The Mighty Peking Man directed by Meng Hua Ho
Well, I suppose I didn’t do adequate homework before venturing into Meng Hua Ho’s 1977 camp classic The Mighty Peking Man. For some reason, I had thought the titular protagonist was a man-sized survivor of the Paleolithic Age; a caveman type; a troglodyte displaced in time. But as most psychotronic-film fans have long since discovered, this is hardly the case at all, and the film in question turns out to be nothing more than a cheesy Hong Kong rip-off of 1933’s King Kong … or, perhaps, more specifically, a cash-in “homage” to the Dino De Laurentiis travesty of the preceding year. A production of the Shaw Brothers, whose Infra-Man of 1975 had proved to be so memorably jaw dropping, the film is a goofy, fast-moving and wholly enjoyable experience, with better production values than you might be expecting, and lovably ersatz special FX.
The picture opens with a tremendous initial 20 minutes, which not only shows us the awakening of the P.M. amidst a Himalayan earthquake around 90 seconds in (I would’ve loved this as a kid; back then, I always grew impatient with films that withheld a glimpse of the monster for too long), but also the subsequent destruction of the nearby native village, the P.M. running amok, the outfitting of an H.K. expedition to track down the beast, the hiring of lovelorn hunter Johnnie Fang (played by Infra-Man star Danny Lee), an elephant stampede, a quicksand scene, a tiger attack and a deadly cliff ascent. Whew! The film pauses for breath when Johnnie is abandoned in the wild by his fellow adventurers, only to fall into the grips of the P.M. himself, in all his 100-foot-tall, hirsute glory. Johnnie also meets the big hairy galoot’s only friend: Samantha, a beautiful blonde Tarzan type who had been living in the jungle since surviving an otherwise fatal plane crash with her parents many years before. Samantha is played here by Evelyne Kraft, a Swiss actress who I had previously encountered in the 1972 giallo The French Sex Murders; an actress so remarkably beautiful that she easily held her own in that film alongside such stunning Eurobabes as Barbara Bouchet, Rosalba Neri and Anita Ekberg. Despite living in paradise with Samantha, Johnnie stupidly forsakes his jungle idyll in favor of bringing the girl and the P.M. (who Samantha, for some reason, calls “Utam”) back to civilization; predictably, his money-making scheme goes horribly wrong, as Utam eventually goes wild with an unusual case of P.M.S. (Peking Man Syndrome) and lays half of Hong Kong to waste, before a doubly tragic conclusion…
In a film with so many memorably campy moments, two stand out especially for this viewer. In the first, Johnnie and Samantha romp through the jungle in a slow-mo montage, while a supermellow pop song that is most likely entitled “Could It Be I’m In Love, Maybe” is heard in accompaniment. This kind of love scene can work marvelously if done right (for example, witness the use of Roberta Flack’s “The Last Time Ever I Saw Your Face” in Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me montage), but here, the result is pure hilarity. And my other favorite camp moment? During Utam’s H.K. rampage, one citizen declares, “There’s a giant gorilla!” To which his friend replies, “My wife is a gorilla, too!” (Granted, something may have been lost in translation here; the dubbing on the fine-looking Miramax DVD that I recently watched IS fairly horrendous.) And in a film filled with so many half-baked performances, perhaps the most convincing bit of thesping turned in is by Samantha’s pet leopard, who really does look to be almost crying as his mistress leaves their jungle home.
The film, to be fair, does seem to bust a gut to guarantee a good time for the viewer, and manages to also incorporate a high-seas typhoon, an eye-popping finale (I love it when Utam, standing atop H.K.’s highest building, grabs an attacking helicopter and sends it ablaze down into the streets) and even some surprising gross-out sequences (a safari member has his leg torn off by a tiger; a yucky close-up of Samantha’s snakebite wound on her otherwise yummy thigh). Genially zany throughout, its twofold bummer of an ending does come as a real surprise, and one that surely serves Johnnie right. Viewers who are expecting a “happily ever after” windup here, a la 1949’s Mighty Joe Young, may be in for an unpleasant surprise at how things unreel. Perhaps, to prepare themselves and cushion the blows, they might use The Mighty Peking Man as a sort of drinking game, imbibing a snort every time Samantha cries out “Utam!” Even Ann Darrow didn’t have to go through the punishment that this jungle nymph does!
“…lovably ersatz special FX!” Sandy, you are wonderful.
The leopard might have been crying because its agent couldn’t get it out of this picture.
You are too kind, Marion… you’re making me blush. Actually, the line that had me chuckling as I was writing it was the one about PMS. And about that leopard…sorry I didn’t think to write that myself!