Awasan Insee Daeng (Review)
Awasan Insee Daeng
aka The End of Red Eagle
Directed by ???
Insee Daeng (Red Eagle) is the most famous super hero out of Thailand. Starting out as a pulp novel character, Insee Daeng was immortalized in film by popular actor Mitr Chaibancha, who became a legend before dying tragically while shooting the final scene of the sixth Insee Daeng film, Insee Thong. TarsTarkas.NET will review the surviving Insee Daeng films and the rebooted film, because that’s how we roll here.
Awasan Insee Daeng is the third Insee Daeng film, but it is the earliest surviving Insee Daeng film. Unsurprisingly, the vcd release is just titled Insee Daeng, which is the title of the original entry in the series, but that film is believed lost. We will deal more of the history of the Insee Daeng film series in our review of Jao Insee, and information about the stars Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat and early Thai film industry in the review of Insee Thong. For now, we’ll instead have a history of post-World War 2 Thailand, gun culture, and the pulp stories movement that gave birth to Insee Daeng and his contemporaries.
Thailand’s love of pulp heroes who take the law into their own hand has its roots in World War 2. During the war, Siam (as Thailand was known then) was invaded and quickly made a deal with Imperial Japan. But there was a covert resistance movement, known as Seri Thai or the Free Thai Movement. Before World War 2, the amount of guns in Thailand was minuscule, and most guns were breech-loading one-shotters. Seri Thai was armed by the Allies, while Japan used Siam as a staging area and guns flowed through it. By the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of guns were spread all over Siam, and soon rural bandit gangs began to form and terrorized the populace. The lack of police ability to control the bandit gangs lead to much dissatisfaction and unrest. Eventually this resulted in a Thai tradition, overthrow of the government, installing the Sarit regime in 1958. The Sarit made it a priority to take out the bandit gangs, though many persisted for years, and resurfaced as mafia in less than a decade.
The gangs controlling the countryside mixed with urban populace hungry for books was a perfect storm for the rise of pulp heroes who confronted the bandit gangs or were bandit leaders themselves that acted in a Robin Hood fashion. The stories were serialized in daily magazines, some of which became so popular people would line up awaiting the next issue, sometimes right outside the printing press. The four major authors associated with the pulp hero stories were Poh. Intharapalit, Phanomthian, Sek Dusit, and Soh. Navaraj. There is scare information on some of these crime/violence romance novelists and most of this information is from a single source that pulls from other sources in Thai. The common themes of the stories are main characters who are rich and educated, usually with secret identities, who fight against gangs, corruption, communist plots, and grand conspiracies while outsmarting the villains and simultaneously staying ahead of the police at every turn.
Poh. Intharapalit first gained fame with the 1932 drama Nakrian Nai Roi, but it was his “Three Buddies” stories that started during World War 2 that established his writing popularity. By 1947, he was editing the daily serial fiction magazine Piyamit, as well as writing the serial story Sua Bai (Tiger Bai)/The Bandit Called Bai). Sua Bai began the romance violence genre, with its story of a noble bandit who fights against a corrupt government. The unofficial story in the publishing world is that Intharapalit was “requested” to end the story by the police to to avoid their looking bad for failing to catch a fictional character. He then began a new series, Sua Dam (“Tiger” Dam/The Bandit called Dam), who would in a later series meet Sua Bai and team up. His four other famous characters are Dao Chon (Bandit Chief), Luk Dao Chon (Son of the Bandit Chief), Nakak Dam (Black Mask), and Yiao Thale (Sea Hawk).
Phanomthian started writing as a high school student, and later went to university in India. Upon returning to Thailand in 1955, he began publishing his stories in the magazine Ploenjit. Hao Dong (Wild Cobra) stands out because it has a female costumed heroine in the lead, sporting an all-black costume except for the giant cobra pictured on her shirt. Later creation Lep Khrud (Garuda’s Nail) featured a secret agent Cheep Chuchai vs. secret Chinese communists lead by Chang Suliang.
Soh. Navaraj was the youngest of the violence romance writers. His most famous creation was Yiao Ratree (Night Hawk), a hero with black outfit and a black mask in the shape of a hawk that fought crime by night but during the day was pretend madman and rich scion Man Damkoengdej. Besides aping Red Eagle’s costume, Night Hawk was also involved in fighting secret communist societies.
Sek Dusit began writing in his early 20s, gaining fame with a hero named Khom Phayakharaj in stories See King (Four Kings) and Khrud Dam (Black Garuda). Khom fought against criminal organizations threatening Bangkok, and the stories . In 1954, the 25 year old Sek Dusit would start stories of his most famous creation, Insee Daeng (Red Eagle). Millionaire son Rome Ritthikrai went undercover as hero Insee Daeng and fought against criminal gangs and communist plots, often injecting the cold war paranoia into his classic bandit tales. He is still alive, but now just writes astrology columns.
As the Thai film industry was getting big in the late 1950s, it made sense that some of these hugely popular stories would end up on the silver screen. And while I can’t say for certain every pulp hero that made it to the cinema, I can give many examples of both direct book-to-movie heroes, and heroes that possibly started in pulp or were inspired by the pulp heroes.
In addition to the Insee Daeng series (a more complete summary of that film series will be covered in the Jao Insee review), Thai pulp bandit heroes movies include:
1958’s Hao Dong, starring Amara At-Savanon (2nd Runner-up Miss Thailand 1953 who starred in scores of films before retiring) as the bandit heroin with a cobra logo on her shirt. I do not know if this film still exists. More info in Thai.
