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August 04, 2008

Insee Thong

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Mitchai Banchaa - 1970
Triple X Region 0 DVD

I can't possibly improve on the notes that come with this DVD: Rome Rittkikrai (Mitr Chaibancha) the real Red Eagle had to disguise himself as The Golden Eagle, just to hunt down Bhoowanai (Kanchit Kwanpracha) the fake Red Eagle, who was having plans to destroy the country. Rome, by the help of Vasana (Petchara Chaowarat) also had to conquer the Red Bamboo gang which was led by Bakin (Ob Boontid). And in the final scene, Vasana would have to pick up Rome Rittkikrai, in the Red Eagle costume just to proof that the real Red Eagle is still alive. And this is also the last scene in the real life of Mitr Chaibancha because of the unexpected accident that took away the greatest actor of our time on October 8th, 1970.

Insee Thong is a key film to understanding Thai cinema. One of the surviving examples from the "Red Eagle" series, it's a film to be seen to more fully appreciate homages past (Michael Shaowanasai and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Adventures of Iron Pussy) and future, with Wisit Sasanatieng planned "Red Eagle" film starring Ananda Everingham. The film is timely to watch due to some similar circumstances with a currently popular film. In the case of Insee Thong the star was both a masked hero and a joker. His accidental death during the filming of the final shot gave the film a mythic status that still exists in Thailand almost thirty years later. How big a star was Mitr Chaibancha? The DVD includes footage of his funeral which was open to the public. The crowds may not have been the size of that for Rudolph Valentino, but by any standards it was still huge. The original film reportedly included footage of Mitr's fall from the helicopter rope ladder that flies into the sunset. The DVD ends with a freeze frame with titles (in Thai) explaining that the final shot of the film was also the final footage of Mitr. Amazingly, Insee Thong was released slightly more than a month after filming was completed.

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The print that the DVD used as source material must have played in every Bangkok grindhouse. It's hard to know if the color scheme dominated by green and pink was deliberate, or part of the general fading of the print. Add to that, scratches and a few jump cuts, all of which adds to the sense of a genuine movie going experience.

I would go as far to say that, except that it's in Thai, and roughly made my Hollywood standards, it has everything current audiences are looking for in a movie, and more. Aside from Mitr as a masked hero, Petchara shows she can handle herself as well when needed. Bakin is capable of having his spirit manifest from red glass Buddhas, causing his victims to be "heart attacked". I can't say for certain how accurate the translation of the subtitles are, but as I understood it, Bakin studied hypnotism under Rasputin and is able to divide himself into up to three unkillable apparitions. At one point, a police detective cross dresses to infiltrate a gang of ladyboy criminals. Mitr's hearty laughter is topped by the chortling of the bad guys. There's also the teensiest bit of titillation with the introduction of a kidnapped scientist's daughter wearing nothing but a very short nightgown.

For those who don't speak Thai, there are only a few examples of Thai cinema from before the "Thai New Wave" and more recent action and ghost films, available on DVD. The concept of film preservation is still debated in Thailand. Add to that, a lack of interest in making even some basic information available on the Internet Movie Database which seems more concerned with having technical staff than film scholars on their payroll. For someone like myself who has affection for Thai cinema, finding Insee Thong on DVD is like finding a lost treasure that may be worse for wear. What the film may lack in polish and professionalism, it more than makes up for in unabashed enthusiasm.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 4, 2008 12:46 AM


This is such a strange movie. The sight of Mitr rolling around, brawling with the cross-dressing detective is the part that slays me.

Posted by: wisekwai at August 4, 2008 01:57 AM