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Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Mighty Peking Man (1977)

Director: Meng Hua Ho
Stars: Danny Lee and Evelyne Kraft

I get a good feeling every time I see the Shaw Brothers opening sequence. I'm not expecting a great movie but I'm expecting something that's a lot of fun. To me Shaw Brothers movies are the Hong Kong equivalent of the old Hollywood serial movies of the thirties and forties. This one dates back to 1977 and has Danny Lee to boot, a decade before he'd face off against Chow Yun Fat in The Killer. As you can imagine from the title, it's a monster movie and it doesn't take long to show us the monster.

We open in a library where a group of men are looking at a photo of a giant footprint on the front page of a Hong Kong paper. This apparently proves outright that the Mighty Peking Man has returned from prehistory to ravage villages in the Himalayas (which makes the European title of Colossus of Congo a little surprising). 'The evidence looks conclusive then,' they say and mount an expedition to make them all rich. To lead the expedition, they call in a drunk who's still whining about losing his girlfriend to a friend. Before we even meet him though we meet the monster, in a flashback while the men talk about the footprint in the paper.

He's huge and pissed off, and happy to break all the models that the production can build. Now, the modelwork is great but the monster outfit sucks and there's some truly awful matching of live action foregrounds with model backgrounds or vice versa. King Kong was about a zillion times better than this and it was over thirty years old at this point. Even the Godzilla sequels which rapidly decreased in quality are all better than this, which doesn't even stand up to the ape in King Kong vs Godzilla fifteen years earlier.

However this film has more to offer than just another giant ape, though at heart it's a blatant King Kong rip off. On the way to find that giant ape, Johnny Fang, Danny Lee's character, has to deal with an elephant stampede, a tiger attack and some huge cliffs for members of the party to fall off. Once they get into the right neighbourhood, he doesn't even to find the ape because the ape finds him. Luckily there's a Russian Sheena equivalent with blonde hair, blue eyes and impeccable makeup, leaping around in her tiny costume from tree to tree. The most fun here is trying to work out when she's going to slip out of it.

Naturally she's befriended all the animals, from leopards to elephants to the Mighty Peking Man itself, so she saves him from imminent death. Just as naturally, after living successfully all these years in the jungle on her own since her parents crash landed in their plane and orphaned her, the moment Johnny shows up she proves to be a weak and feeble woman. She conveniently gets bitten in the crotch by a king cobra so that he has to suck out the venom. By the time he ends up in her pants in her cave, Mighty Peking Man gets plenty jealous, but she calms him and they all head back to Hong Kong together.

Needless to say, Danny Lee isn't called upon to do any great acting here and he went on to many far better parts in the years to come. Incidentally, this was his second cult classic, following his title role in 1975's Infra-Man. The Sheena clone is Evelyne Kraft, who I haven't seen before but who seems to have had an interesting screen career, featuring in many films with multiple titles, always a great pointer to intriguing but probably awful exploitation fare. She started out in The French Sex Murders, which was Italian, then moved on to a couple of Dudu the Superbug films which were German Herbie clones. After The Mighty Peking Man, she made another Hong Kong movie called Deadly Angels, then a German Countess Dracula ripoff called Lady Dracula. Her career wasn't long but it was very varied, both in genre and country of origin.

She brings to this film precisely what's needed. After all, as a King Kong rip off we get everything we could ask for: a giant ape rampaging through Hong Kong, a gorgeous blonde in animal skins, plenty of wild animals to playfully wrestle with in the jungle, along with terrible special effects, awesome models and seemingly no end of rip off material. It's a terrible film but it's pretty good fun. I'd have liked the technical consistency to be much better but I wouldn't give up the bad acting, bad dialogue, bad dubbing, moronic officials and contrived plot twists for the world.

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