Insee Daeng (Review)
aka Red Eagle
Directed by Wisit Sasanatieng
Insee Daeng is a tragedy. Because it sucks, not because sad things happen in the film. It’s just terrible. An action flick with no heart, things just happen, you don’t care about any of the characters. It’s too busy trying to look cool to be cool. Insee Daeng is forcing me to rewrite my long-standing rule that The Matrix ruined cinema. The Matrix is so 1999. This is a new decade, and there is a new film that will cast a shadow over terrible action flicks for the next ten years as they attempt to emulate, but fail to duplicate the story and characterizations that made the film great beyond the effects. That is The Dark Knight, who shines over Insee Daeng like a batsymbol over some city with a hero who dresses as a bat in it.
Did we really need a brooding Insee Daeng? Wasn’t part of the reason we loved him because he was so jolly as he was blowing away bad guys? Mitr Chaibancha had presence, he would never be hanging out in an ice room feeling sorry for himself. He’d be so cool any room he entered became an ice room, and he’s so hot the ice would instantly melt. The freezing/melting ice is the Quantum Mitr Factor. It is an impossible standard that we can’t expect Insee Daeng to meet with its Insee Daeng, but it doesn’t even try.
In the near future of 2013, and new government is elected in Thailand that is supposed to be of the people for the people, but once Prime Minister Direk Damrongprapa (Pornwut Sarasin) takes power it is business as usual. He sells out so quickly he even loses his fiancee, Vasana. She instead takes up the mantle of the opposition to the nuclear power plant, the issue that got PM Damrongprapa elected in the first place. Vasana’s drive and determination to make her country a better place against long odds is one of the few moments of heart in Insee Daeng.
But that gets covered quickly by slick moves and CGI flipswords (totally not ganked from the new Star Trek film) as Insee Daeng terrorizes the underworld. This new Insee Daeng slices and dices bad guys with his sword while doing martial arts flips and occasionally blasting them with his gun. Sasanatieng dishearteningly packs the action sequences with quickcuts that have become so popular lately but suck no matter what continent your action film is from. It’s confuse-o-vision on crack in the editing room. The only time Insee Daeng is clearly seen in the action sequences is when he’s obviously posing for whatever comic book panels they’re using for inspiration for the storyboard.
The original Insee Daeng was a manly awesome outlaw who fought against bandits and communists gangs in post-World War 2 Thailand. The new Insee Daeng is a tortured ex-special forces vet who fights against a corrupt government and a secret society of people in creepy masks. Called the Matulee, everyone who is anyone wears their creepy masks, attends their secret club meetings (how does no one notice everyone powerful in Thailand going into the same building??), and speaking to their master, who talks to them via hologram technology stolen from The Empire Strikes Back. I was waiting for a Matulee to declare himself Insee Daeng’s father, but I guess that will wait until the sequel.
The original Insee Daeng’s foes were real (though the threat levels were elevated for story purposes), but most people in Thailand don’t face oppression from a secret society of creepy masked dudes. They do have varying problems with their government(s), including 2010 political protests that occurred around the time Insee Daeng was hitting theaters in Thailand. That protest, combined with the fallout from the nuclear power plant disasters in Japan, are both issues that seem like they should connect to the viewer somehow in relation to Insee Daeng, but they don’t. It is not exactly fair to claim events that happened after a film was released were not incorporated, but had Insee Daeng been a more powerful story in the first place, one could have extrapolated that into meaning with whatever current events transpire afterwards.
Another theme in Insee Daeng is the traditional Thailand lifestyles vs. modernization and loss of identity. This is a compelling concept, and the film wants you to be on the side of traditional Thailand values and identity. What is weird is the package is presented in this slick and modern Western influenced action film. It’s not done brilliant enough to be done on purpose, it is just odd.
The Insee Daeng investigation is launched by Detective Chart (named after the reoccurring police detective in the old school Insee Daeng series) and his Sikh partner, Detective Fakebeard– I mean, Detective Singh. Chart declares he will catch Insee Daeng…or else. Chart is also drinking buddies with Rome, and continually runs into Vasana as she’s targeted for violence by the pro-nuclear power lobby.
The Matulee get sick of Insee Daeng killing all their most creepy members, so they hire a guy named Black Demon to kill him. Black Demon was a character in one of the original Insee Daeng films, on unavailable on vcd and I don’t know if it even exists anymore (the stories that film is based on do exist.) Black Demon looks like a Death Eater from the Harry Potter films, except brandishing a oversized sword instead of a wand. He attempts to go all Avada Kedavra on Insee Daeng, but probably won’t be around for the sequel, if you catch my drift. At one point during the first Insee Daeng/Black Demon battle, Black Demon leaps through a stack of cans at a supermarket, in the most dramatic fashion you ever saw someone leap through cans.
During the old school Insee Daeng, the cops were the heroes who stopped the bad guys, but only after Insee Daeng lead the way and saved them first. By now, the cops are just declared servants of the politicians, who are the villains in this new Insee Daeng. Insee Daeng could have transcended its boundaries by going more of a class war route, but the Matulee being the rich and powerful is never addressed in such a manner. It would have been quite interesting to see Insee Daeng, commie smasher, to suddenly be on the side of wealth equality and standing up for the little guy against the faceless corporations hidden behind their scary masks of anonymity.
After watching Tears of the Black Tiger, Insee Daeng just becomes a worse film. Everything done right in Tears of the Black Tiger is done wrong in Insee Daeng. One can only conclude that director Sasanatieng’s brain was removed and replaced with a cabbage sometime after 2004. We don’t even need Prachya Pinkaew to direct to give us memorable action sequences, we just needed a good story. With so much material to draw from and some modern parallels that aren’t that difficult to come up with, the failure of the story is a bigger tragedy. So assured was Sasanatiengthat this would do well, he just stops the story mid-way with a “To Be Continued” sign. Um, whatever.
Rated 3/10 (ra rg rn rt)