The Super Inframan [中國超人] (1975)
Starring Danny Lee, Wang Hsieh, Yuan Man-Tzu, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Dana, Lin Wen-Wei, Kong Yeung, Bruce Le, Fanny Leung Maan-Yee, Ting Tung
Directed by Hua Shan
Expectations: High. I love this one.
On the general scale:
I don’t think it matters.
On the B-movie scale:
There are many different types of great movies, and to call The Super Inframan anything less than great is selling it short. It may lack the depth of more traditionally great movies, but it makes up for this with some of the most fun and relentless entertainment I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Simply put, The Super Inframan is pure fun from start to finish. This is entertainment of the highest order, and to look at it critically, picking apart its flaws for the sake of proving why its unable to sit alongside cinema’s great films is completely wrong-minded. The film sets out to hammer home thunder-fisted thrills and it does not disappoint.
Written by the prolific and talented Ni Kuang, The Super Inframan introduces us to a world in chaos. Natural disasters are occurring all across Hong Kong: earthquakes split roads in two, fire bursts forth from the ground, and a previously dormant volcano has suddenly become very active. Soon after, a local science center is contacted by Demon Princess Elzebub AKA the wonderfully named Princess Dragon Mom in the English dub (Terry Lau Wai-Yue). She informs the scientists that she is the Earth’s new master; our only choice to surrender or be destroyed.
Professor Liu (Wang Hsieh) has a trick up his sleeve, though. From this severe crisis of humanity, his Inframan project is finally thrown into action. Rayma (Danny Lee) is selected as the most able candidate for the procedure, and soon he is injected with a super serum and his body is augmented with all manner of electrodes and highly classified technology. He is now more than Rayma; he is Inframan, and he is our only chance of stopping Princess Elzebub and her horde of formidable monsters!
One of my favorite elements of The Super Inframan is the rich production design. There’s a few wonky bits (such as a few of the skulls on the Mount Devil set), but it’s an endearing kind of wonky. Besides, literally everything else is top-notch work. The science labs are filled with all kinds of panels with flashing lights and dials, and the villains’ lair is an equally gorgeous marriage of science lab and cave. The chamber where Inframan is designed and brought to life is probably my favorite set, with a giant technical readout of Inframan’s electrical pathways looming over the whole room. With the amount of effort that went into the sets, I’m surprised they didn’t crank out another film using them (and maybe I’ll run across something one of these days). It’s hard for me to believe that they made all of this stuff for one movie and then trashed it. That goes against the Shaw Brothers production ethos!
The monster suits could definitely be ripe for criticism, if you were so inclined. In my opinion, the suits are wonderfully constructed and spot-on perfect for this style of film. They aren’t your standard monsters either; these dudes are all super interesting and imaginative. My favorite is probably the guy who gets the most screen time, Mutant Drill, but I love the rest of them, too. The Inframan suit is obviously something of a take on Ultraman, but the resemblance is more felt in the movie’s style than in any detail of the suit’s design. Inframan is a unique character that really deserved more than one movie; it’s a shame there was never a sequel. The film was a flop, though this had little to do with the film’s quality. The Super Inframan had the unfortunate coincidence of releasing right after a kid imitated his favorite superhero and jumped out a window, hoping to fly. People weren’t really into seeing this sort of movie after that.
The action isn’t quite the same thing you’d expect from a standard Shaw Brothers film, but The Super Inframan is no standard Shaw Brothers film. There’s a lot of special effects-driven sequences, like the Plant Monster’s assault on the research center where his tentacles grow to building-smashing size, or when the Spider Monster grows to kaiju size through a flawless execution of the forced perspective technique. Wire work also figures prominently, giving Inframan and his enemies the ability to fly here and there. It’s not up to later standards obviously, but it’s edited together well-enough to sell the illusions. In general, all the FX work is fairly ambitious for a low-budget production like this, and it’s all executed rather well, all things considered.
There’s also a fair amount of martial arts, varying between Inframan battling the monsters, Inframan battling the skeleton henchmen, and Inframan’s science buddies fighting both skeletons and monsters. Tang Chia handled the action choreography, and while it definitely isn’t the most exciting or intricate work, it’s pretty impressive just how much they were able to do with guys fighting in full-body suits. The incorporation of the FX work into the action choreography is paramount to the film’s success, making the film’s fights pop with excitement and adding a wow factor that should impress even the most jaded Shaw fan.
The Super Inframan was director Hua Shan’s first Shaw film, and his second effort as a director overall. He started his career as a cinematographer, shooting such films as The Wandering Swordsman and The Chinese Boxer. Despite the poor initial reception for The Super Inframan, Hua exhibits a keen eye and a wonderful ability to use the vibrant Shaw color palette to maximum effect. Hua went on to a busy career at Shaw, directing multiple episodes in The Criminals anthology film series, as well as Soul of the Sword, Bloody Parrot, Little Dragon Maiden, and many more.
The Super Inframan is one of my favorite Shaw Brothers movies, and re-watching it this time reminded me why. It’s ultra-fun of the highest order, packed into a slim runtime that blows by before you know it. Writing a review of it feels somewhat pointless, since you’ll know if you want to watch it based solely on a single glance at one of its many wonderful posters.
That being said, if you’d still like to read more about The Super Inframan, I highly recommend checking out Uncle Jasper’s review from the early days of Silver Emulsion.
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is the co-production with Italy’s A Erre Cinematografica: Supermen Against the Amazons! Hopefully it’s better than Supermen Against the Orient was. See ya then!