Film Review: The Mighty Peking Man (1977)

Also known as: Goliathon (alternative title)
Release Date: August 11th, 1977 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Ho Meng-hua
Written by: Kuang Ni
Music by: Frankie Chan
Cast: Danny Lee, Evelyne Kraft, Hsiao Yao, Ku Feng, Lin Wei-tu

Shaw Brothers, Shochiku, 90 Minutes

Review:

What a delightfully bonkers, energetic and fun movie!

For a Hong Kong ripoff of King Kong, this is so fucking enjoyable and it honestly comes across more like a Toho styled kaiju flick, especially their two King Kong ones from the ’60s.

The overall plot is about the same as King Kong, however, the pretty girl in this film has lived on the island with the giant gorilla for most of her life already. When she was a small child an aircraft crashed on the island and she was the only survivor. The gorilla found her, took a liking to her and raised her into a Jungle goddess. Basically, she’s like Tarzan but a woman… and raised by one very large ape.

Anyway, some rich doucher ends up taking the giant gorilla back to Hong Kong to turn him into a carnival act. But once the doucher attempts to rape the girl, the gorilla breaks free and starts trashing the city.

There is also a male human hero in this, played by Danny Lee. He’s a cool and likable guy that falls in love with the girl while also trying to save her from the danger the government brings down on her gorilla father figure.

While Shaw Brothers was mostly known for their martial arts movies, they really did the kaiju genre well and honestly, I wish that there were more of these. Hell, Roger Ebert gave this film three out of four stars and referred to it as his “favorite Hong Kong monster film”.

I was impressed by the effects of the film and the miniatures especially looked good. If I’m being honest, the craftsmanship and skill was pretty close to Eiji Tsuburaya’s level when he was making magic in those Toho Godzilla movies.

Ultimately, this is a picture that is much better than I could have hoped for. While I do like a lot of non-Japanese kaiju flicks, this is certainly one of the better ones and it should have spawned a Hong Kong era in giant monster movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other kaiju pictures from outside of Japan, as well as the King Kong films, especially the 1976 remake and the Toho ones.

Film Review: The Super Inframan (1975)

Also known as: Chinese Superman (China)
Release Date: August 1st, 1975
Directed by: Hua Shan
Written by: Ni Kuang
Music by: Frankie Chan
Cast: Danny Lee, Wang Hsieh, Terry Lau, Yuan Man-tzu, Bruce Le, Kong Yeung, Dana Shum, Lin Wen-wei, Lu Sheng, Fanny Leung

Shaw Brothers Studio, 84 Minutes

Review:

“There are other weapons I haven’t given you as yet. For success it’s essential you have thunderball fists.” – Professor

Tokusatsu doesn’t just have to be a Japanese thing, as the Chinese proved with The Super Inframan, known in China as Chinese Superman.

This film sees a guy from a defense force take up the mantle of a new superhero named Inframan after major cities are destroyed by Demon Princess Elzebub (a.k.a. Princess Dragonmon), who was awoken from a 10 million year sleep. The setup is similar to a typical Ultraman series. It also has elements similar to the Kamen Rider and Super Sentai shows.

What you have here is an indestructible hero that fights monsters of human size, giant size and of various styles. We’ve got tokusatsu, kaiju, kung fu and crazy characters.

Demon Princess Elzebub is particularly unique in that her costume, color scheme and throne room seem to suggest that she was the inspiration for the supervillain Serpentor from the 80s G.I. Joe cartoon, comics and toy line. She also inspired certain traits in Kinga Forester, the villain of the newly revived Mystery Science Theater 3000. Elzebub’s henchmen, the Skeleton Ghosts, most certainly were the template for Kinga Forester’s Skeleton Crew a.k.a. the Boneheads.

The Super Inframan also has historical significance. To start, it is the first superhero film to ever be produced by a Hong Kong studio. In this case, Shaw Brothers, who are known for making some of the greatest kung fu classics of all-time. Also, it was the first film to be promoted using a hot air balloon over Hong Kong. Additionally, it is the first film where Shaw Brothers used storyboards.

As a film, Super Inframan is pretty impressive. Regardless of the production limitations, it is a slick and good looking movie. Sure, the monsters are hokey and the costumes bizarre and goofy but the production value looks a step above similar properties from its era.

The film also stars Danny Lee before he became a Hong Kong megastar. Bruce Le (yes, “Le” with one “e”) is in this. He would become one of the most used actors during the Brucesploitation craze.

