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Oeuvre: Weerasethakul: The Adventure of Iron Pussy

Oeuvre: Weerasethakul: The Adventure of Iron Pussy

Iron Pussy proves that even in the case of the most alluring auteurs, not every creative side road yields bountiful rewards.

It seems surprising, considering the wide acclaim granted to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s other work, that The Adventure of Iron Pussy is so infrequently discussed. That this master of the extraordinary, the delicate and the ineffable made an early-career diversion into camp cinema, fashioning an action-musical hybrid around the exploits of a impeccably arrayed drag queen heroine, makes for an irresistible synopsis for a film that remains highly underseen. Unfortunately, Iron Pussy is also singular in the director’s oeuvre in terms of quality, a broad, splashy parody of vintage Thai action flicks that’s colorful but also completely half-baked. Pushing for a pronounced queering of familiar tropes, it approaches sexuality in a different tenor from his other work, yet it’s overtly ludicrous re-staging of genre beats blocks access to the customary level of imagination and elegance.

The film is a collaboration between Apichatpong and Michael Shaowanasai, a fellow American art-school grad and veteran of the Bangkok gallery scene, who also takes up the title role here. Filling downtime during a delay in funding on 2004’s Tropical Malady, the two set out to remake the movies of their youth from a different perspective. Befitting its status as a quickie lark, and perhaps in keeping with the slapdash style of the stuff they were parodying, Iron Pussy is clumsy, loose and extremely over the top. While amusing, it ultimately doesn’t make for very rewarding viewing, particularly for those ill-equipped to spot the specific references and allusions being made.

Shaowanasai himself stars as the unnamed hero, who works by day in male form as an ordinary 7-11 employee, another reminder that the Texas-based chain shows up in the oddest international places. By night, he becomes a secret government operative known as Iron Pussy, who dons over-the-top outfits and elaborate makeup to take down foes. The adventure in question here involves a mysterious foreign businessman who sporadically appears in the country, then leaves with his suitcases stuffed with cash, his source of likely illicit income remaining a mystery to authorities.

First introduced in a scene out of a Western, defending the honor of a female barmaid against some unsavory toughs, Iron Pussy eventually goes undercover as a maid at a palatial estate, drawing the attentions of Tang (Krissada Terrence), the rakish son of her new employer. This relationship, which finds our protagonist assuming the dual role of forceful hero and swooning maiden, along with accompanying suggestive hints of kinky fetish play, is the film’s most interesting feature. Yet it quickly loses steam amid a tumbling progression of events, as an elaborate scheme involving mind-control serum spawns a twisting series of soap-opera revelations.

Where something like Mysterious Object is split between bidding for a foreign audience and playing to a domestic one, Iron Pussy seems mostly geared toward those in the know, its blunt, lampoon style allowing for little accompanying hand-holding. Conceived to keep Apichatpong’s crew assembled and occupied during the aforementioned hold-up in financing, it’s basically an extended sketch, or less leniently, a hasty knockoff of Wisit Sasanatieng’s far better Tears of the Black Tiger, a similar stylistic exercise released a few years prior. A charitable reading might focus on the film’s expansive sense of play, which carries over from his other work, but this is otherwise so different as to seem like the output of an entirely different director. Constrained by its caricatural template, Iron Pussy proves that even in the case of the most alluring auteurs, not every creative side road yields bountiful rewards.

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