Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wilhelm screaming for Red Eagle

Wisit Sasanatieng's much anticipated and wildly hyped The Red Eagle (Insee Dang, อินทรีเเดง) opens in Thai cinemas today.

It's been a long, hard road for this film, with the expectations dampened somewhat by news that this will be Wisit's parting shot for the film industry. He has since revealed his hard feelings for the studio system in newspaper stories at The Nation and the Bangkok Post.

Creative differences and budgetary constraints weighed most heavily on the director, who is sensitive about his art.

But that hasn't stopped him from having a bit of fun with The Red Eagle.

And that's where the Wilhelm scream comes in. This stock film-and-television sound effect can be heard early in The Red Eagle, when some anonymous henchman is hit by the hero's gunshots and falls into a swimming pool. I believe it's been tweaked slightly to blend it in with the overall sound design, but the warble of the "man being eaten by alligator" is unmistakable.

There are two other Wilhelm screams peppered throughout The Red Eagle, marking, I believe, the first use of the effect in a Thai film.

I'm afraid I'm entirely to blame for this. I have Wisit's e-mail address and actually use it. And Wisit, bless him, actually responded and took me seriously when I asked him to consider adding what's now become a sound designer's in-joke to his film.

First heard in the 1951 western Distant Drums, the wild vocalization of Private Wilhelm (likely performed by singer Sheb Wooly of "Flying Purple People Eater" fame) saw a resurgence after sound designer Ben Burtt dubbed it in for the cry of storm trooper falling from a ledge on the Death Star in the original Star Wars. Lately, you can hear the cliche on the nerd-ridden TV series Chuck.

Wisit gets the joke, and the Wilhelms in The Red Eagle fit perfectly. Despite working with a budget that would struggle to feed the cast and crew of Hollywood superhero blockbusters, Wisit has crafted what's possibly the most Hollywood-like Thai film yet. It's a big, loud, violent and brash superhero epic, with cool gadgets, bumbling cops and dastardly villains (including Red Eagle's arch-nemesis, the Dr. Doom-like Black Devil).

I caught only one of three Wilhelms with my ears when I saw The Red Eagle on Monday night at its gala premiere at CentralWorld.

It was the first big film event for the SF World Cinema at CentralWorld, which recently reopened after being closed since the April and May red-shirt political protests and the May 19 arson attacks that torched part of the mall. Thousands of people, many of them clad in black T-shirts and wearing red masks, packed in, further feeding the Red Eagle mystique. A team of black-shirted, red-mask clad men lined the red carpet, keeping the way clear for celebrities to sashay in to the meet-and-greet before the movie.

In addition to the many product placements in The Red Eagle, there's more juice in a cross-promotional tie-in with Bangkok's new Madame Tussaud's wax museum, opening in December at the former EGV Gold multiplex at Siam Discovery. They have a wax figure of the original Red Eagle, Mitr Chaibancha, and he was at CentralWorld on Monday night, posing with fans. Kinda creepy.

The theater chains are getting in on the action themselves, with both SF cinemas and Major Cineplex producing collectible Red Eagle popcorn sets.

Stefan S. of A Nutshell Review was also there, and he's posted what's likely the first review of The Red Eagle and also an interview with Insee Dang himself, actor Ananda Everingham (both cross-published at Twitch).

More critics and industry folks will get their first look at The Red Eagle at the Pusan International Film Festival, which has many Thai entries in the official selection, among them Wisit's Iron Pussy short film.

I want to watch The Red Eagle again to hear the other two screams.

Update: On Coffee Coffee and More Coffee, critic Peter Nellhaus offers his views on Wisit's leaving the industry:

Imagine, if you will, if Wong Kar-wai decided after In the Mood for Love that he was no longer in the mood to make another film, or if Paul Thomas Anderson declared following There Will be Blood that there will be no more Paul Thomas Anderson movies. Imagine if Martin Scorsese declared after Raging Bull that he was tired from raging at the studio suits and their lack of imagination or sense of film history.

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