might as well come clean about something: when it comes to the world
of genré films, the kaiju is not my favorite kind
of pie. You might have already gotten that impression, when after
a hundred-odd reviews, only four are of daikaiju flicks,
and those are not typical of the beast. Oh, I own almost all the
Godzilla movies, to be sure, and a long shelf over my desk holds
various plastic incarnations of the Big G and his opponents, but
I'm not what I would call a huge fan (there are others of the B-Masters
that more rightly hold that title, and I wanna send a shout
out to my posse, Scott H. an' Andrew B. for answerin' my questions
when I had some. Word!).
seeming disinterest toward the sub-genré bothers me at times
(and not just because I have a significant chunk of change tied
up in figures and tapes). What is there not to like about
giant monsters? Show me a little kid not interested in dinosaurs
and I'll show you.... well, not an actual child, but one of those
sad little creatures raised in a house that preaches that the fossil
record is a massive hoax perpetrated by the wicked hosts of secular
humanists*, but that's beside the point (way
beside the point). The daikaiju, Godzilla and his friends,
are the modern equivalent of dragons, the most recent iteration
of legends and myths that reach back far, far past written history.
They are versions of archetypes that are etched into our reptile
brain, so deeply ingrained that it is nearly impossible to not
have a reaction to them. Megafauna may have died out thousands of
years ago, but we still seem to hunger for their presence, on some
to put it in perspective: if I am surfing about the cable wasteland,
and I come upon a kaiju eiga, I will happily stop and watch.
But if I am loading up a film to watch, I'm afraid that Men in Suits
Trampling Miniatures is not the first category I reach for. I don't
hate them, I just don't love them. It's probably the insane
similarity between them all; past the intense human suffering of
the original Godzilla (still powerful even with the constant
intrusion of Raymond Burr and the backs of stand-in's heads), monsters
show up (sometimes aliens crop up, too, to spice the mix) and buildings
get trampled as guys in rubber suits rassle.
breastbaring aside (hm, breastbaring. I should have saved
that for later. You'll know it when you see it), I reveal that I
do not place giant monster movies on a pedestal only to prepare
you for the next (likely yawn-inducing) blockbuster of an announcement,
which is simply this: if giant reptile movies only arouse average
interest from me, giant ape movies absolutely bore me to tears.
I made this realization while viewing this week's movie, my choice
All Monsters, Mighty Peking Man.
let's finally begin, shall we? Slimy Entrepreneur (and therefore
Lu Tien (Feng Wa) searches through the newspaper files in a local
library and finds a front page stating GIANT FOOT PRINT DISCOVERED
IN HIMALAYAS. The story dates back to the 60s, and we are treated
to a flashback in which a remote Indian village is rocked by an
earthquake, which unearths our title character. I suppose we can
assume he's been frozen for some time, and has awakened with a grouchy
need for coffee that cannot be quenched. Or maybe it's just those
panicky natives throwing spears and catapulting rocks at him (WHY
exactly does this village have catapults?). Anyway, he trashes the
an Evil Capitalist, Lu Tien wants to capture the Mighty Peking Man
and bring him to civilization to make lots of money. To accomplish
this, he enlists the aid of a hunter/explorer with the improbable
name of Johnny Fang (Danny Lee), who is recommended because "He
just lost his girl, and wants to get away."
it's off to India, and numerous time-killing adventures. First our
party comes upon a deserted village, and (what we in the audience
are privileged to know as) the cry of the Mighty Peking Man causes
a stampede of elephants. This sets up a couple of the most bizarre
moments in the picture, in a sequence which is a hodge podge of
rapid cuts and foggy rear-projection. More than one native bearer
(a staple of all jungle flicks) is trapped underneath collapsing
bamboo-and-thatch walls, and one fellow is actively stomped on by
an elephant. Okay, there's actually another of those rapid cuts
and he is really stomped on by one of those fake elephant-leg umbrella
holders; but in the next cut, his chest is covered with blood, leading
me to conclude that either a)
the elephant had stepped in red paint, or b)
the elephant was wearing cleats.
other astonishing moment is when Johnny is composited with a rear-projected
elephant that has been trained to lie down on its side so it can
look like Johnny is killing it with pistol fire. Besides the dubiousness
of being able to kill a charging elephant with a revolver, it causes
me to wonder if that particular shot actually fooled anybody. Perhaps
I'm jaded, but I can't comprehend anybody older than 12 watching
that and not thinking, "Ah, a trained, rear-projected elephant."
