Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Mighty Peking Man

Action! Adventure! Excitement! Animal Cruelty? Well, I can't confirm that last one, but it looks probable. I don't think they had any laws preventing animal cruelty in 1970's Hong Kong.

The Mighty Peking Man, originally released in the states as Goliathon, is an attempt by legendary Hong Kong producers, The Shaw Brothers, to cash in on the 1976 remake of King Kong. Why they didn't just call it "Hong Kong" is beyond me. The story is similar to that of King Kong, but with a little bit more exploitation, because hey, sex and violence sell, right?

The producers, The Shaw Brothers, are best known for making many of the classic Kung Fu movies of the 60's and 70's, such as The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. I wasn't even aware that they made other kinds of movies, but I guess it makes sense that they did. Later, in the 90's, Quentin Tarantino rereleased it through his distribution company.

Johnny (Danny Lee) goes on a dangerous expedition to the Himalayas, on a search for the Peking Man, a monstrous ape that has been terrorizing villages. He loses all of his men on the way, due to tigers and climbing treacherous cliffs and such, and ultimately makes it to the jungle that the Peking Man calls home. There he meets Samantha, a scantily clad American woman whose parents died in a plane crash there when she was a child. She is the only one who can control the Peking Man. After a snake bites her inner thigh and Johnny sucks out the poison (oh come on!) and nurses her to health, the two fall in love, and the Peking Man gets jealous. Then of course comes the scene when Johnny's boss finds and rescues him, along with Samantha and the Peking Man, bringing them to Hong Kong, where a rampage ensues.

Considering the fact that it's a knock-off movie, The Mighty Peking Man is actually very well made. Johnny and Samantha are likeable characters. I thought it was funny when, on the ship to Hong Kong, he gave her a dress to wear. Not seeing the point of clothes, she waits until he leaves for a minute and tosses it out the window. The effects are solid, too. Not so much the effects themselves, which looks like any B-Movie would, but more the use of the effects. Director Ho Meng-Hua integrates and blends various different methods, such as animation, miniatures, rear screen projection, and even stock footage to make his story work.

I like some of the slight changes from King Kong, too. Ok, I've never seen the 1976 version, so these might actually be directly lifted from that, for all I know. I like that instead of just putting Kong on a stage, they put the Peking Man in an arena, in basically a big Monster Truck Pull. It's too bad Truckasaurus wasn't around yet. I also like that the Peking Man is inspired to break free from his bonds because he could see through a window that the bad guy was trying to rape Samantha.

What I found rather unsettling, however, are the jungle sequences with live (and possibly dead?) animals. It began when a tiger attacked the explorers. At first, I was amazed that they had a man wrestling a real live tiger. But then I thought, obviously the tiger was declawed, probably sedated, and worst case scenario, de-toothed. That's kind of a horrible thought, right?

Then we come to Samantha's pet leopard, also obviously sedated. It follows her around and she plays with it, carrying it over her shoulders, lifting it by its underarms and spinning it around. It just kind of looks confused. At one point they toss the snake that bit her his way and he starts fighting with it. Pretty sure that was a dead snake. And absolutely worst of all, there's a close-up of the leopard when Samantha is saying goodbye, and I am pretty certain that this poor cat is trying to open up its mouth but completely unable to.

I hope that poor leopard was alright after the shoot. It seems to me that there's a pretty strong chance that it wasn't, which, well, it really dampens my enjoyment of the movie.

Removing myself from all that, The Mighty Peking Man is actually a well made movie. I can't really recommend it to animal lovers, but lovers of B-Movies, monster movies, and Shaw Brothers movies might get a kick out of it.

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