January 24, 2012
Wisit Sasanatieng - 2010
Shengchi Region 3 DVD
As almost any filmmaker can tell you, critical acclaim can only get you so far. And for all the attention and acclaim given to Wisit, the films he has made previously, even the internationally distributed Tears of the Black Tiger, were never financially successful. His newest film, hoping to capitalize on the love of the original Red Eagle series of films, was so hampered by artistic compromises that Wisit had temporarily considered leaving filmmaking. As it turned out, Red Eagle was another film mostly well received by Thai film critics, but again falling short commercially. Wisit has been working on another film though, this time independent of any studios.
I had written about the last film of the original series a few years ago. Sadly, of that was the only film available as a subtitled DVD. It perhaps made more economic sense to make the new Red Eagle a contemporary character, taking advantage of computer generated effects and give the hero more high tech tools to play with. It may have also seemed like a good idea to play it as a mostly serious action film. The reaction to Wisit's previous films was that Thai film audiences weren't interest in homages to Thailand's cinematic past. And yet, based on the evidence of Insee Thong, the Red Eagle films really lend themselves to the kind of parody of the secret agent out of his time as with the Austin Powers films, or something along the lines of the recent OSS 117 films.
There are only a couple of times when Red Eagle shares the unembarrassed goofiness of the original series. At one point, Red Eagle has a sword fight with the masked villain, Black Devil. The two find themselves in a giant mall, in a section of a store selling cooking ware. Black Devil's sword cuts through two small pots that Red Eagle lamely uses to defend himself. Briefly letting his guard down, Black Devil gets beaned on the head with a giant kettle. Another moment has the earnest young police detective, Chart, on a high speed chase on a motorcycle, modified with a small ice cream wagon on the side, constantly playing the tune, "Mary Had a Little Lamb". There is also a fight near a bunch of outdoor food stalls, where the Sikh detective shows off his fighting skills with deft throwing of food skewers that fly into the eyes of the bad guys. Missing are villainous ladyboys and Petchara's elaborate hairdos.
The new film takes place slightly in the future, 2016. Aside from the cultural significance of the character of Red Eagle, what would be lost on non-Thai audiences is how much of the film is a critique of the Thai political landscape. There are certainly nuances that probably passed me by. And it is the political aspects of Red Eagle that would make the film less meaningful to those unfamiliar with what has been going on in Thailand since 2006, between changes in the government, and actions of different civilian groups.
Where Wisit seemed to most successful keep his hand in the proceedings is the use of color. Much of the film takes place at night, or where everything is shaded blue, with dramatic streaks of red. The first fight scene has brief flashes of red on the entire screen. The action sequences are done as series of short, highly edited, takes. The action scenes are shot in such a way that there is no sense of loss regarding the placement and the activity of the characters. One of the visual devices used are animated x-rays showing broken bones. A sequel is promised at the end of the film, but the bigger cliffhanger might be as to if it will actually be made, and if so, will Wisit be back on the set.
Posted by peter at January 24, 2012 07:15 AM
I've been meaning to comment on this for a couple of days. I'm sure much of the politics and such would elude me, but this looks amazing. I absolutely loved Tears of the Black Tiger and the pictures here are terrific.
Posted by: Neil at January 31, 2012 09:25 AM
Thanks for the compliments on the screengrabs. The panache of Black Tiger/b> is missing here, sadly.
Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at January 31, 2012 11:19 AM