After my incredibly critical review of Ninja Cheerleaders and a far from embracing review of Fatal Furty: The Motion Picture yesterday, I was ready to concede to there being little chance of finding a post-digital, post-modern take on the genre that was revisionist, without just being terrible. Of course, I was looking in countries with a very rooted tradition in the genre, as well as the American cinema where genre revisionism is often passed as the only type of film possible to young filmmakers. I would never have have considered branching out to other countries, let alone ones that predominantly speak Spanish, a language whose films I have come to pigeonhole within the melodramatic tradition or in the wild and evocative stylings of provocative filmmakers Luis Bunuel and Pedro Almodovar. Yet, in 2007 a little Chilean film titled Mirageman hit the world and appears to have made little if any splash on a global market. Understandably so, because Mirageman is noticeably low-budget, in that it relies on a distinct set of sets and very minimal use of editing and camera trickery beyond what is possible within the use of Final Cut Pro and After Effects. Yet, filmmaker Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, takes what is made available to him as an indie filmmaker and manages to deliver one of the best humanizing superhero narratives available, taking on the issues that people seem to love about Nolan's Batman or Snyder's The Watchmen and really tackling the body politics of a single person sacrificing himself to the name of justice and protection of those weaker than himself. It is in this notion of body and sacrifice that the film pulls from the kung fu genre, thus justifying its inclusion in this month's marathon. While it does clearly engage with both the cinematic and literary elements of comic book culture, it also pulls brilliantly from the martial arts films of years gone by, incorporating the wild shrieks of Bruce Lee into fights while also taking on moments of ironic slapstick comedy more closely tied to Jackie Chan. Perhaps the greatest feat though, is the ability of Espinoza to create the same sense of intensity and brutality found in Ong-Bak or Fist of Fury, only using a handheld camera and subtle editing. The fact that Mirageman exists is pretty impressive, but being watchable and socially evocative are added incentives.
Mirageman focuses on Maco (Marko Zaror) a martial artist and physically fit man, whose life is in a particular rut as he is forced to take an unfulfilling and often degrading job as a nightclub bouncer. While it is only suggested through flashbacks, Maco's family appears to have been killed in a violent gang attack, leaving only him and his younger brother alive, who has been severely scarred psychologically as a result. The scarring has resulted in his brother being hospitalized much to the frustration and despair of Maco. One night, during his walk home from work, Maco becomes aware of a violent attack occurring in a house, believing that it is only right for him to save whoever is in trouble, he enters the house and beats down three armed men, one of whom was attempting to rape a woman. Leaving without explanation, it is later revealed that the woman in question was Carol V (Maria Elena Swett) a local news anchor who uses her position of public presence to call for Maco to become the hero the city so desperately requires. Initially hesitant to answer the call, Maco visits his brother at the psychiatric hospital, only to be informed that he has broken out of his gray depression cloud after seeing the news of the mysterious superhero. Maco, hoping that this will help cure his brother permanently, decides to take up his identity as a super hero, buying items to work as his costume, while also creating a flyer with an email address to contact him for anything that would require help. Learning to be a superhero comes with trial and error for Maco as he quickly discovers, wearing a uniform can be particularly tricky since changing in public is not that simple and creating an identity that does not look hokey is equally difficult. After visiting his brother who has created a sketch of a man in a trench coat with a mask, Maco comes to appropriate the identity of Mirageman, using it when enacting his various tasks. The idea of Mirageman becomes a social phenomenon, most people dismissing him as a fanatic whose presence is futile in the face of law enforcement, one group even going so far as to challenge him purely to see if he is a real fighter, a fact they find to be brutally true. Others attempt to recruit themselves as his sidekick, but it is not until he is hired to take down a infamous pedophile that Maco realizes how exploitative his town can truly be, when it is realized that a group of fights were staged only to be captured on camera and projected as the next big reality television show. More furious than ever, Maco takes it upon himself to really prove his power, actively tracking down the real pedophile and taking out his gang and leaders, although this does not occur without a small push from a somewhat mysterious detective figure. In his battle, Maco is seriously injured, but assumed alive in the closing moments leading to his earning a much deserved respect not only by Carol V, but by the public in general who now acknowledge his very real presence as a superhero for a community in a terrible state of existence.
The single hero narrative is a thing that worked in classic fiction, because there was no visual degree to make the spatial awareness of a singular being implausible and outright impossible. The figures like Robinson Crusoe or Odysseus work because imagination allows them the extension to occupy a non-physical space without question. In contemporary works, particularly in a post-9/11 framework, the single hero is impossible, because a body cannot match up against the inconceivable mass of all things that are against goodness and justice, even in all its vague ethical terms. Works like The Dark Knight try to deal with this, but afford Bruce Wayne a seemingly infallibility that allow him to move through the space, even when absolutely loathed with a sense of detached awareness that he will never truly fail. Mirageman absolutely rejects this possibility, instead; suggesting that it is precisely the false assumption that one can go at it alone, that causes justice and fairness to be dealt out unsuccessfully. Of course, that does not stop this film from making Maco the battering ram for learning to accept a communal and collective responsibility for justice. Maco, the narrative suggests, goes through some thirty odd missions, before attaining any semblance of respect from the community, who believe that justice occurs in some vacuum that they are aware exists, but is also something for which do not necessarily have a tangible display. Again, I connect this to The Dark Knight and the image of the bat signal painting the night sky, this is a signifier of justice that helps to appropriate Wayne's identity, even when it is put out of operation it is still a moment in the collective memory. For Mirageman and for the reality of the world, signifiers for a superhero exacting justice for a community are not only dismissed, but deemed counterproductive. Indeed, when he actually proves capable of promoting some semblance of good into the world, it is put on display as a thing of spectacle to be consume as "reality" television, when indeed he is fighting against very real figures of evil, particularly when he encounters Pedophile Red. Justice is not a vague thing in Mirageman, nor is the body who sacrifices itself for its execution. To assure that goodness outweighs the bad, somebody often has to step up and enact its presence, institution or theoretical frameworks fail in its real occurrence and this is exactly the through line in Mirageman that makes it a work of revisionist perfection.
Key Scene: The moments where Maco is attempting to decide on his costume take on a layer of identity and body issues, while also suggesting the way authority works in terms of signifiers.
This is on Netflix, you should watch it and help support this kind of low budget filmmaking. It is quite a shame that a work like this has not attained a more well-regarded status.