Mighty Peking Man (1977)

In this very special guest review, Sean Ledden takes on the mightiest monkey of them all: Mighty Peking Man! Thanks again! So with no further ado, I now turn the floor over to Sean and the….

Mighty Peking Man

1977 was a banner year for science fiction with the release of two true classics, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And on the other end of the scales it also brought us a delightfully awful piece of Hong Kong lunacy called “Mighty Peking Man.” (It’s Chinese title is Hsing Hsing Wang which translates as “King Orangutan.”) The Peking Man was born when the venerable Shaw Brothers decided to cash in on the financial success of Dino DeLaurentiis’s wretched 1976 King Kong remake. With an eye for the international market, the famously uninhibited filmmakers pulled out all of the stops and gave the world a lavish epic brimming with jet-fueled melodrama, ketchup soaked violence, and schmaltz so naked it should have qualified the movie for an XXX rating. When you throw in the dated 1970’s pop aesthetic, the result is a piece of jaw-dropping, industrial grade Asian Fantasy Film camp. Let’s sit back and enjoy.

THE PLOT

After the Shaw brother’s wonderfully old school logo promises us a cinematic treat in “Shaw Scope!” we cut to a college library where a group of unidentified men gather around an old newspaper article. The leader, I guess, a smoothie in business suit and indoor sun glasses, recounts how witnesses have seen the “prehistoric Peking Man” somewhere in the Himalayas.

Wasting no time at all, we cut to a toy village in the Himalayas. Gentle villagers go about their drab little lives when, “one day, without warning, there was an earthquake.” Actually, that’s not true. Watching the movie you notice that thunder and lightning proceed the earthquake (!?), thus giving the villagers about 5 seconds of warning. Sadly, it is a warning that most of them fail to heed. For while the smart ones dash into their uselessly flimsy huts, most just gawk up at the dramatically threatening skies and so are caught by the earthquake completely unprepared. (Let me be bluntly honest here and say that this foolish irresponsibility cuts deeply into the sympathy I would otherwise feel for these hapless villagers. After all, what can you do with people who “won’t help themselves?”)

Mighty Peking ManThe earth heaves and buckles as we cut between a set crowded with running extras and a Japanese Monster Movie-style model village. A styrofoam mountain crumples, and out steps the 60-foot tall Mighty Peking Man himself! To celebrate he stands over the upward facing camera and flaunts his anatomically incorrect crotch at the audience. – Watching on my TV at home, I can only imagine the impact this scene had on the big screen! Straight away he strides thru the earthquake-ravaged village, freely stepping on any buildings and/or peasants who get in his way. Especially memorable are the close-ups of his rubber face, with a mouth stuck open in a perpetual roar and eyes so bulging you fear he has a serious medical condition.

The villagers overact to this new situation and attack the Peking Man with spears and primitive wooden catapults (was this village preparing to declare war on Tibet??) Sadly, this only inspires an escalating round of violence and the Peking Man destroys what little is left of the village. (I’d like to take a moment here and note that although we are told the Mighty Peking Man is 60 feet tall, depending on the shot his height seems to jump from around 20 to 100 feet throughout the movie. Hats off to director Ho Meng-Hwa for boldly eschewing foolish consistency, which, as Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, is “the hobgoblin of little minds.”)

Back at the library, our unidentified men stare at a newspaper photo showing a giant footprint. “The evidence looks conclusive then,” says one of them. (What evidence?) At which point Mr. Smoothie proposes they go out and capture the giant then get rich by stuffing and displaying him back in Hong Kong (Boooo!) But who will lead this expedition? One of the unidentified men knows just the guy, a “hunter here in Hong Kong. An explorer. He just lost his girl and wants to get away.” (You know, one of the things that a Hong Kong movie makes you appreciate is exposition. There’s so little of it that whenever it does appear you feel like you’ve just won $25 in the lottery. OK, it’s not worth that much, but its very rarity makes the occasion special.)

Cut to a bitter, angry, drunken man passing out at a bar while a cynically jazzy saxophone wails in the background. That’s our hero! Mr. Smoothie enters and rouses him by saying, “Hey, come on John.” This is very exciting as we finally know somebody’s name! Will John agree to lead the expedition to capture the Mighty Peking Man? Will they get him? Will it all end tragically? I’m not telling!

