The 60s seem like a groovy time for superheroes to flourish on television and film, where in the West brings to mind the William Dozier Batman and the Green Hornet series, while in Thailand came a hero called Red Eagle, a masked avenger with a crimson mask in the shape of an eagle. We know how Batman got a reboot recently under the hands of Christopher Nolan, and Michel Gondry's version of the Green Hornet will be due in some months after the 3D conversion process. In Thailand, the time is now for the release of Red Eagle, a reboot of the popular Thai hero based on the novels by Sake Dusit, where the film franchise of the 60s ended in tragedy when leading man Mitr Chaibancha fell tragically from a helicopter stunt gone wrong on the last day of shooting of Golden Eagle.
This is possibly writer-director Wisit Sasanatieng's most ambitious project yet, in terms of its blunt critique on corrupt politics and politicians, wide ranging action sequences that shocked and awed, and a sprawling narrative that couldn't be contained in a single film. This of course paves way for subsequent stories to be told by filmmakers not necessarily himself – he had announced that he's quitting commercial filmmaking for more indie fare - but I just can't see how anyone can take his place in the hot seat with the road map for the character put in place, especially when it comprises of an iconic homage to the original character and actor Mitr Chaibancha. I felt it could have ended before going into explicit cliffhanger mode, and audiences can read the final shot either as yes, a homage being paid after a tribute to Mitr Chaibancha came out, or it's the proverbial dangle of the carrot on what to expect in the next film, which may seem like letting audiences on thinking the scene was actually contained in the narrative proper, and not supposed to be a stand alone teaser. This may bring about some talking points when the lights come on at the end.
Like the reboots of superheroes of late, thrown out the window is the thick campy flavour, and filling the vacuum is a story that's very serious in tone, with heroes that are adequately flawed. Wisit's Red Eagle is a pained hero, betrayed by his country while as a member of an elite tactical force, before taking up arms as the titular masked vigilante to systematically bring down corrupt officials in office. When watching the film, you can't help but to draw parallels that he's both Batman and the Joker combined, the former in his mission and cause, the latter in execution that uncannily follows the Joker's early modus operandi, dishing out death threats to instill fear, and then delivering the kill.
And here's where things go into overdrive loud. Wisit's films have been know thus far to be beautifully musical, but in Red Eagle it's the theme tune that takes precedence over everything else, blaring through the speakers each time the hero comes on in almost every action sequence, and played ad nauseam throughout the film, which is quite unfortunate if you're looking forward to an aural variety. From the get go Wisit signals the brutality of the Red Eagle which puts him on par with that seen in Punisher: War Zone – guns and an extendable sword are his weapon of choice, and inflicting punishment is part and parcel in dispatching opponents, with plenty of graphic, unflinching decapitations and dismemberment of limbs in the clear.
Being an origin film, the narrative contains the necessary back-stories to establish the character of Rom Rittikral (Ananda Everingham), which has departed from being the suave playboy to almost a recluse, being more of his alter ego Red Eagle / Insee Daeng rather than his drunken persona, suffering periodically from massive headaches from a bullet in the head and becoming a morphine addict. Ananda drops his inherently suave persona to play a man hell bent in bringing his brand of justice to the city. It's also pretty amazing how Wisit wrote this back-story and incorporated Ananda's physical facial features with his mole under the right eye to tie in with the story, cementing him to the role of Rom and Insee Daeng, who loses more than scoring decisive wins in the film, protected from harm by his inner, bulletproof vest when he in turn becomes the Dark Knight equivalent (sans Alfred) protecting Bangkok, going after evil politicians and gangster chiefs.
Matulee, a secret organization made up of supposedly powerful society types, all decked out in masks to maintain anonymity during meetings, decide to engage the services of the expert assassin Black Devil, armed with a wicked looking sickle-blade and looking very much like the Grim Reaper, to hunt down and kill our hero, and he becomes the primary nemesis in this film other than a hint at who helms Matulee. Their clash leads to two top notch action sequences, the first being an intricately crafted extended battle atop building roofs to gigantic billboards before duking it out in a supermarket followed by a lift-shaft tussle. It is this sequence that will keep you at the edge of your seat with pauses for comic relief provided by the rather bumbling Detective Chart (Wannasingha Prasertkul) who's tasked to bring down Insee Daeng as well. However, there were moments where tight camera angles, close ups and quick cuts didn't manage to do justice to the fight design, and you'd wish things could've been improved. It may highlight the dexterity of the Red Eagle, but thankfully this aspect improved as the film wore on. Watch out for those mean swordfighting moves executed by both exponents out for each other's throats!
Although written and developed for many years by Wisit Sasanatieng, one cannot escape from drawing parallels between the political arena in the film, and that in real life. Set in the year 2013 with the Liberal Party in power, Prime Minister Direk (Pornwut Sarasin) got elected on an anti-nuclear platform, but is more comfortable in negating his promises made to the electorate and supporters of an NGO led by Yasana (Yarinda Boonnak) his ex-fiancee who has a hand in rescuing Insee Daeng at one point, and sets up an unrealized love triangle. At every opportunity the film demonstrates or comments how politicians promise the world but deliver nothing or go back on promises, where corrupt rich men pull their connections and networks against those who are on the lower rungs of society. It doesn't necessarily have to be a critique of politics or how a police force seem to be at the beck and call of those in power in Red Eagle's country of origin, but could be applicable anywhere in the world since it's a flaw in human nature on how power corrupts.
For fans of the 60s Mitr Chaibancha version of the film, Red Eagle will almost definitely be a must-watch to see how one of the most inventive filmmakers in Thailand today works in a treatment to reboot the film franchise. Wisit Sasanatieng followers will be in for a surprise at how he tackles a commercial action film based on a masked crusader, which seems to be in complete departure from his earlier works. Not without flaws, but I'm still going to put this on my recommended list, and personally I'm hoping this film does well enough to warrant a follow up, which should provide the proper closure to the mission that Red Eagle had set out to achieve.