Starring Danny Lee, Evelyn Kraft, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Lam Wai-Tiu, Ku Feng, Corey Yuen Kwai
Directed By Ho Meng-Hua
There are definitely a lot of oddities in the Shaw Bros catalog, from the Japanese superhero inspired Super Inframan to the zany, breast milk squirting antics of Black Magic. But I don’t think any separates itself from the pack more than The Mighty Peking Man, which has about as much in common with Shaolin monks and rival kung fu schools as it does with Shakespearean comedies. If you’ve ever begged to find out what happens when a movie studio famous for its kung fu films decides to remake King Kong, then The Mighty Peking Man is just the movie for you.
We’re all familiar with the story by now. A giant gorilla living in some faraway uncharted land is captured by a bunch of ignorant humans, only interested in pimping out the oddity of nature for profit. The monster naturally breaks loose, whereupon it systematically rampages through the city, causing millions of dollars in damage before being tragically massacred… You’ll get all of that here, but I think this film has enough going for it to separate itself from all of the other imitators. This is the Shaw Studios we’re talking about here and you can bet that they’re sure to stamp their indelible charm onto the proceedings.
Perhaps some of the most interesting moments are when the film decides to deviate from the all too familiar King Kong story. There are a lot of unique twists here, and I’m not simply talking about the India and Hong Kong settings. The Mighty Peking Man may well be one of the first Asian films that offers up a true interracial romance. Famed hunter Johnny Meng (played by Inframan’s Danny Lee) braves the Himalayas through tigers, quicksand, and a stampede of killer elephants only to be abandoned by his fellow hunters and best friend while in pursuit of the legendary giant ape. He finally stumbles across the monster before the half-naked Caucasian Jungle-woman, Samantha (played by the gorgeous Swiss bombshell Evelyn Kraft) swings into the scene and mediates between the two. Turns out she lost her parents in a plane crash as a little girl and was left alone to be raised by the gigantic simian.
Johnny and Samantha have plenty of time to bond in the serene jungle. They frolic around, playing with tigers and leopards in slow motion and eventually wind up in love. As cheesy as it all sounds (and the syrupy Burt Bacharach-inspired love songs don’t help) the romance is well handled and is at times downright sexy. Samantha dresses in what is probably the skimpiest jungle attire I have ever seen. When she is bitten in the thigh by a cobra, Johnny is forced to suck the venom out. Eventually they all decide to return to the city, where things obviously end up taking a turn for the worse.
I’ve read a few other reviews of this film, and most people tend to piss on the special effects here. What a bunch of assholes! I can only assume that these people have seen very few films made more than twenty years ago and really have no contextual knowledge to justify their shitty opinions. Not only does The Mighty Peking Man contain the greatest special effects I have ever seen in a Shaw Bros film, but they are among some of the best of any film to come out of this period. If you can not appreciate rear screen projection, meticulously crafted miniatures, or gratuitous pyrotechnics then stop reading now. Really. Go toss in your Blu-ray release of I, Robot or 2012 and jack off in a dark corner somewhere.
For those of you still around, who have a genuine love of any special effects requiring more work than simply typing in a few lines of computer code, you will be in heaven here. This is much more than a guy in a gorilla suit breaking through balsa wood buildings. The prosthetics and makeup are top-notch and give the giant ape a personality and character all its own. The final rampage through Hong Kong puts even most Godzilla films to shame. Buildings and roads are completely reduced to rubble. Cars are stomped and thrown into gas stations, creating some pretty impressive explosions. Helicopters, tanks, missiles, and all kinds of firepower are turned towards the Peking Man during the film’s taut climax. At one point the giant ape rips an entire oil refinery out of the ground, using it as a weapon. The sheer amount of destruction on display here is enough to plaster a shit-eating grin across even the biggest film snob’s face.
If you are a fan of King Kong who looks at the 1976 remake as a shameful aberration, I strongly advise you to give this 1977 iteration a fighting chance. It definitely manages to capture all of the thematic content of the original while offering up some welcome deviations of its own. If all else fails, give it a shot for the cathartic, destruction-fueled rampage through Hong Kong. I haven’t met a man alive who doesn’t love him some good explosions.