Now that we are all up to speed, up come the titles, all of which are overlaid on interesting footage of Indian village and city life emphasizing the exoticism and poverty to be found there. The lean bodies, worn faces and grim expressions of the people in these shots have a sober reality that contrasts sharply with the surrounding fantasy of the rest of the movie.

Freshly arrived in India, our heroes are assaulted by the local press. Everybody talks at once in this scene so it’s nearly impossible to understand what’s being said, but the gist seems to be that John, or Johnny as everyone calls him, says, “trust us, we’ll tell you something when we have something.” Hmmm. I’ve been with these guys since the start of the movie, so I guess I know them better than anybody – and I trust them about as far as I could throw them. The local press, however, takes them at their word. (Pause for dramatic effect.) ….And I still don’t know who the hell these expedition people are!

Cut to ox-drawn wagons bravely trudging along a dirt road and up blares some full-blooded adventure music. Drums pound with excitement as our heroes smile, smoke

cigarettes and watch monkeys play with themselves in trees. Horns shriek with adrenalin as a bear sits on a stump. More horns scream with anxiety as the wagons negotiate gentle slopes and shallow streams. I’m so keyed up with tension that I nearly faint when one of the wagons gets stuck in the mud.

Finally, the expedition arrives at a deathly quiet village. And a good thing too, as the blaring music was starting to give me a headache. Loitering about the seemingly deserted village the explorers are electrified to hear the roar of the Mighty Peking Man himself! This so startles an off-camera crewman that he throws an armful of chickens up into the air. But wait, it’s not the Peking Man but a whole herd of rogue elephants! Angry over some unexplained thing they storm into the village and begin pushing over huts and stepping on native members of the expedition. This gives our “heroes” a chance to use their guns, and Johnny proves himself a brave man by shooting an elephant to death. (Boooo!) While full of cheesy effects, this sequence is surprisingly eye-catching because the filmmakers hired a herd of real elephants and had them push over real huts. What were the salary terms? I don’t know, but I can just imagine the producer laughing to a pal in a bar back in Hong Kong, “…and the best part of it was, they worked for peanuts!” (Rim shot. Thank you, thank you, I’m here all week!)

Just as suddenly as it all began, the attack ends and the elephants storm off back into the jungle, enabling the expedition to continue. And as our gang enjoys a quiet moment around the camp fire that evening I’d like to mention that everybody is dressed just like Indiana Jones. And for once this isn’t a case of blatant copy-catting because “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was still 4 years away at the time of this movie’s production.

Noticing that Johnny is off by himself looking depressed, two unidentified members of the expedition walk over to him. “Johnny, what’s wrong?” they ask, and with a cheerful laugh add, “Is it about your girl friend?” I guess in Hong Kong getting your heart broken is a merry joke to your friends. Anyway, Johnny begins to reminisce about the girl he was about to marry, “then brother Charlie had to show up. He’s a TV director. She had one great ambition. She had to get to the top.”

Soft fade to one of the most stunningly generic romances ever put on film. While a freshly opened can of Time-Life grade music oozes over the sound track Johnny and his girl try hard to look like they’re having fun as they run along a beach on a drab, grey day. They ride a hand-rowed launch out to one of those big floating restaurants where he playfully pushes a live lobster in her face. Being a girl, she makes an “icky” face and slaps ineffectually at the air around her. (It’s a laugh riot!) At a nightclub dripping with 70’s glamour & polyester they slow dance and look blankly into each other’s faces while the string section kicks into over-drive. (This is possibly the most moving 17 seconds of film I’ve ever seen! I felt like I knew these people.)

“One day I came home early,” says Johnny. Uh oh. Prepare yourself, because not only is Johnny happily skipping up the giant, palatial staircase of the mansion he seems to share with his fiancé, but he’s carrying a gift box of roses. This is going to be bad. “I heard voices,” he continues, and opening the bedroom door is shattered to discover his own brother locked in a “passionate” embrace with his fiancé. She collapses in tears while brother Charlie explains it “began as a joke,” (ha ha ha!)– but this doesn’t cut it with the narrow-minded Johnny, who rages “I hate her!” throws the roses at his now ex-fiancé, and storms out of the room.

“And so you decided to get away, and lead an expedition to the Himalayas.” says unidentified colleague number one, thus helpfully telling us something we already knew.

