It makes total sense that we'd start seeing other countries chime in on the superhero resurgence that Batman Begins, Spiderman, and X-Men has spawned. Long after the first serial adventures had faded, George Reeve's had paved the way for Ben Affleck to take another stab at actor-legitimacy, and there werent any superhero movies being made in the the US, Italy, Turkey, Japan and the like were still churning out costumed crusader flicks for their hometown crowds. That pretty much faded out by the 70's (not counting exceptions like the Japanese kiddie shows, Mexican lucha numbers, etc.), so it probably took some Western success to make the foreign market realize they could do their own hero's all over again. Enter Thailand's Mercury Man (2006).
Our hero is fearless and reckless novice firefighter Chan (Wasan Khantaau, making his debut and apparently, so far, only film). While responding to a prison fire, the result of the villain being broken out, Chan is stabbed with the magical Sun amulet which he absorbs, granting him the burning power to be nigh invulnerable and control metals. With the aide of a Buddhist cutie, kinda' like in The Golden Child, Chan is taught to curb his
*ahem* hot-headedness and control his powers. So begins the typical hero montage where he foils some bank robbers and comically tosses a drunk driver into a "don't drink and drive" PSA billboard. He also stops some rampaging elephants because no Thai film would be complete without some pachyderm element. Speaking of being purely Thai, his brother is also a post-op transsexual and is co-incidentally a fashion designer who is conveniently working on a line of superhero costumes. Hey, don't complain about silly plot points in a comic book film. Its the kind of movie that blindly lobs in a psychic kiddie subplot as a total aside.
The acting isnt great. The budget is understandably cheap (most Thai films are made for well under a million). The action is a letdown. The only positive point I really find to Mercury Man is that it is distinctively foreign. These days, you'll find a lot of genre cinema trying to ape Hollywood, especially when trying to capitalize on some blockbuster trend. Despite some knowingly cheeky references to Spiderman, there is no such pretense with Mercury Man.
This extends to Mercury Man's quirky mature elements. Though it mostly plays as innocuous as Might Morphin' Power Rangers, suddenly they'll throw a bunch of people snorting lines at a rave and you know this wasn't made for innocent kiddies. When Chan first tests whether his powers really come to him when being excited, he -and this is R-Rated- glances at a Penthouse. Then there is the villain of the piece, terrorist Usama Ali (played by a guy I think they cast because he looks like a Thai Willem Dafoe). Usama Ali's wife was killed by US soldiers at a roadside checkpoint shootout and part of his Lex Luthorish scheme is to bomb a secret US boat that is carrying seized illegal chemical weapons that the US intends to use. Man, you know we in the USofA have a bad image when such tidbits are a throwaway element in Thai superhero movies.
Mercury Man does have action by a stunt coordinator from the Tony Jaa/Ong Bak team, so Chan unsurprisingly whips out some knees and cudgel action. But, I learned long ago, casting a good choreographer doesn't mean much if the helmer has no sense (or an opposing sense) of action. You can certainly hire Yuen Woo Ping, but if you are, say, too concerned with visual style over physical action substance, you'll end up with Keanu Reeves droll, robot, CGI double kung fu. Such is the case here. Director Bhandit Thongdee is absolutely terrible and he apparently had an equally inept cinematographer. Its like he only had one lens to shoot everything. Thongdee cannot even get basic, visually appealing framing down right. There are scenes where 1/3rd of the screen is negative space, a person is off-center, and then you see only half the body of who they are fighting at the other edge. It just feels so random. For instance, he goes from long shots to extreme (and useless, only confusing) rapid close ups, then back to a long shot, and all of it composed hideously. I've seen the cheapest of the cheap but even in the most low budget or amateurish level action stuff you'll find directors adhering to the basics of pleasurable blocking and composition that Thongdee simply doesn't understand. Martial action is very unforgiving, and when you've got a guy who barely knows where to put the camera, it makes things even more frustrating.
The DVD: Magnolia.
Picture: All the tranny action and anti-American sentiment is brought to you in Anamorphic Widescreen. Printwise, there is some graininess and softness in certain scenes that I will chalk up to the low budget production. Transferwise we get some minor annoyances like noise and slight edge enhancement.
Sound: A nice round of audio options includes two 5.1 Surround Thai or Eng dub choices and two 2.0 Stereo Thai or English dub options with English or Spanish subtitles. Again, the misses have to do with the budget restraints, lackluster scoring, hollow fx, and a few spots where the dialogue has some bad recording. The dub is pretty bad, especially the bored sounding voice actress for Chan's love interest/Buddhist guide.
Extras: Aside from an assortment of Magnolia release trailers, specific to Mercury Man you get two featurettes, a "making of" (9:32) and "behind the scenes" (2:48). Neither offers any meat. The "making of" is purely trivial, brief, and focuses largely on the action. The "behind the scenes" is just basic fly on the wall footage.
Conclusion: Its funny. Mercury Man is the kind of film that fails to deliver on most of the surface elements you want from a superhero action film. Its on all of the incidental elements, the bits that were just the film makers being bold, weird, and Thai, that I find the film to be a real winner. Chalk this one up to a fascinating curio for lover's of films with a low budget appeal and distinctive foreign flavor.