Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Night Falcon

Director: Ram Thanadpojanamart
Writer: Ram Thanadpojanamart (possibly)
Producer: Ram Thanadpojanamart (probably)
Cast: Peter Louis Mioxy, Areesuang Nilwan, Nukrob Tripoh
Country: Thailand
Year of release: 2004
Reviewed from: Thai VCD

I feel sorry for Ram Thanadpojanamart. He made a storming, expensive-looking superhero film which was very obviously aimed at the international market. It’s not as good as the best that Hollywood can offer, but it’s a lot better than its worst. And yet Night Falcon seems to be virtually unknown outside Thailand. I can find one French language review on the web and that’s it. The film isn’t even listed on the Inaccurate Movie Database and you would expect something this flashy to be there. It looks like Night Falcon might have been a bomb, especially as Thanadpojanamart does not appear to have worked on anything else since.

Peter Louis Mioxy (Iron Ladies 2) plays the eponymous superhero, clad in a stylish red and black leather/kevlar outfit with a pointy, slightly birdlike mask. He has no superpowers, just top-of-the-range strength, agility and fighting skills. But the real star of the film is Areesuang Nilwan (La Fe’lina, Kiss) who plays a young woman named (I think) Mae.

Driving home one night with her husband/boyfriend, Mae’s car is forced off the road when she runs into a battle between Night Falcon and local drugs baron Mr White (the characters are all helpfully introduced with English captions in this surprisingly unsubtitled film). Mae’s boyfriend is killed and she blames the kevlar-clad vigilante that she saw at the scene, who left a red, falcon-shaped throwing star that she keeps as a reminder of the event. She trains herself up in martial arts, determined to track the costumed man down and take her revenge.

Mae has two friends who we will call Peter and Sarah because I don’t know their real names. They are close but we never see a kiss so my guess is that they’re brother and sister. I don’t know how Mae knows them or whether she knew them before encountering Night Falcon - maybe that’s in the dialogue that I can’t understand - but I do know that Peter actually is Night Falcon. I don’t think Sarah knows this and I’m almost certain that Peter has no idea that Mae was the girl who was peripherally involved in his battle with White (which ended when White’s face got accidentally hit with acid that spilled from a large barrel).

Mae and Sarah are sparring beside a public swimming pool when a drugged up guy wanders into the building and starts knocking people around. They do their best to restrain him but he pulls a knife and slashes Sarah’s arm. Fortunately Peter turns up and kicks the guy into the pool, then Peter and Mae take Sarah to the hospital.

By this time we have been introduced to our villain, Iron Mask, who wears a full-cranium mask and and 1920s-style greatcoat, both shiny silver (which is kind of odd because iron is a dull grey in colour - steel mask would have been a better name). He has a squad of anonymous masked goons and three equally image-conscious sidekicks: Nikolai is a big guy with a robotic left arm and semi-robotic head, a stock cyborg strongman as found in everything from Fudoh: The New Generation to Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn; Kojiro is a lean guy with a long ponytail, a deadly samurai sword and a painted face that makes him look like the fifth member of Kiss; Black Swan is Iron Mask’s moll, a whip-cracking redhead dominatrix pricktease sex-kitten with metal eyebrows and a leather bustier designed like a skull. These four are seen cracking down hard on a rival gang, establishing Iron Mask as the local Mr Big.

As well as his costume, Peter/Night Falcon has a high-tech computer at his secret base; one of those futuristic ones with a multiscreen interface that hangs in the air, requiring him to make dramatic sweeping gestures to do things and allowing us to see his face while he’s doing it. Basically it’s a rip-off of Minority Report, or possibly a rip-off of the Currys TV ads that ripped off Minority Report.

Mae is on her motorbike when she spots a suspicious lorry and follows it to find Kojiro overseeing some sort of drug-smuggling malarkey. Then Night Falcon turns up and fights Kojiro and Nikolai, watched by Iron Mask and Black Swan. Our hero takes a serious wound from Kojiro’s sword but he makes it into his high-tech car and drives off, followed by Mae on her bike.

At Night Falcon’s base, some sort of large warehouse-type building I think (we never get a good look at the exterior), Mae follows a trail of blood, slipping in through a closing door. When she finds Night Falcon in the corridor, she beats him up, determined to avenge her boyfriend but Peter removes his mask and reveals himself. Unfortunately, Iron Mask and his gang have followed Mae and confront them, the supervillain removing his own mask to reveal - good grief, it’s you - that he is acid-marked Mr White. At this, Mae realises that it was White, not Night Falcon, who shot her boyfriend; White’s distinctive pistol, now pointing at her, confirms this.

Peter/Night Falcon and Mae have a big set-to with Kojiro and Nikolai, escaping just before the building blows up (two of Iron Mask’s goons stand in front of Night Falcon’s computer, evidently confused by the digital countdown hanging in mid-air just underneath a big flashing caption that says ‘Red Alert’; possibly they can’t read English...). Anyway, Mae bundles Peter into his high-tech car which has its own mini-computer that guides them to somewhere which I initially thought was the hospital but is actually a second base (which we also don’t get a good look at). Here we meet a bespectacled young scientist - let’s call him Jeff - who is basically Deacon Frost to Night Falcon’s Blade. I think.

With Peter critically ill, Jeff tells Mae about the set-up and shows her a room where the Night Falcon costume and weapons are kept. This is a rather groovy bit of production design with a giant Night Falcon logo cut in the back wall, behind which are extremely long wind-chimes creating a slightly zen ambience.