“Look, you’ve got it made.” smiles unidentified colleague number two. “All you have to do is grab the monster, then you’ll be known around the world. You’ll be a hero. Why worry Johnny? You’ll be able to get any woman you want.” Good point, why should he worry? All he has to do is GRAB THE MONSTER!!! What could be easier?

Johnny, apparently unhinged by his recent emotional trauma, chuckles and agrees, saying, “And if we’re going to catch him, we need our sleep.” What a guy!

The expedition continues the next day when (shrieking music!) a tiger attacks from out of the jungle. Tragically, unidentified colleague number one jumps into a pit of quick sand and disappears forever. He is, however, instantly forgotten because we have another amazing animal sequence on our hands as a stunt man, or an extra, or somebody they just pulled off the street wrestles with a full-grown tiger. Johnny leaps into the fray, proving that actor Danny Lee had courage and an extremely well developed work ethic. I’m pretty sure they drugged the tiger before shooting the scene, but it’s still eye-popping in a way that modern CGI effects can never be. (And I just pray that the production didn’t abuse the tiger, but I’m not too confident about that.)

The tiger is driven off, but not before he tears off the (rubber) leg of a porter with a big squishy sound. Mr. Smoothie then subtly confirms our suspicions that he’s a villain by shooting the poor man. No need to waste time trying to save him that way.

The over-excited drums and horns return as our expedition begins to scale the cliffs of the mighty Himalayas. Tragically, unidentified colleague number two and several other expedition members fall off the cliff and plunge to their deaths in – the ocean! I think we’re meant to assume it’s a river, but ocean waves are clearly visible, and even more interesting, the sound of the waves hitting the cliff face has been left on the soundtrack!

Mighty Peking ManMr. Smoothie, being cowardly as well as greedy, makes a fuss and wants to quit, but Johnny rallies the troops and they press on. They are rewarded by a brief glimpse of something with blond hair running thru the jungle, the discovery of a giant Peking Man footprint, and more shrill horn work on the soundtrack. Things are looking up. Only they’re not. Mr. Smoothie sneaks away into the night with the remaining expedition members leaving Johnny alone in an empty camp. Discouraged, but undaunted, Johnny soldiers on. Walking along by himself on a soundstage, Johnny seems to admire the plastic foliage and beautifully painted studio sky when suddenly, out of nowhere, comes the giant gorilla arm of the Mighty Peking Man!

This scene is both ridiculous and effective. After all, Johnny is supposedly a hunter, and yet he fails to notice a 60-foot gorilla standing just off to his left!? Still, the image of the giant arm reaching out and grabbing him has a surreal, dreamlike quality that, well, grabs you. Ha ha. You know what’s even funnier? It’s that Johnny planned to grab the monster, but now the monster’s grabbed him! (Oh the irony!!)

But enough levity, for Johnny, having been dropped by the giant shrieking ape (butterfingers), is now running for his life, only to fall and hit his head on a rock. Mighty Peking Man sees his helpless target and prepares to crush him with a boulder when we hear a lusty female-Tarzan yodel, and out of the jungle swings a blond vision dressed only in a deer skin bikini and glamour make-up. Played with endearing earnestness by good-sport Evelyne Kraft, we’ve just met the goofiest, most exploited, most likable character in the movie. Let’s call her Nature Girl. (I’m not trying to be sexist here, but the character, a kind of holy innocent, is just too young & naive to be called Nature Woman.)

Mighty Peking ManSpeaking some sort of jungle dialect to Peking Man, she convinces him not to crush the unconscious Johnny, but instead to carry him to her Gilligan’s Island-style cave. There Johnny awakens and meets his beautiful savior, and so begins a whirlwind of scenes distinguished by their cheesy 70’s pop music (love it!), sentimental clichés, soft core porn imagery, and psychotic mood swings.

First we get the language lesson, (“Who are YOU? -Who ARE you? -WHO are you??”)

Then comes “Born Free, Part I,” when, happy and smiling, Nature Girl takes Johnny to see her “papa” and “mama” – whom she knows are dead. A disco beat throbs in the background as the athletic Nature Girl teaches Johnny to swing on vines and run thru the jungle with a joyful abandon that those of us trapped in “civilization” can only dream about.

