Direction: Ho Meng-Hwa |
Screenplay: I. Kuang
Music: Chen Yung-Yu and De Wolfe
Special Effects: Li Yi-Chih and Hsu Ping-Kong
Executive Producer: Runme Shaw
On the surface, this appears to be no more than a 1977 Asian rip-off of Dino De Laurentis's 1976 King Kong remake. But despite its apparent crassness -- and sometimes because of it -- Mighty Peking Man is more entertaining in every way than the De Laurentis Kong fiasco.
MPM (Mighty Peking Man) has a distinctly lunatic tone, at times approaching Mel Brooksian insanity -- even though it's never tryingto be funny. For example, the "very seventies" soundtrack, which often sounds like out-takes from a forgotten 1970's soul/soft disco session, makes you feel as though you're watching an episode of The Love Boat.
The most overdone scenes involve a montage of the hero and heroine (a Sheena clone who's been raised in the jungle by MPM); the constant seventies backdrop music and slow-mo photography make this "jungle romance" sequence unintentionally amusing -- it plays like something that might have been filmed for 1980's Airplane. (In addition, the jungle heroine wears perfect make-up and lipstick, even though she's supposed to have been raised in the jungle by MPM since she was a kid.)
Of course, whatever else can be said about MPM, it certainly isn't boring. The pace is brisk. Indeed, events happen very quickly, sometimes with little rhyme or reason. There's an early scene of a bizarrely filmed elephant stampede that destroys a native village, a sequence that features an unbelievably ludicrous shot of the hero "shooting" an elephant (I won't give this scene away -- it has to be seen to be appreciated).
Other scenes are similarly loony. For example, while "loose" in Hong Kong, the scantily-clad heroine is chased by angry citizens, but it's not clear exactly why. Is it because they sense she is the cause of MPM stomping their city into oblivion? Or do they routinely chase hot blonds in animal-skin bikinis as a matter of principle?
Then there's the villain (the promoter who wants MPM brought to Hong Kong) who is so oily he could probably produce enough petroleum to sate U.S. energy needs for the next five decades. This guy is so evil he makes J.R. Ewing look like Papa Smurf. His frenzied attempts to rape the heroine are especially distasteful, and of course we're all just waiting for MPM to squash the guy (which he does, albeit not as graphically as some might have liked).
Of course, of most interest to giant monster fans is MPM's rampage through Hong Kong, and kaiju eiga fans will be pleased to hear that it's both extensive and spectacular, if usually obvious. (The military vehicles, as well as the miniature cars, are especially toy-like.) The special effects themselves are variable, ranging from okay to awful -- an example of the latter: in one scene the caged MPM appears to be a hundred feet tall, but in the next overhead shot, no more than twenty feet at best.
Still, the effects generally fare better than those seen in the 1970's Godzilla movies filmed during the same decade as MPM. The Hong Kong miniatures are mostly well-detailed, and the city sets have nice depth. Plus there are plenty of panicked citizens fleeing in the foreground.
MPM makes you think of the days when special effects were actually considered something special rather than something standard. Few genre movies of the fifties, sixties, or seventies had great effects, and this was especially true of giant monster movies. The low-tech, home-grown, painstaking Hong Kong miniatures in MPM are a delight, as are all the effects, even when they're terrible. Back in '77, of some scenes you could have said, "Hey, that looks pretty good!" while other scenes would no doubt provoke snickers in any decade.
Of course, MPM also demonstrates the "new freedom" that monster movies and all movies enjoyed in the 1970's. You have assorted four-letter words, graphic gore, and suggested sex between the two obviously unmarried leads. In the 1960's, explicit language, bloody violence, and sexual content in films intended for kids would have been unheard of. But the scene had definitely changed for "kiddie" films in the seventies, and this was, for the most part, not a change for the better. But it nevertheless became tolerated and even accepted in most quarters.
On a more relevant note (relevant to giant monster enthusiasts), MPM is a throwback to the bygone days when low-budget SPFX flicks routinely played the American theatrical circuit. MPM is a hoot, no doubt about it, and yet, and yet . . . it may just be my imagination, but there appears to be a kind of cockeyed sincerity in its classic theme of a monster exploited by humans who strikes back the only way it knows how. Even the jungle heroine's concern for MPM seems genuine, especially towards the movie's finale, which we know is going to be pretty tragic (and spectacular -- a burning MPM falls from a Hong Kong tower and crashes dramatically into a building that explodes on impact). The heroine appears to be dead too, and only the hero is left.
Now I can't argue that MPM is a "good" movie in any meaningful technical sense; a lot of kaiju eiga fans will probably find it wanting, if not outright ridiculous. But I find this loopy monster melodrama to be fun and exuberant. In the mini-genre of giant ape (and ape-like creature) movies, MPMis one of the most entertaining.