Although most popular film genres originated here in the States many have been adopted by other countries. The Italians are now well known as a source of horror flicks and westerns. The Japanese have given a new psychological approach to horror movies and there is nothing that can compare to the marital arts driven action movies from Hong Kong. In each case the nations gives there own unique slant to a familiar type of movie. It is sort of like international cuisine. You can have a simple dish consisting of ingredients found anywhere such as water flour. Yet when these ingredients are mixed together and a few local spices and techniques are added the resultant meals are incredibly different. Just when I though I have seen all the national takes on American genres possible something new comes along; for example I recently saw a Polish western. Well, now the extremely popular superhero movie has found a new home in a most unlikely place, Thailand. ‘Mercury Man’ from Thai director Bhandit Thongdee is such a film. Right up front it has to be noted and more importantly kept in mind that when a new country enters into the fray of a well established genre there is more than a little experimentation involved. As such it is unrealistic to expect a fully polished film. Audience members from here in the States must also realize that this is a reinterpretation of a family type of film with the addition of a distinct nationalistic twist. What is truly fascinating is how another culture views something that we consider to be such an integral part of our society. We have been honing the super hero genre since the late thirties. Many characters in comic books have been elevated to pop icon status replacing the gods and goddess of ancient myths and folk lore. When a new country enters into this brand of story telling there is bound to be some initial resistance. Many may feel that they are stealing our ideas. In true there are some elements of any genre that must be maintained. In this case some of the look and feel is right out of our comic book based flicks. The budget for this movie was reported to be 60,000 Thailand baht. That translates to about $1.6 million. While that is an extremely small amount even for an independent film over in that country they can get far more bang for their baht and the production is reasonably well done. It was financially a bit of a disappointment in its native land so it is trying its hand here in American with a region 1 DVD release. Handling the local distribution is Magnolia Home Entertainment. They do have a reputation for some of the quirkier and less know foreign films. If you are a true fan of superhero movies this will be an interesting distraction.
The director here, Bhandit Thongdee has two previous films to his credit. One was a horror thriller and the other a musical comedy. This demonstrates that this man is interested in exploring different types of films instead of concentrating on one this early in his career. Thai films are just starting to gain a foot hold in the international market place. With the advent of the internet, niche cable channels and DVDs there is a greater opportunity than ever for a new director to gain a much wider audience than would otherwise be possible. There are a lot of similarities between this film and the ‘Spider Man’ franchise over here. The look of the costume seems to be a far Eastern take on the familiar garb of our friendly neighborhood Spidey. This is not really a rip off though. The tight fitting outfits of superheroes have been around for a long time and even a director who wants to add his own take on this kind of a story can’t break with too many traditions. Instead of ducking the fact that this film was heavily influenced by Spider Man Thongdee takes the high road. Throughout the film are little winks and nods towards the all American superhero. This does have the effect of giving a nicely placed tongue in cheek appeal to the movie. For those that have been around comics for a few decades you might remember a character called ‘Mercury Man’ in the sixties. This film has nothing to do with that nuclear powered superhero.
Chan (Wasan Khantaau) is an average kind of guy working as a fireman. He odes have the perchance to challenge all sorts of authority especially those above him in his immediate chain of command. He is also considered rather sloppy in his approach to everything. One day there is a fire subsequent to a prison break. While putting out the blaze Chan all while dodging the bullets of a cross fire between the criminals and the police he is stabbed with an ancient artifact. The criminals leave Chan who appears dead. He does recover and soon discovers there were side effects to his near fatal injury. Right here we get the first of the cultural differences. Usually in American superhero origins stories it is the current technological fear that induces such super human abilities. In the fifties and sixties the cause was typically radiation. In more current incarnations genetic manipulation is a frequent means to becoming super human. The Thai culture is rich and far more ancient that ours so it is only natural for them to use on object such as the one depicted here. Some more current themes make their way into the picture with the man who will become the bad guy for the flick. Osama Bin Ali (Anon Saisangcharn) is the head of an Afghani terrorist organization and planned to use the artifact as a weapon in his holy war. Meanwhile Chan is discovering the extent of his new found powers and experiments in controlling them effectively. Naturally, he comes up with a slick, skin tight costume to go with his secret identity and new super persona. He becomes Mercury Man, foe to the evil. Every superhero worth his salt needs a sidekick. Once again this is a chance for the director to play with the format. For Chan his comes in the form of his best friend and brother who just happens to be post operative transsexual. This is typical of this film. Timely breaks in the action come from bizarre, offbeat sources rather than the usual comic relief silly characters. There is also a heavier concentration on martial arts techniques than we would typically find in an American flick of this sort.
This is a strange little flick but it shows a lot of promise. It may take a few viewings to fully get it but it is worth the trip. It this is an indication this director and Thai superhero flicks are off to a good start.