Maybe way too jaded.
night, Johnny's two oldest friends brace him about this whole "lost
his girl thing", triggering another time-killing flashback.
Turns out his girl, Lucy, wanted to be a big success in TV, so Johnny
found her one day in bed with a TV producer... who also happened
to be his brother! Betrayal-a-go-go!
time is wasted the next day, as the party is attacked by a tiger.
Interesting that I can consider a tiger attack a waste of time,
past the twenty minute mark in a movie titled Mighty Peking Man
and there's been damned little Peking Man. Not only does Johnny
lose one of his pals in the attack (when the seasoned explorer runs
away from the tiger straight into a quicksand pit), but this is
apparently the same tiger from Monty Python's The Meaning of
Life, as it takes off a bearer's leg above the knee with surgical
precision and runs away with it. Johnny calls for the medicine chest,
but Lu Tien simply shoots the wounded bearer, saying, "No sense
in wasting medicine." (Like what? Iodine?) Have we mentioned
this guy is a capitalist, and therefore evil? Johnny, of course,
smacks him upside the head for his evilness.
used to think that the Africa portrayed in all the Johnny Weismuller
Tarzan movies was the most dangerous place on Earth (As I
saw the umpteenth screaming white explorer sucked under by quicksand
or eaten by carnivorous plants or tortured to death by
the Ookabalawonga tribe, my young mind decided, with great certainty,
Jesus! I ain't goin' there!), but I must now admit that Africa
is Dollywood compared to India. The next day our party leaves the
jungle for the seashore and must climb up a cliff (who, exactly,
is in charge of the map for this expedition? Did Mike kick the map
into the stream, or something? I mean, why not bypass the tiger
and elephant-infested jungle and just take a boat to this point??!!).
Bad handholds ensure that Johnny's other pal and a string of bearers
take a quick drop down to the rocks below. Only the fact that they
find fresh footprints of the Mighty Peking Man keeps Johnny going;
of course, it's also the reason that Lu Tien and the bearers split
in the middle of the night, leaving Johnny to his fate (it should
go without saying that Evil Capitalists are, by nature, also cowardly).
gamely continues on his quest, but it's the Mighty Peking Man that
him, almost smishing him (And how, exactly, does something
that big sneak up on somebody? Unless he's like the T. Rex in the
Jurassic Park movies and can mute his footfalls at will).
Johnny is saved, however, by the arrival of ... EVELYNE KRAFT...JUNGLE
GIRL!!! Yes, a blonde bombshell, wearing an animal skin bikini
(and an intriguing amount of makeup) pops up and makes "ook
ook" sounds at the Mighty Peking Man, who tenderly picks up
the unconscious Johnny and EVELYNE KRAFT...JUNGLE GIRL! and
deposits them in the blonde's cavern home.
must perforce stop and examine Ms. Kraft's bikini. Yeah, that's
it, we're looking at her bikini, that's right, yeah.... The top
has a mere single strap, and the unsupported side sports a cannily
placed rough edge that manages to conceal her left nipple, except
at such times as she is blocked to move so vigorously that the adhesive
holding the flap in place gives way, producing the 13 in our PG-13
rating. When she turns her back to the camera, a twinkling of light
off something metal is frequently detected... surely, not a clasp
of some sort? I mean, that would be unrealistic. For some
reason, it's not the fact that the character fashioned a leather
mini-skirt, it's the leather panties that she also made that
fill me with a good deal of dismay.
that out of the way, let us now return to the story. EVELYNE
KRAFT...JUNGLE GIRL! takes Johnny
to a wrecked plane, overgrown with jungle foliage, which also contains
two skeletons (nice of the area carnivores to leave the bodies intact).
