Wonderful things can happen when Shaw Brothers steps outside of its usual comfort zone and tries out another studio’s genre: examples include Super Inframan, Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, and the subject of today’s post, their 1977 Mighty Peking Man, the best of all of the Kongsploitation flicks that popped up worldwide in the wake of Paramount’s King Kong remake.
The film collects many of the same tropes as its inspiration, but with slight twists on each. Our main character, Johhny (Danny Lee, who was also in Inframan and Thunder of Gigantic Serpent, going for the full combo of HK kaiju), is heartbroken schlub recruited by some slimy entertainment tycoons to go acquire a giant yeti that’s been rampaging across the Himalayas. India fills in for Skull Island, as the local elephants, tigers, quicksand, poison snakes, etc make short work of the fellowship before they even run into the oversized ape. Johnny is injured and separated from the rest, only to be rescued by a local feral blonde, Samantha (Evelyne Kraft, whose bikini is absolutely the real star of the film). The pair hit it off, and because Samantha is in tune with the animals, Johnny persuades her to return to Hong Kong with him, bringing the monster along. Then the group, unlike any other giant gorilla movie, just sort of walks back to civilization.
Once they’re in Hong Kong, the gang gets split up: the Peking Man is chained up in a stadium for the amusement of the masses, Johnny’s old flame is jealous of his new success and tries to win him back, and the naive jungle girl who refuses to put on real clothes is left alone with the lecherous movie producer… what could go wrong? I mean, the sleazebag wouldn’t try to rape Samantha within earshot of her violent guardian beast; he’s not that dumb, right? Looks like someone isn’t genre-savvy.
So, naturally, we wind up with a rampage across Hong Kong to retrieve the girl, a showdown with the military, and a scaling of a tall building; it is a King Kong knock-off after all. Beauty kills the beast in a much different way, though, in a tragic twist I shan’t give away in case you haven’t seen it yet.
Filming on location in India gives the movie some extra oomph, and it’s cool that they (so far as we know) had expert animal trainers on set for stunts involving the various big cats. Special effects in the movie are also great, but that’s to be expected once you find out that Sadamasa Arikawa supervised with Koichi Kawakita assisting (Keizo Murase worked on it as well, according to IMDB), which the film’s onscreen credits bizarrely obfuscate by giving effects credits to Li Yi-Chih and Hsu Ping-Kong, who I only see referenced in regards to this movie…there’s likely something political going on there. But yeah, Shaw must’ve had money beyond what Toho could spare at the time, since the miniatures for the jungle villages, Hong Kong, and even the ship in transit between the two (which suffers a completely gratuitous storm sequence) are just gorgeous.
The currently-available American DVD release of the movie (which has Quentin Tarantino’s name visible from every angle) is dub-only, however, a subtitled Blu Ray with original Cantonese audio hits the UK on March 13th. Needless to say, I’d suggest checking it out.
While we’re on the subject of Hong Kong-made King Kong knock-offs of the time, I do think it’s worth pointing out one that wasn’t actually made. We don’t know much about exactly what First Films had in mind for their 1980 flick Star Godzilla, since Toho crushed the project as soon as the ad ran in Variety, but the poster they gave us certainly features a big ape that looks practically traced from the King Kong ’76 poster. It might be for the best that that one didn’t come to pass.