The Super Inframan is a much better movie than I thought it would be. I’ve been a big tokusatsu and kaiju fan my entire life but this motion picture has eluded me until recently.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: City On Fire (1987)

Also known as: Lóng hǔ fēng yún (Hong Kong)
Release Date: February 13th, 1987 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Ringo Lam
Written by: Ringo Lam
Music by: Teddy Robin Kwan
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Danny Lee, Sun Yueh, Carrie Ng, Roy Cheung

Cinema City & Films Co., 105 Minutes

Review:

City On Fire is the film that many people accused Quentin Tarantino of ripping off for his debut picture Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino was attacked by some for lacking originality with his first movie. Having now watched City On Fire, there are certainly some strong similarities but I don’t see Tarantino as a thief. Besides, he is known for his films being homages to his influences. Whether that is a show of respect or straight up plagiarism is up to each individual filmgoer that has seen his films and the ones that influenced his work.

This film helped the career of Chow Yun-fat and it kept the momentum going after his big breakthrough role in John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, a year earlier. This film also helped cement Chow Yun-fat in the Hong Kong crime genre that worked well for him for many years. He has always been associated with some of the best Triad action thrillers of 1980s and 1990s Hong Kong cinema and really is the face of that pivotal and historical era that saw Chinese filmmakers evolve beyond the kung fu flicks that ruled the 1970s.

The story of City On Fire sees Chow Yun-fat’s Ko Chow sent undercover by his superior, Inspector Lau. He is sent in to bring a syndicate to justice after a violent jewelry robbery. The gang is led by Fu (played by Danny Lee). Ko Chow gains the syndicate’s trust and forms a strong bond with Fu. Ko Chow is then pursued by the police due to his association with Fu’s gang. The police are initially unaware that he is an undercover agent sent in by Lau. Ko Chow’s ethics are then challenged, as he wants to do what is right but he also has a friendship with the criminal Fu.

Reservoir Dogs comparisons aside, City On Fire was influential to a lot of films. It certainly lays a groundwork that was more meticulously explored in Infernal Affairs, which went on to be remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed. It also influenced John Woo’s 1989 international hit The Killer, which saw Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee in a role reversal situation, as Chow plays a hitman that develops a strong friendship with a cop played by Lee.

I don’t feel that City On Fire is as good as the John Woo crime dramas starring Chow Yun-fat. It is still a solid movie throughout, but it feels a bit rushed storywise and it comes off a bit hokey at times, despite its high level of violence and serious nature. My issues with it could be due to seeing a version that had pretty awful dubbing. It was a strange experience seeing Chinese mobsters talk with proper British accents and the simplistic dialogue made it pretty clear that a lot of details weren’t properly communicated in the English language version.

It is a nice film to look at. The cinematography was well handled. The scene in the cemetery really stands out as being the visual pinnacle of the film. Also, the shootouts and action sequences were gritty in all the right ways.

Ultimately, City On Fire is a good piece of Hong Kong filmmaking. While slightly below the level of the great Woo films of its era, it has a well deserved reputation and went on to inspire a lot of other artists behind the camera.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Killer (1989)

Release Date: July 6th, 1989 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: John Woo
Written by: John Woo
Music by: Lowell Lo
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh, Chu Kong, Kenneth Tsang, Shing Fui-On

Film Workshop, 110 Minutes

the-killer-1989Review:

I have been taking an online course in Hing Kong cinema. So of course John Woo would have to be a subject within the course. There are several of his films that are recommended for the section on him but I decided to watch The Killer. It is a film that I have heard a great deal of praise for, over the years. Also, I have seen a dozen or so of his movies but still hadn’t gotten my hands on this one. So I felt the need to rectify that.

The film stars long-time Woo collaborator Chow Yun-fat. He plays Ah Jong, a Triad assassin for fire. Philosophically, he only wants to kill bad men but that ideal is challenged throughout his career and when we meet him, he is a very conflicted man.

His internal battle is then compounded by his accidental injuring of a singer during a shootout in a restaurant. The woman is blinded and he feels tremendous guilt. He then shadows her, as a sort of protector, one night saving her from a couple of rapists. They develop a friendship but Ah Jong doesn’t reveal who he is. He then takes one final job. With the earnings of his final hit, he plans to pay for the woman’s surgery that can hopefully bring back her eyesight.

The mission is a setup however, and we end up seeing the conflicted hitman have to deal with the mess that is his life. Also being chased by a very vigilant cop, Ah Jong must put things right and find peace for his soul. The film climaxes with an awe-inspiring shootout at a church between Ah Jong, the cop and a massive gang of Triad killers.

The Killer, having just seen it once, has become my favorite John Woo movie up to this point. It has a heavy, philosophical plot and while the picture features an immense amount of violence, it also has a hefty helping of tenderness. The film finds itself in conflict, similar to what Ah Jong is going through. Woo perfectly embodies both aspects of this conflict visually and narratively.

Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee also have the sort of chemistry that you don’t see in these types of films very often. While they have a natural rivalry with one being a criminal and one being a cop, there is a strong buddy connection. The way that connection plays out and evolves throughout the picture is fantastic. Two men from two different walks of life are able to unify, both blurring their own lines for the greater good.

I loved this film and it really made me want to watch more of John Woo’s older Hong Kong work.

Rating: 9/10