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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Mighty Peking Man (1977) – Review

With the amount of hype being generated by the production of Dino DeLaurentiis’s 1976 King Kong remake it’s not surprising that A*P*E wasn't the only movie trying to cash in on the publicity, so a year later we got Shaw Brothers, the makers of Infra-Man, and their big ape film The Mighty Peking Man. While the big budget Paramount remake decided to go with a man in an ape suit for their Kong, because the 40ft robot they built could barely movie, the Shaw Brothers went with the suit idea because that’s just what Japanese monster movies use. And boy is the suit used for The Mighty Peking Man a doozy.  (Note: Still much better than the suit that was used in A*P*E)


The movie opens with a group of Hong Kong businessmen discussing the capturing of the mythical Peking Man who is believed to inhabit the Himalayan mountains. Promoter Lu Tiem (Feng Ku) tells us, in flashback form, of how the Mighty Peking Man appeared out of an explosive earthquake, devastating a nearby village despite the natives trying to defend themselves with catapults. And no I haven’t a clue as to why jungle natives had catapults handy. Unfortunately said catapults weren’t very usefull and Peking Man totally wrecks their shit, and then he destroys a mountain temple burying alive all the natives hiding inside.


I guess he woke up particularly cranky that day.

The businessmen realize that they’ll need a jungle explorer on their team if they hope to succeed and Lu Tiem knows just the man, "I know an explorer here in Hong Kong! He just lost his girl! He wants to get away!" I know that if I'm going into dangerous trackless jungle I want a heartbroken drunk to lead me.  The explorer in question is one Johnny Fang (Danny Lee) and Lu Tiem finds him drowning his sorrows at a local bar. We later learn that Johnny was engaged to Lucy (Pin Chen), an actress with a strong career mindset, and to advance her career she sleeps with Johnny’s brother who happens to be a television producer. Lu Tiem is able to convince Johnny to sign up on the hunt for Peking Man with a simple pitch, “"You're going to lead our expedition into the Himalayan jungle! You're the only one I trust!" Deciding that he can continue pickling his liver later Johnny agrees. We are then treated to your standard jungle safari dangers as our “heroes” are plagued with elephant stampedes, super-quicksand, and ferocious leg stealing tigers. And in case the audience hasn’t tumbled onto the fact that Lu Tiem is a bit of a dick when one of the native porters has his leg ripped off by the aforementioned tiger Lu Tiem shoots the man with the excuse, “He was suffering, why waste the medicine?” So he’s definitely no Albert Schweitzer.


Question: Are those natives in blackface or are they just filthy?

More porters die when they start to climb the mountain and Lu Tiem starts talking about giving up on the expedition, but Johnny is too determined to quit. Why, you ask?  I've got no idea, maybe he made a bar bet that he'd bring back the big one.  When they eventually find huge footprints, evidence that they are getting close, Lu Tiem’s dickishness reaches new levels as he sneaks out in the middle of the night, taking all the porters with him, leaving Johnny alone in the dangerous jungle. The next morning Johnny almost immediately runs into the elusive Peking Man, and is only saved from a stomping by Sheena Queen of the Jungle…wait no I mean by Samantha (Evelyne Kraft), a blonde jungle girl who turns out to be the Peking Man’s best friend. In another flashback we learn that Samantha’s parents died when their plane crashed in the jungle when she was a little girl, and she has been taken care of by Ootam the Peking Man ever since. So basically they lifted that plot element from Tarzan Finds a Son and just swapped out Ape Man with Giant Ape.


Samantha’s one-strap jungle bikini spends the entire movie giving us nipple peaks.

Johnny and Samantha fall in love to a horrible 70s love ballad while manhandling a leopard, and at times the leopard looks either disgusted at his situation and at others about ready to rip someone’s face off. Later Samantha is bitten by a cobra, which is then killed by her leopard friend, but she is only saved when Johnny is able to suck out the poison and make some medicine from leaves provided by Ootam.

This really hurts her credibility as a jungle goddess and makes one wonder how she survived out here all these years. Johnny is able to convince Samantha to return with him to civilization, and to bring Ootam along. Her immediate agreement with this idea must have something to do with Johnny’s sexual prowess as her decision is so sudden as to almost give the audience whiplash. Samantha says goodbye to all her jungle friends, and the trio head for the nearest Indian city.


“One more day of this and I’d have eaten both of them.”

