On October 7, Thailand will finally get to see Wisit Sasanatieng’s take on the classic Thai super hero series from the 1950s and 1960s, Insee Daeng or Red Eagle.
Red Eagle has been the focus of huge anticipation ever since Wisit (best known in the West for his homage to the Thai action films of the fifties and sixties, Tears of the Black Tiger) announced the remake.
After three years of political uncertainty, culminating several months ago in pitched street battles in the Bangkok between the military and red shirt protesters loyal to the ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand needs a hero and the Red Eagle might just fit the bill.
Trailers for the remake floating around the web for a while now. I found the latest, complete with English language sub-titles, on one of my favourite blogs, Wise Kwai’s Thai Film Journal, and it’s an absolute knock out. Wisit’s updated Red Eagle in his leather jacket and red face mask looks great. Bangkok is perfect as the ominous and chaotic metropolis in which the story is set (not that big a stretch when you think about it). There are heaps of stunts and John Woo style action, complete with the slow motion work Thai film makers seem to be so fond of.
Based on the crime novels of Sake Dusit, the original series featured a drunken playboy and lawyer called Rom Rittichai, whose alter ego is the masked vigilante crime fighter. Three films were made, of which the last, Insee Thong (Golden Eagle) in 1970 is the best known. It was produced by and starred one of Thai cinema’s best known action heroes, Mitr Chaibancha, who was born into poverty and went onto star in over 250 films.
In the Golden Eagle, a killer posing as Red Eagle is committing murders so Rom must change his alias to another colour, so he becomes the Golden Eagle. The imposter is connected to an outfit called the Red Bamboo Gang, who are trying to take control of Thailand. They are led by an evil genius who is able to kill his intended targets by beaming his thoughts through red ceramic Buddha statues which have been delivered to various Thai officials.
I have never seen the film, but from what I’ve read it apparently has a great sub-plot featuring a cop who is also investigating the murders being committed by the fake Red Eagle, and who has to go under cover as a transvestite to infiltrate a ring of transvestite criminals in alliance with the Red Bamboo Gang. Only in Thailand.
After the final battle, the real Red Eagle was supposed to take hold of a rope ladder suspended from a helicopter and be carried into the sun set. The stunt, which took place on the last day of shooting, ended tragically when Mitr lost his grip on a rope ladder and fell to his death.
No word yet about any plans to release Red Eagle outside Thailand, but here’s hoping it won’t take too long.