The Adventure of Iron Pussy

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Michael Shaowanasai
Cast: Michael Shaowanasai, Krissada Terrence
Year: 2003
Running Time: 90 minutes

Thai film director Apitchatpong Weerasethakul has in a very short time become something of a darling in the arcane art cinema crowd with his two films "Blissfully Yours" (2002) and "Tropical Malady" (2004), which won the Jury Prize at Cannes. These two films though seem to be love them or hate them affairs with audiences and they are famous for the large number of walk outs at film festivals. Friends have told me that death would be a more pleasant experience than sitting through these films again. Other people though rave about them as a breakthrough in cinema and that they are a new form of cinematic language. Cool. I have yet to see either – not that I am a coward necessarily – but I know I will have to be in the right mood to sit through these and I am not entirely sure what mood that would be. Now a few years ago I did see his first film from 2000 – "Mysterious Object at Noon" – and though I found it completely enigmatic and confounding – it was also a film that I found oddly fascinating and I thought about it long after leaving the theater.

The Adventure of Iron Pussy is an entirely different matter. This is a much more frivolous effort and probably much more fun. Apitchatpong teams up with multimedia artist/performer Michael Shaowanasai to bring to the big screen a character that Michael had developed previously in some of his performances called “Iron Pussy” - a transvestite super hero. The results are an affectionate campy send up of super heroes and old Thai films in which people break into song, love is tragic and the good guys always prevail. In some ways this resembles “Tears of the Black Tiger” with its old film affectations – saturated colors, intentionally clumsy action, overly heightened dramatics, exaggerated melodrama – but Iron Pussy is a much more modest comical affair. Though the low budget campiness begins to drag somewhat after initially being delightfully silly, the film generally holds up with just enough humor, corniness and songs to get you to its sweet ending. The DVD has an amusing interview with both directors – and Michael says that he would love to make other Iron Pussy films all with different directors to see what their take would be and he goes on to mention in a joking manner how John Woo or the Pang Brothers might do it – that would be rather fun to see!
The film announces its intentions immediately in the opening credit sequence in which Iron Pussy (played by Michael) comes to the rescue of a damsel in distress and with each punch of the villains there is a freeze frame and a credit blazoned on the screen. After receiving a bottle of special sauce for her heroic efforts, Iron Pussy rides off on the back of a motorcycle that her sidekick Pew owns. In a flashback we learn that Pew was once a drug addicted petty criminal foaming at the mouth until Iron Pussy set him back on the right path and he is now her loyal assistant. In her other identity Iron Pussy is actually a middle-aged balding man who works at a 7-11 – though once he had been a go-go boy – and if he spots trouble he quickly dons his wig and dress and becomes the feared Iron Pussy (generally using the English term which makes it sound very super heroish!).
The Thai government makes use of Iron Pussy as well for dangerous assignments and delivers messages to her 7-ll check out screen. They have learned that a farang, Mr. Henry, has deposited large amounts of money into Thai banks and suspect he is up to something no good and ask Iron Pussy to investigate – after they all break into a song she has only one question – “do I have a budget for a wardrobe?”  She poses as a maid to infiltrate the household of the very wealthy Mrs. Pompadoi – sung in doo-wop fashion to “pom pom pom pom pom” and is selected because of her great beauty and true old-fashioned Thai female characteristics. She falls in love with Mrs. Pompadoi’s son and he with her – leading to a lovely duet in the fields – but ugly secrets are soon to emerge as he is also known as the dastardly Dr. Goldfoot and possibly may even be  . . . her brother!  Can love overcome all of this? It’s all rather silly fun for the most part with it’s enjoyable low budget nonsense – like an earthquake being simulated in time honored low budget fashion by shaking the camera or when she is tied to a tree it is obvious that the ropes are barely secure around her wrists. This might not to be everyone’s liking – it clearly has drag queen sensibilities and the gay community may be its most obvious target audience – but I found it sweetly amusing.

My rating for this film: 7.5