Tuesday, May 31, 2011

'Red Eagle' Movie Review

If movies like “RoboCop” are to be believed, the near future is going to be a festering cesspool of violence and corruption. It must be true, because no matter what era “near future” we’re talking about, the prediction is roughly the same. So, you should probably be on the look out in the next few years and be prepared. Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng’s (“Tears of the Black Tiger”) new superhero film, “Red Eagle”, a remake/homage to a 1960s action series, holds to this bleak vision. When the world is going to hell, and in desperate need of a savior, up steps Red Eagle.

As a movie, “Red Eagle” is about thirty minutes too long, and while the story is standard superhero fare and feels very comic booky—in both a positive and negative light—it makes up for its shortcomings in the best possible way, by delivering absurd amounts of ridiculous, over-the-top action. We’re talking a “Bad Boys II” level of overkill here. There is one fight scene that goes on for nearly twenty-minutes; it stops and starts, and constantly builds to a point where the two combatants are fighting on a falling elevator. That’s the kind of movie we’re talking about here, where the story and characters are secondary concerns.

After a James Bond style intro—a scene of fast-paced action with little or no context, followed by a credits sequence full of swimming colors—you’re informed that the year is 2016. A liberal politician, Direk Damrongprapa (Pornwut Sarasin), whose campaign platform was based on stopping the shoddy construction of a nuclear power plant, has been elected Prime Minister. No sooner than he is elected all of his high-minded moralizing and principles go out the window, and he becomes just as corrupt at the politicos he once opposed. Of course Direk’s ex-fiancĂ©, Vasana (Yarinda Bunnag), ditches him as soon as he sells out their shared cause. A shadowy underground crime syndicate called Matulee secretly runs things through a combination of secrecy, intimidation, and violence. They wear eerie metal masks, literally faceless villains. They own politicians, businesses, the media, cops, and anyone else that can be bought, which is everyone.

Everyone, that is, except Red Eagle (Ananda Everingham, “Legend of the Tsunami Warrior”). He wears a red mask (duh) and a sleek black leather jumpsuit, and is a total badass. Because no one else will stand up to the corruption and sleaze, he steps in and wrecks things up. Where no one else can, he cleans things up, dispensing his own brutal and bloody form of justice, like Batman only more vicious. Within the first few scenes he tortures and forcibly overdoses a drug dealer, and takes a particularly nasty retribution on a crooked senator with a penchant for molesting young children. It suffices to say he does not meet a pleasant end. Red Eagle can also kill like 80 dudes and leap high walls from a stand still. There is one honest man left, Detective Chart Wuttikrai (Wannasingh Prasertkul), and he has been assigned to track down and bring in the renegade vigilante. Matluee is also after Red Eagle, employing the notorious masked (you’ll notice a trend developing) assassin known as the Black Devil, to take him out.

The movie is full of coincidental connections, cheesy dialogue, and overacting bad guys, but it is gleefully self-aware, never takes itself too seriously, and has its tongue firmly planted in cheek. That helps save the film, making it a great deal of fun. And when the plot does falter, you never have to wait too long for the action to kick in. There are motorcycle chases, hand-to-hand combat, sword fights, shootouts, and explosions out the wazzu, and like most tales of this ilk, there is the constant moral debate about whether Red Eagle is a hero or a menace, a champion for justice or a psychotic murdering madman. Red Eagle—and Rome, his civilian alter ego—is the typically flawed protagonist, with a suitable, if a little too convenient background to explain his skill set. He is addicted to morphine—in the original incarnation the character was an alcoholic—and pines for a lost, impossible love.

“Red Eagle” does fall into a romantic lull near the conclusion, and slows down just when the pace should pick up. It is silly, goes on for too long, and, not to give anything away, ends with one of the biggest bullshit moves you’ll ever see. The fight scenes could have been better if they showed the actors actually fighting instead of relying on quick, western action style quick edits; shots of punches being thrown cut with reaction shots of people pretending to be hit in the face. Though it makes up for this with sheer bloody brutality—beheadings abound. For all of “Red Eagle’s” faults, the movie is entertaining as hell. It made its North American premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival, and I could easily see someone like Magnet picking up the rights to this one. It is the type of movie that is right in their wheelhouse, and hell, it’s way better than “Vanquisher”.

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