Friday, October 15, 2010

Red Eagle

Red Eagle

Director: Wisit Sasanatieng
Year: 2010
Country: Thailand
Starring: Ananda Everingham

In another lifetime and in another galaxy not far from here I used to help program the New York Asian Film Festival and one of my annual duties was to check in with Five Star Production Company to see if the film Red Eagle would be ready for our festival. This went on for five years and every year the answer would come back “Not yet”. It was a long gestation, but the film finally hit the screens in Bangkok last week with a publicity bang. Red Eagle is a modern updating of a very beloved film character from a series of films in the 1960’s played by then action superstar Mitr Chaibancha. The films and Mitr gained even more legendary status when he died doing a stunt in what turned out to be the final film in the series in 1970.

That wasn’t the reason though that the NYAFF was so excited about the film since none of us had seen any of those old films. Our excitement stemmed from the fact that the director put in charge of the project was Wisit Sasanatieng, whose film debut Tears of the Black Tiger in 2000 was simply one of the most marvelously inventive and playful blasts of color and design ever put to canvass. His 2004 follow-up Citizen Dog was also awash in colors and eccentricities and this created a certain cult status around the director in the West. In 2006 his third film, The Unseeable, was released and it disappointed many fans in that he backed away from the eye-popping color palette of his two previous films to deliver an old fashioned atmospheric haunted house tale that was miles away from the current typical blood and entrails Thai horror film. What all three films had in common besides a clear love on Wisit’s part for old Thai films was box office failure. They all bombed. More Westerners have probably seen his films than Thai’s. This recently had Wisit saying that after those three films he had to have a commercial success or no one would invest in his films anymore. He went on to say that he would have loved to have made Red Eagle in the same style as the old series but that would never work for today’s audience. This film needed to make real money and not just be a film festival favorite. This background brings us to and explains to a large degree Red Eagle.



Though Red Eagle has a few splashes of style (with a Bond like opening sequence and credits) and a few drops of humor, it is overall a very standard conventional angst ridden super hero film along the lines of Batman or The Punisher. It is surprisingly violent with decapitated heads and arms flying around like awoken bats in a dark cave. The narrative is simplistic and the characterization is almost non-existent. Red Eagle is out for vengeance in an angry sullen morphine addicted manner, but very little of his past is shown and he never engenders any sympathy or understanding. He is a cipher behind his mask and his muted expressions. The other characters are all from the stock storage room – the young cute cop out to get him, the evil doers behind their masks, the girl who loves him for unknown reasons and a bunch of salacious corrupt politicians who litter the landscape.



What makes the film work though to a large degree is that Wisit fills the running time with one action sequence after another and they are fairly well done. In particular, when you consider that the budget though high for a Thai film is still miniscule compared to an action film made in Hollywood. Wisit had to make a decision I suppose at some point whether to use a high profile leading man or one of Thailand’s many action stars. He went with the former choice in Ananda Everingham, one of Thailand’s best known young actors – but one clearly not up to snuff in martial arts. Therefore the film is very closely and quickly edited and I would have to assume doubled. Even so, the action sequences are theatrical, imaginative, suspenseful and are like waiting for a bus – there is another one coming right around the corner. The standout sequence is when Red Eagle is pitted against a paid assassin, Black Devil, and their combat takes them across the rooftops of the city, crashing into and demolishing a department store and fighting on top of a falling elevator. It is a pretty terrific set piece. But when the action stops, the sludge begins of ill-fated romance, social issues, corrupt politics and silly cops.



What really came as a surprise was the ending – there isn’t one ala Ong Bak 2. Sitting there I was beginning to think that this was going to be a very long movie because there were loads of bad guys still to be killed, when suddenly the film announces that this concludes Part 1. I thought it was an in-joke regarding the serial nature of the old films – but nope it was really the end and the lights were coming on. I don’t know if Part II is already in the can (a quick glimpse of the next film – morbidly Red Eagle is on a ladder trying to board a helicopter – i.e. how Mitr died - was shown) or whether the success of this film will determine whether it is made. But Wisit has already made noises that Red Eagle will be his last film and one senses that he is very burned out. Maybe critical success came too early.



My rating for this film: 7.5

The Trailer: I didn't write much about the plot of the film, but you can get a sense of it from the trailer.



Of little interest to any one else, but I was passing a sidewalk pirated dvd sale the other day and came across a few dvds of interest. First, it is always nice to see Hsu Chi anywhere - was so surprised and delighted when I realized she was in I Love New York a few weeks back - and it was a kick seeing a mention on the Ping Pong box - a fabulous Jpaanese film - of NYAFF!



4 comments:

Glenn, kenixfan said...

Great to read a real review of Red Eagle before the fanboys on certain other sites chime in on this as I know they will. It sounds like an exciting but unfulfilling film.

I didn't see The Unseeable yet and I probably won't.

Brian said...

Hey, I am a fanboy as are you if I am not mistaken! Twins concert . . .. Red Eagle was fun but not great and not very original - but within the context of Thai films and Thai budgets it is a well made film - but at the same time do we really need a super hero film that emulates Western super hero films but doesn't really give you anything new? Maybe. Maybe not. Not sure if the Unseeable was picked up for distribution in the West - but it was overall an easy miss.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

I'm thinking of certain news sites, not sites with real reviews, in my dig at fanboys.

When a site hypes everything, it's hard to know where the quality is.

Brian said...

I know what you mean. It seems like some sites buy into the whole PR machine - they make every film sound like the coming of a New Age and then the film stinks and we hear no more of it.