Mercury Man (available at is a sad example of the type of Thai films that get released on DVDs outside Thailand, while far more worthy and thought-provoking films are lost and forgotten.

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