Monday, March 5, 2007


My abiding interest in live action superheroics (which I’ve mentioned round these parts before) brought me to the Thai film Ma noot lhek lai (Mercury Man).
And… well…

Chan (newcomer Wasan Khantaau) is an impulsive firefighter who ends up getting stabbed with a mystical amulet that turns him into the eponymous, superpowered Mercury Man. This stabbing occurs during the jailbreak of one Osama bin Ali (erstwhile rocker Arnon Saisangcharn), an Afghani terrorist with a major hate for the great ol’ U S of A (the reason for which is conveniently—and awkwardly—shown to us via flashback).

Here’s where things go seriously awry. Osama is broken out of jail wearing the fakest beard this side of Props `R’ Us. Then, what does good old Osama do once free to pursue his anti-American sentiments? He luxuriates in the decadence of mousse, eye shadow, and lip gloss! Well, I guess you can get seriously effed up if your wife and child get offed by infidel Westerners, right?

Then, a female warrior (Jinvipa Kheawkunya; who we’d seen earlier in the film at a Tibetan temple) pops up in Chan’s life, explaining that should he lose control over his emotions, he will literally burn up, incinerating himself from the inside out. And how does Chan go about testing this ridiculous claim? By leafing through an issue of Penthouse.


And when Chan decides to take the full superhero plunge, his costuming needs are addressed by the fact that… wait for it… he has a transsexual sister who designs costumes! Said sister is played by the real life inspiration for the film Beautiful Boxer, “Nong Toom” (Parinya Kiatbusaba), who Project Runways her bro some superhero duds right before she is kidnapped by the sultrily eyeshadowed Osama.

Well, at the very least, it’s a wee bit more probable than Peter Parker suddenly becoming a great designer and tailor because of a death in the family. (And Merc’s costume is actually sort’a cool, like Grendel with some tat-like designs over the body suit.)

I’ll leave the discovery of the remainder of this gloriously cheesy film’s plot points to those of you curious enough to give it a look-see. And for those of you who do, you’ll possibly like what you see when it comes to the fight choreography, courtesy of Panna Rittikrai, who taught Tony Jaa all he knows and gave us the kick-a$$ moves in Ong-Bak.

Of course, given that this is a superhero movie, and ostensibly one for the family (let’s just overlook the whole Penthouse thing, shall we?), the fight scenes here have nowhere near the brutal realism of those in Ong-Bak, but they are a damn sight better than some of those seen in Hollywood superhero movies like Elektra or Stan Lee’s Lightspeed (recently reviewed here). And though the cinematography and editing don’t always conspire to give us the best view of the action, this is solid stuff for martial arts junkies. (The use of an “ionic field generator” to weaken our hero allows the production some interesting lighting opportunities in the Sin Club fight scene, during which Merc is set alight, and… well, see it for yourself.)

And though this is an equal opportunity film: much of the supporting cast gets in on the butt kicking too—including Chan’s sis, and Osama’s lab geek with the multi-coloured hair (apparently, Osama likes his henchpeople to look fabulous too)—this dilutes the third act as we cut back and forth between duels, when our attention should be riveted on Merc alone. (Not to mention a protracted sequence which features neither Merc nor any of the film’s supporting cast, a sequence which slows down the third act’s momentum even more.)

Aside from the action, what also sets Mercury Man apart from your average Hollywood superhero film, is the choice of a baddie like Osama bin Ali (and not because of his penchant for looking good while being bad). This one’s a terrorist with a clear anti-US agenda who sends his minions out like good little suicide bombers, endangering the local McDonald’s, internet cafes, bars, the headquarters of the “American For Child Fund” (!), and other sundry establishments and places of work. We’re definitely post 9/11.

Another noteworthy aspect is the CGI work, which, given its modest-by-Hollywood-standards budget (reportedly, Mercury Man was made for around a million US dollars), looks pretty keen at times. Not perfect, mind you, but given their monetary limitations, commendable nonetheless.

Some more pluses are the mythological elements, as well as the application of Buddhist belief onto the superhero template.

But all this is potentially overshadowed by the sheer amount of goofiness that goes on during Mercury Man’s running time (including the “Spidy” graffiti and Spider-Man t-shirts), the patently ridiculous plot, and bad acting from the extras and some of the supporting cast.

So, watch Mercury Man if you’ve a mind, and watch it for the action, if nothing else.

And just maybe, if you’re in the right frame of mind, this could slide into that wonderful area of so bad, it’s good.

(Originally posted 020807)

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