The Tragic Back Story arrives when we abruptly come to the wreckage of a small airplane. Pointing to two styrofoam skeletons in the cockpit Nature Girl says, “Papa. Mama.” and begins to sob. Rifling thru the charred interior Johnny finds a mint condition photograph of little Nature Girl and her parents, which he promptly shows to her. This inspires her to give us a chunk of exposition, “No! Ravf! Ravf! Ravf!! Zzzz. AAAAEEEGGGHH!!”

And thus comes The Flashback. We see a model airplane in flames crash into a (pretty decent) toy jungle. After that it’s hard to tell what’s happening because the effects department got carried away with the superimposed flames, but somehow mom and dad don’t make it, and young Nature Girl is left alone in the jungle. Happily the Mighty Peking Man comes along and adopts her, even picking jungle fruit for her to eat. (Hey, he’s actually a really nice guy!) Returning to the present, Johnny says, “It was Peking Man. He took care of you.” (For some reason this movie feels a need to repeat every flash back in the dialogue.) He has also discovered a diary, unburned, that tells him Nature Girl’s real name is Samantha.

Seconds after recounting her personal tragedy Samantha is again happily running thru the jungle, Johnny in tow, for “Born Free, Part II.” Only this time Johnny is menaced first by a tiger, then by a leopard. But not to worry, they are Samantha’s friends, and we see Evelyne cheerfully hugging both of these dangerous cats. (Yikes!) Then more running thru the jungle, this time to mellow 70’s pop as Samantha teaches Johnny how to eat the ubiquitous jungle fruit. Life is good!

Only it’s not, because now we have the Deadly Snake Attack as a cobra, at the urging of the director, makes a beeline for Samantha and bites her on the inner thigh. Johnny leaps into action and sucks out the poison while Samantha thrashes and moans on the ground below him. This inspiring scene of medical first aid somehow reminds the viewer of another kind of activity – the kind that can give a movie an XXX rating. Producer Run Run Shaw sure was a sneaky little devil! Oh well. As all this excitement is happening the heroic leopard, whom I’ll call Larry, kills the nasty snake in retribution. Samantha stops screaming and passes out. Then up walks a friendly elephant who carries her and Johnny back to the cave! There she continues to writhe and moan in delirium until the Peking Man brings Johnny some magic leaves that cure the poison.

Mighty Peking ManFrom this scene of natural, bikini clad innocence we cut to the fleshpots of civilization and a man frolicking with two bikini clad women in a hotel swimming pool. The contrast is striking. And good heavens, the man is none other than Mr. Smoothie, who subtly re-confirms our suspicions that he’s a villain by laughing it up with a bunch of babes after he left Johnny to rot in the Jungle. On a roll, he next laughingly tells the local press that Johnny doesn’t stand a chance getting out alone because “he doesn’t know the jungle,” – So, Johnny is a professional hunter who doesn’t know the jungle. And he’s the man Mr. Smoothie chose to lead his expedition – into the jungle. Interesting.

Back at the cave Samantha is fast recovering, and to prove this she gets up and staggers towards a shirtless and sweaty Johnny. She’s doing great, but oh no! She stumbles against him. He catches her, they gaze into each other’s eyes, they embrace, and a Roberta Flack imitator starts singing on the sporadically garbled soundtrack:

“Oooooh, something something something
showed me a thing or two
I guess I saw it in your eyes
And the look of love upon your face
Is too hard to disguise
Maybe just a smile will
Something something something”

Doesn’t that just say it all? And there’s more as the refrain begins!

Could it be something something
Could it be something something
Baaaabyyyyyy?
Could it be something something
Could it be something something
Maaaabyyyyyy.

Mighty Peking ManHaving left the cave of love we now see Samantha and Johnny frolicking thru the jungle, again, this time in slow motion. It’s an orgy of happy smiles, flowing blond hair and undulating breasts. And it gets better, for as the love theme continues to pulse along in the background here’s Larry the Leopard, and Samantha is actually swinging him around on her shoulders, in slow motion! Then we see Samantha and a half naked Johnny petting the leopard, in slow motion. Then we see Samantha spinning the leopard around, again!, with Johnny skipping around beside them, in slow motion! Thank God this doesn’t end up in a 3-way!

