Friday, October 22, 2010

Review: The Red Eagle (Insee Dang)

  • Directed by Wisit Sasanatieng
  • Starring Ananda Everingham, Yarinda Bunnag, Pornwut Sarasin, Jonathan Hallman, Wannasingh Prasertkul
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 7, 2010; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 5/5

Perhaps the most Hollywood-like movie yet made by the Thai film industry, The Red Eagle (Insee Dang, อินทรีเเดง) is a big, loud and brash superhero action flick that is mostly relentless in its pace and hyper-stylized violence.

Wisit Sasanatieng directs this much-anticipated reimagining of the 1960s action franchise that starred the legendary Mitr Chaibancha, which was originally based on a series of crime novels by writer Sake Dusit.

Fans hoping for the colorful camp and dry wit of Wisit's previous films like Tears of the Black Tiger and Citizen Dog might come away disappointed with the director's latest effort. He was disappointed too, and creative differences and budgetary pressures have prompted Wisit to say this will be his last studio film.

Restrained as he might have been stylistically, there's still loads of Wisit's cheeky brand of satiric humor. I think he had the most fun with the over-the-top product placements in this film, covering just about everything from a local roasted-chicken chain to an energy drink. Villains fight to the death atop a life-insurance company's billboard. And copious amounts of certain local beer is consumed, surely all with the knowledge that the labels on those little brown bottles will be blurred out by censors when the movie airs on Thai TV, because of restrictions on alcohol advertising.

There's also health advisories built in, like when a man smoking a cigarette has his head lopped off by Red Eagle's sword, and as the still-puffing noggin is rolling on the ground, there's the warning, "smoking is hazardous to your health."

And, in a nod to the in-jokes and cliches of Hollywood action filmmaking, Wisit's even included a few Wilhelm screams (there are three, he says) – characteristic painful yelps by random henchguys who are disposed of in various diabolical ways. I don't know where Wisit got the idea to include the Wilhelms.

Thailand's current top leading man, Ananda Everingham, capably steps into Mitr's role. The Red Eagle he portrays is a much darker and brooding character. Instead of the fun-loving drunken playboy lawyer that was Mitr's alter ego, this Rome Rittikrai is an angry loner – a former special forces operative who was betrayed on the battlefield. One cool customer, he lives in the basement of an icehouse, and takes morphine because of a bullet wound to the head.

Fueled by pain and self-loathing over his addiction, he strikes out with great vengeance and furious anger those dark and corrupt forces who are poisoning and destroying Thai society. Cool gadgets at his disposal include a sword with a collapsible blade, a powerful big motorcycle, bullet-resistant clothes, infra-red goggles built into his mask, rubber masks so he can disguise himself and an arsenal of firearms.

But the sides are closing on him.

Squeezing him from one direction is a shadowy organization known as the Matulee, whose members dress all in black, meet in dark rooms and wear scary black masks. (It's said this is a nod to the traditions of khon dance theater and the Thai saying that if you wear a khon mask you are acting in a role different from your true self.) The Matulee control the government and the big-business interests, and they have tasked a fierce killer to go after the Red Eagle – the Black Devil, a Dr. Doom-like hooded character with a wild curved blade, who pounces from the rooftops. Black Devil and his alter ego are played by Jonathan Hallman, a model who's acted in TV commercials – another new find by Wisit and his casting director.

Crowding Red Eagle on another side is a brash and impatient young police lieutenant, Chart Wutthikrai (Wannasingh Prasertkul). A stock character if there ever was one, if he were older, he could easily say "I'm gettin' too old for this shit." Here, the character's conceit is that whenever he gets ready to smoke a cigarette, he never gets to light it – also a possible nod to planned TV airings of the movie, in which cigarette smoking will be blurred out.

As it turns out, Chart is actually an old army buddy of Rome, and yet even he can't see that it's his friend's face behind that high-tech red mask.

The breathless pace of the action – spurred on by a fast-paced recurring orchestral theme – only lets up for tender moments between Ananda and his leading lady, the folk singer and actress Yarinda Bunnag, who previously appeared in the GTH romantic drama Best of Times. She's the socialite ex-fiancee of the Thai prime minister – played with quiet menace by Pornwut Sarasin, the Thai Coca-Cola executive who previously acted in Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Ploy.

Politics has changed the former grass-roots activist, and he's now in bed with the powerful interests that want to build a nuclear power plant in Thailand. And she's taken over his role as the leader of the anti-nuclear grass-roots NGO.

So the Red Eagle becomes her protector.

There's been much talk about the political message of The Red Eagle, but I don't see anything that's specific to the current Thai situation. Maybe it's just because I'm not Thai. Sure, there's relevance, but the message about big business and politics colluding and being corrupted by power is universal. The Red Eagle could take place anywhere. He could be a hero to anyone.

And I hope he will be, even if the teased part 2 of The Red Eagle never does actually happen.

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  1. Wow a perfect score.. Totally can't wait to watch this film especially after reading this great review.

  2. Hello wisekwai! Since Wisit is no longer directing a sequel to Red Eagle (and indeed any studio film as he had said), if Five Star is decided in producing a sequel, who do you think should direct it? I have yet to watch any of their films, but I would like for Wisit's successor to be one of his colleagues in the Thai New Wave like Pen-Ek and Nonzee. Seriously, if done right, with a good script and innovative (not-so-Hollywood style) visual effects, the Red Eagle can give a certain businessman from Gotham and a struggling photographer for a tabloid in New York a run for their money.

  3. I've heard one of the producers at Five Star say that only Wisit could direct another Red Eagle movie, so it will probably never happen.

    But perhaps someone like Kongkiat Komesiri who directed Slice, wrote The Unseeable and did Muay Thai Chaya would be a logical choice to take it over.

    Or an experienced indie director looking to make their third or fourth feature.

  4. Thanks for the answer. Frankly, I do hope that an Insee Daeng sequel would come out. The heroes of the West need some competition from a not-much known vigilante from the warm streets of Bangkok.

  5. I really really liked this film and I watched it in Thailand ,I have purchased it from the main dealer you mention here ,which is fine ,but does not have english subtitles ,I did read from some else on another blog that he had got english subtitle s for this film can anybody help me out please !! ,one other thing the main dealer said they only deal in dvd not ost cd is there going to be a cd sountrack for this film Clive ,,,swadi carp please any body ??
    eithicd's was shop ordered from


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