1958’s Mong Daeng (Red Bandit), which I can only find old ads for, featuring another female hero. There is a modern tv drama series by the same title complete with a masked female heroine with a whip. I am almost positive it is the same franchise, but not 100% positive.
1963’s Kewpit aka Poison Fang, starring Mitr Chaibancha and Amara At-Savanon. Kewpit is a black masked hero similar to Red Eagle, judging solely from the lone movie poster I could find. Thaifilmdb info.
1981’s Yord Ying Poo Ying Yai starring Sombat Metanee. This one I can tell you does still exist on an out of print vcd.
And there is this movie that I haven’t IDed yet, but the picture was labeled Yiew Ratree:
And don’t worry, if you missed reading any of this, it will probably be ganked verbatim without attribution by a certain site profiling superheroes who live.
Awasan Insee Daeng is a typical Thai film of the time, filled with that Thai comic relief stuff in much of their films that I don’t understand. There are comic relief effeminate characters filled throughout, even one of the police detectives. These comic relief characters both allow for humor in the film and also serve a function in making the male hero even more hyper-masculine than you ever thought possible. But that doesn’t mean the effeminate guys are wimps, a whiny detective goes toe to toe with Insee Daeng and although he loses, he manages to bruise Insee’s face enough he has to lay low until he heals.
Another common element of these films is the police raiding bad guy lairs and gunning down a dozen or so nameless bad guys. Usually there are multiple raids in a row and piles of gunned down goons. These help fill some of the longer, dragging points of the film, but sometime they seem randomly inserted. As the Insee Daeng films evolve through time, the pace quickens, and Insee Thong will look like an international production with its pace and scope. But we ain’t there yet, we’re dealing with Awasan Insee Daeng, aka The End of Red Eagle, which may have been intended as the last film.
Awasan Insee Daeng is in rough condition. Parts of the print are so destroyed that frames are missing all over the place. At some points, the film looks like a it’s made out of animated gifs with images skipping all over the place. That is not a problem for the sound, as this isn’t the original sound for the film. In fact, there probably wasn’t any original sound, all sound was performed locally in theater as the silent film ran. The vcd release is dubbed in, and they added a more modern-sounding score, very atmospheric and hip. And as you might have guessed, we don’t need no stinking subtitles!
Insee Daeng is leaving notes for cops! His note:
Do you like me?
A criminal gang is causing trouble in Bangkok, and only Insee Daeng has the testicular fortitude to get the information needed to find out how they operate. The gang is lead by a Mystery Man who is so evil he’s behind a special circular door sitting on a chair. Addressing his followers, he’s taking over more of the city and forcing other criminals into his organization. A man tries to resist and rush the Mystery Man, but he’s gunned down.
A cop and tough but cowardly friend manage to talk and punch their way into the bad guy headquarters and stumble across the secret lair, though they have no idea what it is. They end up getting captured as well, lumped in with other captives. Insee Daeng luckily stops by and rescues them all. What exactly happens here I am not sure, as most of the film is jumpy at this point with many frames missing. What I can tell you that happens is there is a fake Insee Daeng captured by the cops, and the real Insee Daeng hits on the captive woman (who is wearing a so loud it bursts your eardrums Hawaiian shirt), forcing kisses upon her but not afraid to pull a gun on her as well when the Effeminate Detective enters the room.
Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!
After he is dealt with Insee Daeng forces more kisses and runs off. But since he’s Insee Daeng the woman regretfully sighs that he’s gone. The cops later try to capture another gang member, only to see that gang member gunned down. Mayhem resulting from Insee Daeng sneaking around a bad guy hideout that is raided by the police results in Comic Relief Guy from Legend of the White Snake snapping a picture of Insee Daeng. But the film eventually is switched (due to a long fight Insee Daeng has with a cop) and all they end up with is some pictures of naked ladies.
The best preserved film stock ever!
Thrill as Insee Daeng almost gets caught sneaking around bad guy lairs again and again. At least once there is a girl in the hideout who gets Inseed in her Daeng, if you know what I mean.
Insee Daeng meets with the pipe-smoking Mystery Man, but it’s a trap of course and Insee Daeng and a girl who helped set up the meeting are captured. The bad guys don’t bother to try to find out his secret identity and instead keep him captive in a room with a huge vent in the ceiling he can escape out of. He even does the upside down Spiderman kiss that Sam Raimi steals decades later. I’m on to you, Sam Raimi!
Sam Raimi, you thieving monster!
The police are trapped in bad guy house in cage, ceiling dropped on them to crush them, but Insee Daeng forces the operator to not crush them. Insee leaves the cops in the cage and forces them to disarm themselves as well so they don’t go after him. This whole sequence is punctuated by a score that sounds vaguely like Nine Inch Nails’ Closer.
Every woman in the film except Oy is tied up by the bad guy next to lots of boxes of TNT. A succession of people get shot, mostly bad but some bad people who were secretly good, and the cops escape and start gunning down other bad guys. Oy frees the captive ladies.
Insee Daeng is running around in the fray, and fights a scarred goon and defeats him. The cops then find “Insee Daeng” dead inside. The police are happy he’s dead, but outside is Rome acting drunk and being cared after by the four women.
So I take it this was more of an ending where Insee Daeng was supposed to head off into the sunset retired after faking his death. But as we will see in subsequent movies, Insee Daeng can’t stay out of walking the thin line between hero and villain, and will be drawn back into the life by various plots.
Rated 7/10 (special letterhead, scarface, remember this face, random goon, snail power, creepy painting, random bar partron)
Links and references:
C. Soontravanich, Small Arms, Romance, and Crime and Violence in Post WW II Thai Society Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 43, No. 1 (June 2005) (pdf)