But what’s this? Oh no, here comes the Enchanted Waterfall Scene. “Are we to be spared nothing!?” I cry shaking my fist towards the heavens. Apparently not, for here they are swimming laps in a pristine jungle pool as nature’s bounty splashes down around them. Finally, the red hues of the setting sun tell us we are nearing the end of our lover’s montage, and so we’ll leave Samantha and Johnny to enjoy their night of passion.

Of course, I can’t speak for the Mighty Peking Man. He’s busy peeping into the cave where Johnny and Samantha are doing it in a scene that manages to be poignant, creepy and ridiculous all at the same time. Heart broken (ick!) he wallows in self-pity and flails about in the moonlit landscape. Fortunately, Samantha awakens and reassures him of her continued affection by nuzzling his outstretched hand.

You’ve got to hand it to Evelyne Kraft. She actually carries that last scene off. And although she is ultimately overwhelmed by the movie’s sleazy voyeurism, her good-natured commitment to the role almost redeems it. That’s saying something because Samantha is so obviously nothing more than a prurient straight-male fantasy. (Alas, prurient gay-male fantasies are rare in Hong Kong movies of this era.)

Back to the movie, where nice guy Johnny proves himself to be a very dim bulb by convincing Samantha to bring Peking Man to Hong Kong. “Don’t worry, he’ll be alright,” he assures her. (Oh boy.) Samantha, having somehow learned to comprehend English, agrees. And that’s great, only now she has to say goodbye to all of her animal friends. And this is really devastating. I mean, the elephant is in tears, and the leopard is so depressed he can’t even look her in the face. And it gets worse when he follows after her and pulls on her bikini strap in an effort to stop her. Because…you see… Warry the Weapard weally weally wuvs her! – And oh God, now I’m starting to choke up, so let’s just move on, shall we?

Cut to a city in India and the awesome site of Mighty Peking Man towering over the buildings while hundreds of screaming extras run for cover. Samantha calms the panic by directing Mighty Peking Man to lie down just as Mr. Smoothie drives up and exults,

“I’ll find a large freighter, and in a week we’ll put that stupid animal on show in Hong Kong!” (Boooo!)

Johnny, whom I’m tempted to start calling Mr. Stupid, somehow remains blind to the sleazy, abusive, and exploitive nature of the man who abandoned him in the wilderness and continues to go along. So cut to a miserable, storm tossed ocean voyage, with Mighty Peking Man chained on deck and Samantha in a general freak out. Happily, Johnny cheers her up with the gift of a two-piece leather hot-pants and bodice combo, which, hilariously, is as tight and revealing as her dear skin bikini. Even so, child of nature that she is, she finds this artificial garb, so appropriate for “civilization,” too restrictive and throws it out the port window. Naked, innocent, and free, she falls back onto her bed and stares blissfully up at the ceiling. (Hey, it’s almost like she’s….oh, never mind.)

It’s also on this voyage that Johnny shows a glimmer of conscience and adult understanding when he expresses doubts to Mr. Smoothie about exploiting the Peking Man for money. (Now? Now you’re having doubts!) Mr. Smoothie, however, has no trouble at all steam-rolling over this potential obstacle.

Once in Hong Kong you can feel the excitement as crowds of extras point out into the bay in time to a disco boogey beat, and a badly superimposed Mighty Peking Man floats by on a model boat. Cut to good old Brother Charlie at work in a TV station. Beaming into the phone he asks Johnny to come by for an interview and Johnny cheerfully accepts. Now remember, the last time these two saw each other Charlie was having sex with Johnny’s fiancé, in Johnny’s bedroom. So how does their reunion go? Like this:

Charlie (beaming): “Johnny…It’s good to see you! How are you?”

Johnny (smiling): “Ah, you look just the same!”

This surreal exchange left me scratching my head until I realized the infidelity that broke Johnny’s heart was all her fault. I mean, you can’t blame a guy for screwing his brother’s fiancé can you? Anyway, Johnny continues:

“Hey, want a big surprise? Here she is. (Johnny pulls over Samantha, still dressed in her deer skin bikini!) This is Samantha. She was raised in the jungle.” As if he really needed to say that…

Samantha smiles at Charlie, but for once Evelyne’s charm deserts her and her smile seems less a friendly welcome then the come on of an expensive hooker. For his part Charlie is so overcome with lust he can’t speak, only ogle the bodacious blonde his brother brought back from the jungle. (Sheesh, would someone throw a bucket of cold water on this man, please?)

