*Tonight’s been busy, so I’m just going to repost an old review I did back in 2011 for 1976’s A*P*E.
I’ve now been watching and writing like this for half a year, and as you might remember, I like to celebrate such milestones by watching something classy.
I could watch a movie that’s been sold in some countries under the title “Attack of the Giant Horny Gorilla” instead.
In 1976, producer Dino De Laurentiis did a remake of the 1933 masterpiece King Kong. While not a good film (the Universal Studios theme park ride based on its sequel was the highlight of its legacy), Kong made waves in the international exploitation community, and soon other countries were scrambling to get their own versions into production, such as Mighty Peking Man in China, Giant of the 20th Century in Italy, Queen Kong in the UK, and last/least, A*P*E in South Korea (Japan had already made 4 King Kong movies by this point, so they’re justified in skipping out). Korea doesn’t have a great heritage when it comes to kaiju flicks; they have a single mediocre movie (Yongary), one supposed classic that nobody’s able to see (Wangmagwi), one movie composed entirely of stock footage from Ultraman (The Flying Monster), and (albeit North Korean) one crafted by kidnapped filmmakers under duress (Pulgasari), yet somehow A*P*E still shocked me with its ineptitude. It’s an awesome, awful mess of a movie; don’t watch while drinking milk.
The movie starts on a boat on the high seas, where two “actors” (who make the token Americans in Godzilla Final Wars look like Anthony Hopkins) mumble about how they have a 36-foot-tall gorilla in their cargo compartment. I guess we’re meant to infer that they captured it from the wild or something, since that’s what happened in King Kong, but we’re not actually given any details as to how or why they’ve come into possession of a giant primate. This winds up being moot, as the beast breaks free as soon as the exposition’s over, destroying the boat. The gorilla then has to wrestle a shark (because Jaws made money, right?), meaning we’re treated to a stunt guy in a shabby monkey suit tossing a dead shark around for a few minutes, and that’s one of the film’s highlights. (This movie was jumping the shark before that was even a term!) The later monster battle proves even worse, as the ape fights a giant snake (are there just giant snakes roaming the Korean countryside?), where all that happens is the stuntman picks up the innocent reptile and throws it, accidentally whacking the camera in the process (it was filmed in 3D, so most of the stuff coming at the camera was on strings, looking even sillier).
A*P*E is the first Korean kaiju to use American actors in primary roles, a tradition that carries on to later such laugh-out-loud terrible Korean monster movies as 1999’s Reptilian and 2007’s Dragon Wars. As the monster tromps along rural Korean villages on his way toward Seoul, the US military is called several times, but they laugh it off as being promotion for the movie King Kong (audacious, much?). The movie even hints that Dino De Laurentiis is filming King Kong in Seoul (he wasn’t the director on that, btw), as our heroine, an American actress (Joana Kerns, the mom from Growing Pains), gets direction from a douchebag named “Dino.”
Let’s pause on that point. In the original King Kong, the character of Carl Denham was very much a parody of Merian C Cooper, Kong’s director. That’s self-deprecating, and as such takes a higher road than creating a character that’s just taking a potshot at one of your rivals. If no other factor demonstrates the fundamental difference in mentality, and eventual quality, between these movies, this should raise a flag.
After trashing a completely gratuitous troupe of kung fu enactors, the monster eventually gets to the city, where the miniature work is actually good but makes the ape way more than 36 feet tall (maybe they had problems converting from metric). Giant gorillas like blonde chicks, so the actress gets snatched, meaning that the US military finally has to get involved. There’s a little Ape-on-helicopter violence, the girl gets away and recaptured (all pretty pointless), and eventually the army has to get serious. They hammer the gorilla with tanks, and it squirms, pukes blood, and generally dies slower than Stephen Chow in King of Comedy. The hero (token American journalist) pops up and consoles the girl, saying that the ape was too big for our world, even though we never did find out where the hell it came from in the first place.
Marketing for the movie was pretty shameless. It’s called “New King Kong”, “King Kong Returns”, “King Ape”, and “Super Kong” in various markets (“King Kong’s Great Counterattack” in Korea), and even in the US, posters and trailers had the phrase “Not to be confused with King Kong” written in them, but with the words proceeding “King Kong” in illegibly small type (take note, I can’t believe it’s not Butter). A*P*E itself stands for “Attacking Primate Monster”; there’s some creative (possibly dyslexic) acronyming going on there.