With the passing of legendary producer and founder of The Shaw Brothers Studios, Sir Run Run Shaw earlier in the week, I thought I’d take a look back at two of The Shaw Brothers more Sci-Fi themed epics, the superhero flick Infra-Man and the King Kong knock-off The Mighty Peking Man. Two delightfully campy and fun, rubber monster movies! …
I actually had the experience of seeing this guilty pleasure at my beloved Oritani Theater back in 1979. I talked my big sister into taking me and I still don’t think she’s forgiven me. Infra-Man…known as The Super Inframan in it’s native Hong Kong…is a martial arts superhero flick that seems to be inspired by the Japanese Ultraman TV series and it’s SPFX and sets match the type that one would see on that show. The film starts out with Earth under attack from not only a series of natural disasters, but monsters as well. Soon it is revealed that that an ancient evil, the dread Princess Dragon Mom (Terry Lau Wai Yue)…a sinister kitten with a whip and holdover from an ancient and advanced race…has set her sights on conquering Earth using her army of skull soldiers and mutant creatures from her underground lair…complete with volcanic pit! Professor Liu Ying De (Wang Hsieh) must now unveil his life’s work, the fighting cyborg warrior known as Infra-Man. Volunteering to be transformed into the laser blasting, kung fu fighting hero is brave Science Headquarters officer Lei Ma (Danny Lee) who, once given the powers of Infra-Man, takes the fight to Dragon Mom in the hopes of saving his friends and the entire world. But one cyborg against an army of monsters may be too great a challenge, even for the mighty Infra-Man!
Hong Kong’s first super hero flick…and Infra-Man has that distinction…is colorful, cheesy, fast-paced fun as our flying robotic hero battles a variety of creatures that look like bad guy rejects from the 70s H.R. Puff-N-Stuff TV show. It takes the cyborg v.s. monsters battles that made the Japanese Ultraman show such campy fun and adds The Shaw Brother’s trademark martial arts to the mix for some real cartoonish and over the top superhero action. Director Shan Hua takes his silly story and just has a blast with it. He never makes a joke out of it, but instead lets the material provide all the entertainment as Infra-Man takes on rubber monster and skull soldier alike with his various powers and weapons which seem to be made up as we go along. And we are all along for the cheese covered ride. And if fans of this type of rubber monster fun see a resemblance with it’s Japanese counterparts, that’s because the cinematography, set design and costumes are in fact done by Japanese artists.
If you like Godzilla movies, or are a fan of the Japanese superhero shows like Ultraman, or matial arts flicks, or all of the above, then this deliriously silly yet, equally entertaining flick is a campy rubber monster blast with the added action of a Shaw Brothers martial arts epic. Not sure how you can pass that up…I couldn’t! Infra-Man was produced by Runme Shaw, co-founder of Shaw Brothers Studio and brother of Sir Run Run Shaw. Cheesy as heck, but a lot of campy ridiculous fun!
THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977)
With Dino De Lauarentiis’ King Kong remake getting hyped all over the planet back in the 70s, The Shaw Brothers responded with this cheesy rubber monster-fest that is actually a lot more fun. The movie, released here in the U.S. as Goliathon, opens with an amusing pre-credits sequence that portrays witness accounts of an earthquake freeing a colossal ape-like creature from the ice years earlier and it’s subsequent destruction of a native village. It is this account that inspires an expedition by ruthless entrepreneur Lu Tiem (Ku Feng) to The Himalayas to seek out the legendary abominable snowman or Peking Man and lead by explorer Johnny Feng (Danny Lee). But the jungle and it’s inhabitants take their toll…graphically and hilariously…on Johnny’s team and the remaining members abandon him. Johnny is attacked by the huge creature, but is rescued by Samantha (Evelyne Kraft) a beautiful blonde jungle girl with an animal skin bikini and salon perfect make-up and hair. Samantha is the sole survivor of a plane crash when she was a child…which she hilariously recreates for Johnny…and has been raised, befriended and protected by the giant Peking Man itself. Living in the jungle with the beautiful Tarzan-ette, Johnny falls in love with her, but the lure of dollar signs never fades and he convinces Samantha to return with him to Hong Kong with her furry friend to introduce the world to The Peking Man. But as with another famous simian, we know, taking big anthropoids to the big city is never a good idea. But Johnny realizes his mistake too late as the giant man-beast breaks free and the military moves in to destroy the rampaging monster.
Ho Meng-hua directs this tragic monster movie with a seriousness that makes it all the more fun as we go from the jungles of India to the neon jungle of Hong Kong with our rubber suited title creature and babelicious jungle maiden. Not to mention Ho’s entertaining attempts to add character development with some really unintentionally funny flashbacks…or the music video style falling in love scene between Samantha and Johnny complete with cheesy 70s love song. The FX and model work here are on par with the Godzilla films being made around the same time…and future Godzilla series effects man Koichi Kawakita was one of the FX artists on the film…though the Peking Man costume looks like it could have been bought at any Halloween store and the actor inside’s emoting from within the costume is sure to bring the appropriate chuckles. And just like the movie it apes…see what I did there…the climax finds Peking Man and the lovely Samantha on the top of one of Hong Kong’s tallest skyscrapers while the military tries to finish him off with firepower, toy helicopters and blatant stupidity. Along the way we also get the typical greedy, lecherous entrepreneurs and arrogant kill crazy military officials who want to exploit/kill Peking Man in that order…not to mention wanting to tap our sultry, naive Samantha like a cheep hooker.
The cast take their parts seriously. Danny Lee is fine as Johnny, but it’s hard to like him, as thought his feelings for Samantha seem legit, his arrogance and greed in bringing Peking Man to Hong Kong still makes him a jerk. Kraft is stunning and enchanting as Samantha and hide the kiddies, because she has no problem shedding her animal skin bikini at a moment’s notice and does so often. The actress also maintains a straight face with the increasingly silly scenes she is in and all the cheesy quasi-Tarzan dialog that she is forced to spout. Between this and the filmmakers’ obviously exploiting of her shapely figure, make Kraft a real trooper in my book, as well as, a real looker. If there is anything this film accomplishes that isn’t unintentionally funny, it is that Kraft’s Samantha does seem to convey a genuine bond with the massive “Utam.”
In conclusion, you will rarely find a more delightfully cheesy monster movie then The Mighty Peking Man. All the more amusing because indications would be that there was a serious attempted at recreating the tragic fairy tale that was King Kong. And even if it is an epic fail on that count, the film is enormously entertaining because of how it fails. A really enjoyable and entertaining rubber monster movie from The Shaw Brothers with a smoking hot leading lady.
3 salon-ready jungle girls!