As Johnny and Samantha enter a studio to watch a musical production in progress Johnny’s ex-fiancé catches sight of him, and the storm clouds of future melodrama descend over the movie, crushing the spirit of the hapless viewer. But as we wait for the hammer blow to fall lets check out the “musical production.” A woman dressed in red polyester sheath dress and yellow feather boa belts out a plagiarized version of the “Love Boat” theme while stranded atop a rickety set of steel girders. A small number of studio lights sporadically blink and flash in a forlorn attempt to give the number a sense of excitement. – Now that’s entertainment!

OK, here it comes, Johnny gets a note from his ex, and goes to meet her in her dressing room. Heavy looks filled with hurt and regret lead to tears on her part, and she begs Johnny to take her back. Johnny, proving himself to be not only stupid, but faithless, forgets all about Samantha and kisses his ex. Samantha, of course, picks just that moment to open the door and look in. Shocked and grieved, she runs off into the city. Johnny gives chase, but being stupid, is easily shaken off.

Meanwhile, Peking Man is also having a very rough time as, covered in chains, he is tormented in a variety of creative ways before a packed stadium of shouting, jeering rubes. (Back in the 70’s low-brow movies could get away with a bleak depiction of human nature. Today only bad guys are bad.) Catching sight of the spectacle on a storefront TV, Samantha breaks into tears. Then, in one of my favorite scenes, she runs up to a well-dressed British couple and blurts out:

“You take me to Hoo-Tong. You take me Hoo-Tong yes?” and points to a poster showing the Mighty Peking Man.

“Oh yea, the Peking Man.” Says the British wife. And then, without batting an eye she and her husband let this strange, jungle-bikini clad woman with the vocabulary of a two-year old into their car, and off they go!

Once at the stadium Samantha finds the Peking Man in a cage being abused by the keepers in between shows. She struggles with them sending Peking Man into a frenzy. This scares the keepers off and lets the two of them share a quiet, tear-filled reunion. Mr. Smoothie, looking smooth indeed in a white suit and dark glasses, chooses this moment to come to Samantha. (Actor Ku Feng is very good at making you hate him the moment he enters the frame.)

“Samantha, he’ll be alright. Don’t cry…Come on. Come with me.” He’s been leering at Samantha for some time now, and the ugly prospect of a rape scene now becomes a certainty.

Mighty Peking ManOver in Mr. Smoothie’s private room a truly distasteful scene unfolds, made worse by the fact that it’s filled with plenty of “eye candy.” (Oh, the shame of it all.) The key point, however, is that during the struggle Samantha pulls back the curtains allowing Peking Man, whose just across the street, to see what’s happening. Enraged past endurance he breaks free and stomps over to the scene of the crime. Once there, however, he seems to lose steam and merely flails about, allowing Mr. Smoothie to run off with Samantha as a kind of hostage. Once the two have left the scene in a sports car Peking Man finally lets loose and destroys the building. (Yea!) This is the official kick-off of the movie’s Dai Kaiju style rampage. And while it’s marred by plenty of shoddy double-exposure work, the model buildings are well designed and surprisingly detailed, so overall it’s a lot of fun.

More and more buildings are photogenically destroyed as Mighty Peking Man pursues the speeding sports car carrying Samantha into the heart of Hong Kong. We constantly cut back and forth between Peking Man’s path of destruction and Samantha’s totally pathetic attempts to escape from Mr. Smoothie. (She is, after all, only a girl.) We also get a little comic relief as some panicked white yahoos (Shriners and their wives, I think) bump into each other in a hallway and exclaim:

Yahoo Number One: “What’s wrong?”

Yahoo Number Two: “ There’s a gorilla. A giant gorilla!”

Yahoo Number One: “Ah, stop worrying. My wife is a giant gorilla too!”

Yahoo Number One’s Angry, Frumpy Wife:

“Why, what do you mean talking like that!?”

