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The Red Eagle--Film Review

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BUSAN, South Korea -- Visual wizard and fantastical yarn-spinner Wisit Sasanatieng seems to be flying with clipped wings in directing "The Red Eagle," the anticipated remake-cum-homage to the 1960 Thai superhero action series "Isee Daeng." There is not a trace of the gloriously colorful retro camp of his debut "Tears of the Red Tiger" nor the flights of CGI fancy in his sophomore "Citizen Dog."

Had Sasanatieng's name not been attached, the project may qualify as technically high-end Asian genre fare but marketing to his cinephile fans would turn converts into skeptics. Locally, "Insee Daeng"'s cult status would prompt Thais to see "Red Eagle" for old time's sake.

Corrupt politicians and gangsters are being brutally murdered by a mysterious killer known as Red Eagle (Ananda Everingham). Detective Chart and Sergeant Singh (Jonathan Hallman) are assigned to the case, all the while unaware that Chart's drunken loser friend Rome is the hero. Rome's love interest is Vasana (Yarunda Bunag), an NGO leader who opposes a nuclear project pushed by prime minster Direk, her ex-fiance.

The original "Insee Daeng" (Red Eagle) is a hybrid of Zorro and Batman. He is a lazy drunkard by day and a masked hero who fights crime with fancy weapons. The character was originally played by Mitr Chaibancha, a hot action star who fell to his death from a helicopter while performing a stunt for the final, 1970 edition "Insee Thong," 40 years ago this month.

The modern-day Red Eagle is a morphine addict, who, after a traumatic experience in the special forces, decapitates or mutilates villains with no qualms. The intention to mould Red Eagle as a dark hero with moral complexity like Christopher Nolan's "Batman" is obvious, but the characterization has gone too far to the dark side, making him rather unflattering.

The action is a melange of ancient swordplay, motorbike chases and leaps from high places. It looks good but choreography is not particularly creative, except for one street fight when Sergeant Singh improvises with satay sticks, woks and even sizzling spinach as his weapons.

Visual effects by Kantana are slick but art direction, all cold, metallic futuristic tones, offers a bland ambience. There isn't a shred of Thai character, not even any humor. If the project had been handed to Prachya Pinkaew and Panna Rittikrai ("Tom Yum Kung," "Chocolate") it would have tighter action and more cinematic panache.

With the legendary nature of the series and its cheesy 70s production values, there is a sorely missed opportunity for genre parody like "Iron Pussy" (co-directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Michael Shawanasee).

Not only does Red Eagle wear a mask, his nemesis Black Devil and members of Matulee, a secret association dedicated to Red Eagle's demise, all wear masks, making it hard to get involved with the story.

Pusan International Film Festival, Gala Presentation

Production: Five Star Productions, Kantana, Local Color Films.
Cast: Ananda Everingham, Yarunda. Bunag, Jonathan Holland.
Director-screenwriter: Wisit Sasanatieng.
Based on the novel by Sake Dusit.
Cinematographer: Chookiat Narongrit.
Production designer: Saksiri Jantarangsri.
Music: Wild At Heart.�
Sales: Five Star Productions.
No rating, 130 minutes.