Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Photo and video essay: Return of the Red Eagle - Ananda Everingham at the Film Archive

On Saturday, October 10, 2009, the Film Archive (Public Organization) Thailand marked 39 years since the death of Thai leading Mitr Chaibancha, who died on October 8, 1970, while filming a stunt for Insee Tong (Golden Eagle). Thailand's top leading man, he was 36 years old and had been featured in 266 movies, including the enduring Red Eagle series.

More than half of Mitr's movies were with leading lady Petchara Chaowarat, who went blind in 1978 and withdrew from public life. She re-emerged just this month in a TV commercial and magazine spread.

Another of Mitr's leading ladies was Pawana Chanachit, who appeared at the Film Archive on Saturday to talk about making movies in the 1970s, sign autographs and pose for photos. Known as the "Pearl of Asia", Pawana not only starred in Thai films, but in Hong Kong as well. Among her movies was Duel of Fists, a Muay Thai drama by the Shaw Brothers starring David Chiang and Ti Lung and set in Bangkok.

The pistol-packing, fist-throwing hero Red Eagle is from a series of novels by author Sake Dusit. The masked vigilante crimefighter is the alter-ego of Rom Ritthikrai, a socialite lawyer who enjoys getting drunk and spending his free time in nightclubs.

Mitr portayed Red Eagle in a series of films from the late 1950s. The character has been depicted in film and television several times since Mitr's death in 1970.

But the latest iteration, and the one that many of Mitr's fans are pinning their hopes on to successfully reboot the series and carry Mitr's legacy, is the upcoming production by director Wisit Sasanatieng, whose Tears of the Black Tiger western captured the retro spirit of Thai cinema's "Golden Age" of the 1960s and '70s.

Stepping into Mitr's shoes is actor Ananda Everingham, who won accolades for his dramatic performance in last year's dreamy and tragic romance Happy Birthday.

Ananda was the guest of honor for the Mitr memorial day observance. It was a scorching afternoon at the Film Archive and Ananda was dripping with perspiration after just taking a few footsteps from the van that brought him to far-flung Salaya, Nakhom Pathom, about an hour from the center of Bangkok.

But the 27-year-old actor was in good spirits as he set immediately to the work of putting his hand and footprints and autograph in the cement pavement outside the Film Archive's cinema.

A video of what's now become a well-practiced ritual -- dozens of stars have left their marks at the Archive -- is at YouTube and is embedded below.

With that job over, Ananda was hustled into the cinema's private office to clean up and cool down while the 100 or so fans packed into the auditorium to watch Red Eagle Returns, a 39-minute highlight reel of Mitr Chaibancha as duking it out as Red Eagle.

Ananda then appeared to make a few brief remarks before adjourning to the lobby for a marathon autograph session in which all manner of Ananda ephemera was pushed his way -- magazine covers and photo spreads, advertising layouts (his latest campaign is for Chaps jeans), movie posters and, of course, DVDs. His entire filmography was there -- his break-out horror hit Shutter, as well as more recent work from the past couple of years -- his transsexual romantic comedy Me ... Myself, the cross-border romance Sabaidee Luang Prabang, Queens of Langkasuka (his first action role), supernatural thriller The Coffin and psychological thriller Memory. Even his early catalog was celebrated -- Anda kub Fahsai and 303 Fear Faith Revenge from 1998 and Ghost Delivery from 2003.

When no more scraps of paper were evident, it was time for Ananda to make his getaway.

Hopefully by this time next year he'll have been on the big screen, wearing the red mask that Mitr made famous. Ananda Everingham is Red Eagle.

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