It’s all a wonderful advertisement for marriage, but we can’t linger as we cut back to the mayhem on the streets. Then to Mr. Smoothie dragging Samantha into yet another seedy hotel room. Once inside they are first surprised by a couple having sex in the bedroom (And in the afternoon too!), then by Peking Man’s giant hand smashing thru the window! Peking Man finally manages to do something right and grabs Mr. Smoothie, dangles him before the horrified gaze of some office workers, drops him onto the ground, and then steps on him. You, like me, might feel like applauding the demise of this rotten, two-dimensional villain, but Samantha, gentle child of nature that she is, appears horrified. (!?)

Cut to military HQ where the counter-attack against Mighty Peking Man at last begins, and then to model tanks rolling thru the streets. Then to more building-smashing and people-smushing. Then to Johnny running around with a bunch of police officers. Surprisingly, they know who he is. And when he claims to know a way to capture the Peking Man they listen to him! (By the way, what happened to the tanks?)

“There was a girl out in the jungle as well.” Johnny says, “He obeys her. Does whatever she says. If we could locate her he would settle down immediately.”

“Where is she now?” asks the police chief.

“You’ll have to mount a search. The only thing I know is that she is dressed entirely in animal skins.” Then he adds, “That ought to narrow it down a little.” (Only a little!?)

The search is on and a public announcement goes out describing “a certain girl.” Back on the streets Samantha suddenly stops being invisible to the people around her and a mob chases her to the top of a light pole. Seemingly trapped she displays the athletic prowess that deserted her during the rape attempt and escapes.

Back we go to the monster rampage as the tanks finally catch up with the Mighty Peking Man, and an epic battle takes place at an industrial factory site.

Suddenly it’s nighttime (?), and Johnny is in a police car searching for Samantha, who, “dressed entirely in animal skins” is still on the loose!

The battle between Peking Man and the military gains force as armed soldiers, tanks, and helicopters pepper him with bullets and noisy explosives. An orchestra sobs to life as, shot again, and again, and again, he staggers about like a wounded Julius Caesar on the steps of the Roman Senate. Seemingly down he rallies and, you got it, climbs to the top of a skyscraper. This inspires the military to hatch a hare-brained scheme in which they’ll use gasoline and explosives to blow him to smithereens while up there. “Never mind about the building!” barks the commander to his subordinate officer.

Down in the streets Samantha and Johnny manage to run into each other and then head off to the scene of the battle. Gazing up at the terrible spectacle Samantha, in tears, again, cries, “He’s hurt. He’s hurt.” Rushing over to the commanding officer they convince him to order a cease-fire and give them a chance to calm Peking Man down.

Once on the top floor of the building Samantha and Johnny speak to Peking Man thru a hole punched into the roof, and Samantha, crying, lies down in his hand and promises that they will go back home to the jungle. Peking Man, mouth agape and tears running down his rubber cheeks, gives Samantha the same enigmatic expression he’s worn from the start of the picture. It’s at this point that the movie officially becomes a tragic downer, because, you know, the Playboy cartoon and the man in the polyester monkey suit never will make it back to that jungle. (And oh damn, now I’m starting to choke up again….)

Right on schedule the maniacal commander breaks his word and orders a renewal of the attack. Practically foaming at the mouth he bellows, “Your orders are to shoot! All units shoot. Do you hear? Shoot to kill!”

Mighty Peking ManMore gun fire. More explosions. More thrillingly bombastic music. (Which a musician friend of mine says is an edited version of Shostakovich’s 5th symphony!) More tragic roars from the Peking Man as he is shot again, and again, and again. Samantha is also hit and wounded, and I’m beginning to suffer from shell shock. Down below Johnny discovers soldiers rigging explosives around the top floor and demands they stop, but to no avail, because, as one of the soldiers sneers, “It’s a wild animal. The quicker we kill it the better.” Worse, “The fuse has already been set.” The clock is ticking down, but at least the Peking Man manages to crush a couple of the callous and insensitive soldiers even as the commander continues to bark, “Attack! Attack him again!”

More gun fire. More explosions. More bombastic music. (The movie’s not over and I’m already suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.) Samantha is hit – again! But she still manages to run around like an Olympic athlete. And as she clings, sobbing, to the leg of the weeping Peking Man, a dismayed Johnny jumps up to the roof and tries to drag her away. Now Johnny gets hit! Yet he still struggles with the crying Samantha, who manages to push him down off the roof and into the building as Peking Man continues to bellow, and the helicopters continue to circle and “Attack! Attack him again!”