Through charades and general overacting, EVELYNE KRAFT...JUNGLE
GIRL! relates the tale of how she, when a mere girl, and her
parents were flying the plane through a thunderstorm when the engine
suddenly blew up in mid-air (causing one to wonder if it were the
work of The Brain from Planet
Arous, lurking about in the jungle below). She was found and
raised by the Mighty Peking Man, who has instantly smished every
other human he has ever run across, but what can you do? You know
that thousand pound gorilla? The one you keep hearing about, who
can sit anywhere he wants? This is the guy that gorilla answers
also finds in the plane a diary, revealing that EVELYNE KRAFT...JUNGLE
GIRL!'s name is actually Samantha; we also learn that Mighty
Peking Man's name is Ootah. Samantha also
has more friends than just Mighty Peking Man - she is also pals
with the Surgical Tiger and a rather drugged-out looking leopard.
She is not friends with a cobra, however - like all animals in the
lethal jungle of India, it strikes without provocation (right at
her femoral artery, no less - it's like every animal in this jungle
has a degree in human anatomy). While the Surgical Tiger makes a
meal of the snake, Johnny attempts to suck out the poison. Later,
Mighty Peking Man brings him medicinal leaves to make a healing
poultice for her wound.
Samantha rises from her envenomed coma, Johnny is so elated, he
kisses her - which triggers the most jaw-dropping sequence
of all: as a generic, sappy 70s pseudo-soul ballad, apparently entitled,
"Am I Falling In Love" plays (how bland and generic is
it? If Mighty Peking Man were released today, it would get
an Oscar nomination for Best Song. That's how bland and generic
it is), there is a slow-motion montage of Samantha and Johnny doing
just that - starting off with the hackneyed running sequence (the
first instance of the nipple adhesive failing) and graduating into
carefree frolicking with the drugged-out leopard. This culminates
in Samantha and Johnny doing what comes naturally in fur beds in
the 70s. But Mighty Peking Man happens to also be the Mighty Peeping
Man (sorry), and throws a fit of 100 foot pique when he spies Sam
and Johnny making the beast with two backs. Luckily Sam manages
to soothe him.
brings up something I like to call the Oilcan Harry Dilemma. Long,
long ago, when TV still showed the old TerryToons Mighty
Mouse, the better ones were the musical melodramas, which featured
villain cat Oilcan Harry, who was always trying to get Pearl Pureheart
(a mouse, needless to say) to marry him. The Oilcan Harry Dilemma
is this: as the cat is easily three or four times the size of his
chosen bride, what can he possibly want to do with her? Things
like this torture my idle hours, which is why I spend so much time
either watching mind-numbing movies like this one or fighting my
way through games like KISS:
Psycho Circus, which is an experience like working your
way through the junior year of high school, let me tell you. Where
was I? Ah. One hundred foot Mighty Peking Man. Five foot woman.
let's see. Johnny has discovered a woman who allows him to forget
his feckless former girlfriend. He plays with predators (in slow
motion), there is plenty to eat, in a vegan sort of way; in short,
an idyllic existence. So naturally he decides it is time to head
for civilization, and to take Sam and Mighty Peking Man with him
(as the movie was made before the advent of e-mail, I cannot
understand his hurry). This is the first time the sentence JOHNNY,
YOU ARE A JERK appears in my notes. After a tearful (literally)
farewell with the pet elephant and the mandatory drugged-out-leopard-doesn't-want-her-to-go
scene (frankly, the animals in this movie exhibit far more sense
than any of the bipeds), Sam and Johnny climb into Mighty Peking
Man's hand, and he walks to the nearest city.
an immediate panic.