And what of Sarah? She is kidnapped by Iron Mask and strung up by her wrists in a warehouse somewhere. The villain calls Sarah’s cellphone, Mae answers and realises it is up to her to rescue her friend. Fortunately Jeff is a dab-hand with a needle and a soldering gun and promptly runs up an outfit that resembles Peter’s but fits Mae’s hot body with satisfying snugness. Mae is now... Falcon Girl!

Mae/Falcon Girl tracks down the place where Sarah is being held and rescues her but then Iron Mask, Black Swan and Kojiro turn up. Fortunately Peter is back to full fitness and he arrives in the nick of time, all costumed up, to even the odds. (It’s a good job that Nikolai is on annual leave, or whatever.) Kojiro gets his arse kicked and Black Swan runs away but Iron Mask proves a formidable opponent, topping himself up at one point with a needle of his own drug (which we follow in extreme close-up through his CGI veins to his CGI heart).

Things get knocked over, flames leap around and it comes down to Night Falcon and Falcon Girl versus Iron Mask while Sarah looks on helplessly from beyond a flame barrier which doesn’t look insurmountable but we have to assume, is. Then, would you believe it, the silver-clad arch-villain grabs hold of a barrel of acid which tips up, depositing more of it on his face and blinding him. How unlucky is that? The two heroes give him a good kick as he flails around ineffectually then Night Falcon throws Falcon Girl bodily over the flames to the safety of Sarah’s arms, courageously sacrificing himself.

The building then blows up, although apparently not in the bit where Sarah and Mae are crouching.

There are two epilogues. The first sees Black Swan, now apparently defacto leader of the gang, with Kojiro and - where were you when we needed you, mister? - Nikolai, plus a couple of unidentified knife-wielding rogues. There are two bodies on trolleys, swathed in bandages. One of them opens its eyes - but which one is it? That’s intriguing but I didn’t fully understand it. What I did understand was the second epilogue which shows us that Jeff has now made a costume for Sarah - Falcon Woman, no less - so that she and Mae can take up the mantle of her brother. The final shot is the two women standing moodily atop a tall building, matching our initial view of Night Falcon at the start of the movie.

There is some behind-the-scenes footage under the end credits and the VCD finishes with two videos for songs from the soundtrack (one of which seems to actually be called ‘Night Falcon’). These consist entirely of clips from the film and include several plot twists so it’s a good job they’re at the end of disc 2, not the start of disc 1. (Before the film are trailers for Gra-hung, Lizard Woman and another supernatural horror movie that I could not identify, plus an advert for Re-teen soap!)

I’ve got to say: I enjoyed Night Falcon a lot. It’s a good, solid, unpretentious superhero movie, not bogged down by adaptation from a comic-book. Much as I enjoy the likes of Batman, Spider-Man, Superman et al, those are a different sort of film - and not just because of the A-list stars and enormous effects budgets. Night Falcon reminds me of Krrish in the way that it simply takes the concept of a costumed superhero, accepts it and runs with it, using the story as a framework on which to hang character development and action scenes. Any tale where the main protagonist leads a double life naturally leads to questions of identity and trust; that’s what Night Falcon does, and does well.

Billed on its cover (in English) as ‘the new ultimate Thai action hero on digi-film’, the movie has its problems although I’m always hesitant about discussing the script quality of any film where I can’t understand a word they’re saying. The first half is somewhat fragmentary with a series of apparently unconnected scenes showing the three friends in various situations or cutting away to other material such as news reports. Some of these seem designed to simply showcase flashy moves; for example a sequence in a skate park with lots of shots of Thai kids on skateboards and BMX bikes. We see Mae chatted up by a cocky guy in a pink shirt (toting a big ghetto blaster and an even bigger afro!), then Sarah and Peter arrive.

But did we really need so many cool shots of skateboarders jumping hither and thither? At 95 minutes, the film could lose a few minutes of this footage without coming to harm. There is also an all-pervading pop soundtrack, much of it just endless techno beats, which gets a tad irritating at times.
But mitigating this are sympathetic leads, delightfully over-the-top villains and a bunch of exciting fights. These are shot flashily - Ram Thanadpojanamart loves using his ‘digi-film’ to blur movement - and there are a lot of fast edits. We’re not watching a Tony Jaa film here, though I’ve no doubt that the actors are all accomplished martial artists who could kick my white arse. Thanadpojanamart has a nice eye for composition and frequently sets up the characters in poses which manage to look cool without looking silly.

Above all, what impressed me was the story. Granted, the whole drugs thing disappears fairly quickly (I assume that White/Iron Mask’s imported smack was responsible for the zombified knife-kid at the swimming pool) but in terms of character development through plot development I really can’t fault this. Even without understanding a word of dialogue I could understand motivations and actions (eventually) and in fact there are lengthy sequences with little or no dialogue.

A few subtitles and an international distributor could have made Night Falcon a hit, I’m sure and I’m intrigued about why the movie seems to have gone nowhere. It’s stylish, laden with neat-looking production design, rarely drags and delivers both plot and action. Maybe it will be rediscovered one day.

The film’s terrific website has now closed but fortunately most of the pages are archived at Thai Toku, a groovy Thai superhero website. The text is all in Thai but there are lots of great photos. The cast also includes Nukrob Tripoh, Prapimpom Kanjinda, Pinpetch Goonshorn, Taweesuk Suwanpist and Natawoot Chaijaroen although I don’t know who plays which character.

MJS rating: A-

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