The Ivory Ape wasn’t the only time that Tsuburaya went abroad to co-produce a movie featuring an oversized albino primate.
…er, no, we’re not going to talk about *that* one. What I meant to allude to was the 1971 Taiwanese flick The Founding of Ming Dynasty AKA Tsu Hong Wu.
This historical fantasy feature is one of several monster movies that Tsuburaya’s effects maestro/ Ultraman Story director Koichi Takano worked on in Taiwan (others being 1976’s War God and 1974’s The Devil From the Bottom of the Sea), while Sadao Tsukamoto did puppetry and 70’s Ultraman design honcho Yoshi Suzuki was responsible for the monsters’ conception (as far as trips overseas go, I imagine this one was less stressful for him than Pulgasari).
I’ll preface this by saying that I speak zero Mandarin, and the one known copy of the film in circulation has difficult-to-read subtitles that cut off on both sides of the screen, but basically it’s about the youth of the Hongwu emperor, complete with lots of crazy wizard battles and whatnot. One involves the capture of a 2000-year old monkey, who grows large at the film’s finale to do battle against a red-haired ogre. Well, he jobs, but a dragon comes in to finish things.
Footage from the climactic giant battle of The Founding of Ming Dynasty appears again in the middle of the Korean movie Prince of Dragon King (1977) and the start of the 1982 Taiwanese movie The Fairy and the Devil (which uses monster shots from a number of movies, and music from Star Trek!). While neither of these movies have been subtitled, their surviving copies are in far better condition, so they may be the best way to view the monster footage…though it’s not entirely the same between movies. Speculation is that some of the shots may be alternative takes, or perhaps they were incorporated into the 1971 movie A Story of Liu Bo-Wen (whose Chinese title is very similar to The Founding of Ming Dynasty‘s…that movie is from Namio Yuasa, director of Magic Sword of Watari), as the trailer to that movie also incorporates some of the battle. I understand that there’s also some of it in the 1977 Taiwanese movie Sea God and Ghosts as well, which appears to have the same title as Prince of Dragon King... I’m assuming one is a different version of the other?
It’s a darn shame that there doesn’t appear to be a concerted effort on the Taiwanese side to remaster the film and distribute it internationally. Not knowing the history, it’s not clear if the existing prints weren’t maintained, or if the studio went under, or what, but a pristine image and proper subtitles could go a long way towards propelling this to a cult classic status akin to Inframan or The Magic Serpent. At least the monster footage keeps getting used over and over, so that increases the odds if nothing else does.