With a final shot of the timers counting down to zero the rigged explosives detonate in a deafening yellow blaze of pyrotechnic fury. Flames erupt around the screeching Peking Man. His polysynthetic fur catches fire as the explosions continue. And continue. And continue. Finally, as I slip into a catatonic state of shock, the great ape, still on fire, looses his footing and plunges down to the ground far below, crashing into a model building and causing, yes, another explosion.

Back at the top of the skyscraper Johnny nimbly leaps over a stairwell railing, then remembering to limp on the leg that was shot, he hobbles over to Samantha’s prone figure and discovers that she is dead.

Cut back to Mighty Peking Man who, oh my God, is still moving! Wringing every last drop of pathos out of his tragic death scene he lifts his battered, tear-soaked rubber head off the ground, glass eyes staring up into the night sky, reaches out, as if for some far off salvation, then finally collapses back to the ground – dead.

Back again up topside, and accompanied by a thundering crescendo, an agonized Johnny stands in the wreckage of the bombed out skyscraper holding the body of his dead love. Despairingly, he stares out at the lights of Hong Kong, which seem to mock him with their serene, uncaring beauty. Then I too begin to sob, with relief, for this is, finally,

THE END

Sean Ledden (August 2006)

Afterthoughts

Overall this is a really fun movie, at least when it doesn’t pander too much to the leering, drooling sexual male id, or beat the viewer senseless with ham-fisted tragedy. Yet possibly the biggest question in the film is how come the hero is such an idiot? Why can’t he see what we do almost instantly; that Mr. Smoothie is the most transparently venal and untrustworthy character imaginable? Why didn’t the filmmakers make Mr. Smoothie less obviously bad, and more plausibly seductive? I have a theory.

While pop entertainment from around the world generally avoids complex shades of grey and goes for bright primary colors, this is particularly true of classic Hong Kong Action/Fantasy. Characters come in two varieties, GOOD and BAD, while scenes come in five: HAPPY, SAD, SEXY, VIOLENT, and CUTE.

While SEXY and VIOLENT are sometimes mixed together for queeze inducing results, the others rarely come together in one character or scene. A monochrome sense of boredom is avoided by speed editing in a disconcerting series of juxtapositions that form a kind of psychological strobe effect that numbs the rational mind. A classic example comes from our feature presentation with the jungle interlude of Johnny and Samantha:

HAPPY (running thru trees)
SAD (dead parents in crashed plane)
HAPPY (running thru trees)
VIOLENT (tiger and leopard attack)
CUTE (Samantha hugs tiger and leopard)
HAPPY (more running thru trees)
VIOLENT (snake attack)
SEXY (treatment of snake bite)
CUTE (elephant ride back to cave.)
SEXY (running thru trees, in slow motion)
CUTE (twirling leopard on shoulders, in slow motion)
SEXY (swimming naked in jungle pool)

It is this rejection of ambiguity that leads to all-bad villains, like Mr. Smoothie, and to heroes that are at least supposed to be all good, like Johnny. And rather than make either of them morally complex, it’s much better, and less disturbing, to make nice guy Johnny veeerrryyyy slow on the uptake.

TRIVIA NOTE

While every internet source I consulted credits Toho Studio’s Sadamasa Arikawa and Koichi Kawakita as special effects directors, they appear nowhere on the credits of this version. Rather, two Chinese men are credited with “effects” and they are Li Yi-Chen and Hsu Ping-Kong. I think there must be an interesting story here – I just don’t know what it is.

Read more about Mighty Peking Man at

IMDB

5 comments to Mighty Peking Man (1977)

  • guts3d

    …Now remember, the last time these two saw each other Charlie was having sex with Johnny’s fiancé, in Johnny’s bedroom. So how does their reunion go? Like this:

    Charlie (beaming): “Johnny…It’s good to see you! How are you?”

    Johnny (smiling): “Ah, you look just the same!”

    Was he naked? Since the last time he saw him… Never mind! Great review! I’ll bet this one won’t be easy to find.

  • Sean

    As I remember, they were both in bed with the covers pulled up close to their necks. Phew!

  • Just watched this one on Netflix. Definitely some fun!

  • Sean

    Isn’t it? It’s certainly in it’s own crazed universe.

  • Sad news. Appreciate what little moments on this place she had to make us laugh.

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