Friday 9 November 2007

Inframan (1975) Shan Hua

Oh, this one is going to become a huge favourite. I'd never even heard of Inframan before, but I got the privilege of seeing this one on the big screen in 35mm, courtesy of Midnite Movie Mamacita. It was gloriously widescreen but dubbed, both very well (as far as synchronisation) and joyfully badly (the dialogue, the names). I'll have to pick up the DVD to experience it in its original language and see how outrageous the subtitles are. It's possibly the most fun superhero ever made, while remaining one of the most nonsensical.

The delectable Terry Liu plays a supervillain with possibly the best supervillain name of all time: Princess Dragon Mom. She's a remnant of a previous age, frozen in the geological crust for eons but newly thawed out with her monsters and minions. Inexplicably, she also has all the latest technology and speaks the modern language fluently, but still wanders around in an outrageous bikini costume with a long whip. Naturally, she wants to take over the world and so goes head to head with Professor Chang and his new creation, Inframan. I don't know why they didn't let her. It would be a very different place if we were all slaves to Princess Dragon Mom!

Inframan is a complete ripoff of Ultraman, and is played here by no less than Danny Lee, well known cop in Hong Kong movies, up to and including John Woo's masterful The Killer. Here he gets to perform a lot of gymnastic manoevres, indulge in enthusiastic Shaw Brothers kung fu with actors in bizarre rubber suits, grow to giant size for a single battle, fire off his thunderball fists and have no end of fun on truly awesome sets. He's also an instantly established hero. I loved the bit where we watched him get created from nothing, then fly out of the building only for people to look at him and know exactly who he is. Yeah, Inframan!

What makes this film succeed is that it doesn't let up for a moment. It plays like the greatest episode of Power Rangers ever, with something new happening all the time. The sets are outrageous and awesome, from the supervillain lair on Mount Demon with all its fancy skeletons to the good guy HQ with its seventies flashing lights and its dome on which someone seems to be playing Tetris. The good guy technicians are all dressed like Evil Knievel, except Inframan who has his cool red suit; the bad guy minions are dressed up like skeletons with masks that don't want to stay put.

And the monsters don't quit. I think they were designed by Frank Zappa or someone with as wicked a sense of humour. They're all of the rubber suit sort, but these costumes are worn by actors with no lack of energy, bouncing around and kung fu fighting with a vengeance. One looks like an octopus but is really some sort of plant monster, another looks like a giant turd with teeth and continually growls at us like the Tasmanian Devil. There are two robot men with detachable heads and hands that bounce outward on springs. There's a traditional Chinese demon sort with huge white hair and another that looks like a Terracotta warrior type but with a handlebar moustache. My favourite of course has to be She Demon, who's a little chunky but still gorgeous under her flimsy bikini costume.

While it's impossible not to laugh, it's also nigh on impossible not to be entertained by this hyperkinetic Hong Kong take on a very Japanese genre. What a gem.

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