When they reach civilization they straightaway run into Lu Tiem, and for some reason Johnny doesn’t punch the traitorous asshat in the face. It’s as if being abandoned to die in the jungle is one of those “Well wadda ya gonna do” things. So apparently all is forgiven, and with dollar signs dancing in his head Lu Tiem books a freighter that will carry them all to Hong Kong. Samantha is not happy with the fact that Ootam must be chained to the deck (everyone is worried about a giant ape getting anxious and floundering the ship), but even if the reason for him being chained is sensible everyone, including Johnny, is a bit of a dick about it. Worse is that Lu Tiem forces the captain to sail into a typhoon so as to not lose anytime and booking dates for Peking Man.
Ootam even saves them from being stuck on the rocks, but how is he thanked?


“If not for the courage of the fearless ape, the Minnow would be lost.”

While Ootam is saving the day Johnny and Samantha make out in the rain and right in front of the big guy. Now earlier in the jungle the big dumb ape had peaked in on the two of them making whoopee, so I’m wondering just why Ootam is putting up with any of this, and why Johnny isn’t toe jam by now. When they eventually make it to Hong Kong Ootam is chained up to multiple tractors because giant-ape-tractor-pull is the kind of attraction people have been clamoring for.   While Ootam is being mistreated there is more drama in the offing; Johnny runs into his brother and it’s all hugs and smiles even though this is the guy who slept with his fiancé, then Johnny gets a note from Lucy saying she wants to meet and so Johnny ditches Samantha so that he can hook-up with his ex.  I’m starting to wonder if Johnny has some kind brain damage that has given him the memory of a goldfish or if he is possibly the most forgiving man in the world. Unfortunately Samantha stumbles in on them while they are “making up” and she flees in sorrow.

So this guy takes a woman away from her home and all she knows, and then he almost immediately dumps her for his ex? What a total dick. Samantha runs to get some consoling from Ootam but she instead finds the big ape being tortured by his handlers. Then, not to be out dicked by Johnny, Lu Tiem proceeds to rape Samantha.


This begs the question, do giant ape movies really require a rape scene?

Unfortunately for Lu Tiem he decided to commit this sexual assault in full view of Ootam’s cage and the ape completely loses it. (Safety Tip: Do not have sex in front of a giant ape, consensual or otherwise) This leads to the citywide rampage we’ve been waiting for, and for some unfathomable purpose Lu Tiem abducts Samantha.  Ootam the proceeds to chase them across the city until he finally catches up with the little scumbag and then Lu Tiem meets the same end as Fred Wilson did in the 1976 King Kong, he is stomped into grape jelly. As much as Charles Grodin’s Fred Wilson was a jerk he certainly wasn’t a rapist asshole like Lu Tiem, so this character ending was actually fitting.


Note: As bad as their monsters suits can get the Japanese do make excellent city models.

The military goes into full on “Kill, kill, kill!” mode but Johnny explains to them that if they can find Samantha she can talk Ootam out of destroying the city. When Johnny eventually finds Samantha they get White General Dude to agree to let them calm Ootam down. Our two heroes race up the building that Ootam is perched on, swatting at military helicopters as one is want to do if you are a giant ape, and are able to calm the ape down. But it turns out that White General Dude is actually Evil White General Dude, and he had the buildings water reservoirs filled with gasoline, which he intends to detonate and kill the Mighty Peking Man. Why did he need the ape calmed down for him to do this? I have no idea, but then again I’m not an Evil White General Dude.


Burnt giant ape has got to smell just terrible.

The story of King Kong has always been a tragic tale, a beast taken out of its native environment, let loose in a modern world only to be killed by things he cannot even understand. Now the makers of The Mighty Peking Man apparently didn’t believe Kong had a dark enough ending, so they also kill Samantha. Yeah, the two innocents in this movie meet a horrible while Johnny just gets to be sad, for awhile at least as and I’m assuming he'll go back and shack up with Lucy before long.


Johnny, what a dick.

This is a terrible ending and certainly nothing the film has earned up to this point. This film does have some fun moments, the ape suit is beyond silly, but it lacks the goofy charm of Infra-Man. All the characters are terribly written, and with the help of even worse dubbing, are completely laughable. Rape scene and downer ending aside this is still a pretty fun in the  “So bad it’s good” way, and so I can recommend it with those caveats.

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