Yesterday marked the Gala Premiere of Wisit Sasanatieng's Red Eagle in Bangkok's Central World, and I suppose given the writer-director's past films that I've enjoyed, I made it a point to travel to Bangkok to catch this, and the kind folks at Five Star Production provided me an opportunity to attend the gala. I've also managed to get a quick interview session with Ananda Everingham, who plays Rom Ritthikrai aka Red Eagle in this reboot of the 60s film franchise which starred the legendary Thai actor Mitr Chaibancha, just before the festivities for the gala began.
Stefan: You have starred in two Singapore films - The Leap Years and Pleasure Factory one a romantic film and the other exploring the seedier side of Singapore. What's your impression of our country? Ananda: Well if you've seen the two films, they're very different, and I think I like that about Singapore. It's got that kind of sanitized facade about it but at the same time there's also the culture and the tradition and the richness of Asian culture is also there, because sometimes if you just skim the surface it comes off as very... it's hard to define... like a character trait of the people of Singapore. So it's nice to make both films. I've got to see more of the real Singapore with Pleasure Factory. But I actually thought at one point I wouldn't mind working out of Singapore, because sometimes it's nice to be away from the chaos in Bangkok.
Stefan: Can you share how you got the role of Red Eagle, and did you watch the original Red Eagle films starring the late Mitr Chaibancha to prepare yourself for this role. Ananda: Mitr Chaibancha is from a generation of filmmakers and film stars that I know nothing about. If you've seen the work of Wisit Sasanatieng he's got that nostalgic element in all his works, so he's a big fan of films from that era. All I knew about the character was there was this legendary Thai actor who fell from the helicopter. And everybody knows this story of Mitr Chaibancha, and I actually remember the footage. I must have been like six or seven years old when I saw the footage. I think everybody knows that story, but they might not know of the actors or the characters of that generation. So I knew about the Red Eagle, tragically, from the way he died and then once I was approached to play the Red Eagle, Wisit got me to watch some of Mitr Chaibancha's older films, which was good. It gave me perspective what the films were about that generation and what it meant to be a megastar in that generation.
Stefan: So how big is Red Eagle to Thai filmgoers? Ananda: Well, think of it this way. Back when Mitr Chaibancha was in his prime, he was such a wanted actor that film crews would actually set up outside his doorstep and wait for him to come out and gave him a costume and say like "Can you act out or do this one scene before you go off to your set?" People would actually stop him like halfway to a set and set up right here, right beside the road and say "we'll need you for just one line!" That doesn't exist anymore, you don't have these megastars anymore. We're in a whole new generation. This generation's more of like the tabloid generation. Mitr Chaibancha was in a generation where there was such a thing as a superstar.
Stefan: You mentioned you've watched a couple of Red Eagle movies. Any favourites? Ananda: I don't remember the names, but they're all quite campy. I like them all. I like old films anyway. I like that old styled acting, like the suave, handsome playboy character that he plays. I always get a kick out of that. I mean this one's completely different. It's not a sequel but I love that about The Red Eagle then, the playboy, charming, because that's Mitr Chaibancha's character, that's how he was in real life as well.
Stefan: How different is your and Wisit's interpretation of Rom Ritthikrai from Mitr's version? Ananda: Completely. I mean the characters have the same name. I think the only character that would resemble anything from the character of the past films would be Chart (played by Wannasingha Prasertkul), not like the Red Eagle's nemesis, but there's always going to be that one policeman trying to catch Red Eagle and that character's played quite similar to the films of the past. The big objective of the character was to be sort of like a comic relief for the film. We still have that, but other than that everything's different. It's like the rated R version of the Red Eagle with a lot more violence and not as charming as that old character.
Stefan: You were injured in a serious motorcycle accident... Ananda: About two years ago. Stefan: ... which was just weeks before film was due to start. Did that affect or change any planned action sequence that you were supposed to carry out? Ananda: Well, it made the film crew very cautious when we were doing the stunts and all that, but no it didn't change much. The Red Eagle doesn't have powers, he can't do things like ten backflips or stuff like that. I mean he can do two backflips, but that's about the extent of the stunts. Most of it's straightforward, martial arts, but after the accident I actually told Wisit that I'd be OK if he wanted to move on shooting and cast somebody else in my role. And he came up to Chiang Mai to see me and had a chat, and spoke to the doctors, and to find out how I would recover, and how my mobility would be for the next six months or so. So he decided he wanted to take a chance and waited for six months for me to heal. And I still have injuries that affect me now but it's lucky enough for me, with therapy and all that, nothing serious had happened. We got through it pretty OK. It wasn't the easiest film to make but we just made it through. I'll be the first one to admit that this is the toughest film I've ever made. The most taxing, the most demanding.
Stefan: Is it because of the action sequences? Ananda: It was everything. It was such an ambitious film, and with Wisit at the helm, if you know him, he's a perfectionist. He wants every single shot - he storyboarded it and he wants the exact shot. A lot of these shots, on the storyboard they look great, like the guy does a double back flip, but to actually shoot that kind of thing, it's harder than it looks than on the storyboard. So to get all of his vision that he storyboarded onto film wasn't easy. I remembered doing shifts like 45 hours shifts, non-stop. I mean if there's a sequel to this I really have to consider it before taking on the role. It was on the verge of being painful.
Stefan: What's your favourite scene from the film? Ananda: If you've seen the trailer, my favourite shot and Wisit knows this story really well. You see the first shot and it's shot from behind the Red Eagle, and he puts on the mask... Stefan: Will this be the first time that the audience will see Red Eagle? Ananda: I'm not sure how it's cut in the film, but I remember shooting that one, and we came back to look at the monitor and that one gave me goosebumps. Just made me feel like, wow, we're actually making a superhero film. I know you need those kind of shots, and after watching that, yeah, this should be quite a good film.
Stefan: What's your next project, besides another Red Eagle film if it comes out? Ananda: Well I have a film I've produced myself and it's complete now. It gets premiered in Pusan as well, called High Society, but it's abbreviated, so it's Hi-So. It's like a nickname for the rich kids in Thailand. So after I come back from Pusan I go straight to Tibet making a road movie called Shambala. It's like a Tibetian utopia, about this guy who's done a lot of negative things with his life, and caused a lot of hurt for other people. He ends up on this road trip with his younger brother who's a travel photographer, and I tag along because I want to find a new place to get drunk or something, and he finds redemption through his travels in Tibet. It'd be a fun film. Influences from the film will be Y Tu Mama Tambien, along those lines as well, about two crazy kids travelling across Tibet.