Sam gets him to lie down. Lu Tien drives up, and the next jaw-dropping
scene occurs, as Johnny says, "Lu Tien, I've been looking for
you!" Not, "There you are, you murderous son of a bitch,"
or "What's the idea of leaving me in the jungle to die, you
ratbastard," followed by numerous slammings of the head in
the car door, no. Johnny promised to bring back Mighty Peking Man,
and he did, delivering the unfortunate giant into the hands of the
Mighty Peking Man finds himself in chains on the deck of a freighter,
headed for Hong Kong. This greatly displeases Mighty Peking Man,
not to mention Samantha (this is the second time the nipple adhesive
fails. Not that I was watching for it, or anything). Johnny tries
to calm her by giving her a dress to wear in Hong Kong (this is
the second time the JOHNNY, YOU ARE A JERK note appears) It itches,
so she pitches it out a porthole, and returns to her leathers, like
a good jungle girl.
captain reveals that they are heading for a typhoon and wants to
hit port in Shanghai
to let it pass, but Lu Tien has booked a stadium in Hong Kong and
sold tickets, and so demands the captain sail through the storm.
Instead of saying something cogent, like "Screw you, Evil Capitalist,
I don't want to die" or "Pinhead, your meal ticket is
unprotected on the deck," the captain agrees, so Mighty Peking
Man gets a good soaking (agh! Wet fur smell!) as the ship runs aground
on a bigass rock in the middle of the ocean. Sam and Johnny free
one of Mighty Peking Man's hands so he can push them off the rock,
which causes the sailing to suddenly become incredibly smoother.
HK, Johnny takes Samantha to his brother's TV studio. For someone
raised in the graphically lethal jungles of India, Sam takes to
civilization very well, and does not appear to be curious about
things like cars or TV studios. She and Johnny sit in on the taping
of his brother's show, which gives us another opportunity to hear
a lame 70s generic song (actually, you have to admire the movie's
pioneering spirit, as it was figuring out to shoehorn salable songs
into a movie long before this sort of thing came into vogue in the
90s). Johnny gets a note and leaves Samantha in the studio (jerk)
and goes to a dressing room, where he meets... his former girlfriend,
see, she was thinking only of her career when she bedded his brother,
not Johnny or
their relationship. And while Johnny was gone, his brother did ...
something. Something so heinous they won't even tell us what it
was. So Johnny agrees to start all over again with his former girlfriend.
This particular JOHNNY YOU ARE A JERK covers most of the page (though
it must be admitted he is a very forgiving jerk), and the
movie appears to agree, as Samantha (having sat through the lame
70s song to the bitter end) has come looking for her guy and walked
in as Johnny and Lucy are sucking face.
runs tearfully out into the street, skillfully avoiding Johnny the
by hiding behind the first car she sees. Wandering the streets -
in a bizarre sort of reciprocation for her ease with civilization,
no one in Hong Kong seems to notice the practically naked blonde
walking through their city - eventually sighting Mighty Peking Man
on TV. At the stadium, the Evil Capitalist has not only chained
him up to various John Deere Tonka toys to see who can pull whom,
but the crowd in the stands is pelting him with fruit. Slight digression:
at what point can throwing crap at something a hundred feet tall
and pissed off be deemed a good idea?
arrives to beg for Mighty Peking Man's release, but Lu Tien carries
her away, and to the list of virtues contained in this one Evil
Capitalist we can also add venality, as Lu Tien attempts
to rape Samantha - unfortunately for him, in sight of Mighty Peking
Man. The giant proceeds to go berserk, rip apart his cage, and chase
Lu Tien and Sam all over the place, trashing any building or bridge
that gets in his way.
finally! Rampage time! Let's see, we covered stupidity in
the makeup of
the Evil capitalist, right? Oh yeah - the typhoon thing. Well, just
to reinforce that notion, he drags Sam into a hotel and breaks into
a room to hide from Mighty Peking Man - right at Mighty Peking
Man's eye level! Well, they get to use that full scale Mighty
Peking Man hand again, as Lu Tien is dragged out through the window
and eventually thrown to the ground, where Mighty Peking Man smishes
him. So long, Lu Tien - you were an Evil Capitalist, and so much
model army swings into action, as they always do - too bad they
don't have some of those radar-dish lightning-shooting thingies
the Japanese have had for years, but of course the aroma of burnt
fur would have hung around for days. Mighty Peking Man finally
winds up atop a tall building with helicopters shooting at him,
until Sam goes up to calm him down and the Supreme Commander gives
his word that the shooting will stop (of course, he's also wiring
the building to explode). Once Sam gets Mighty Peking Man calmed
down, the Supreme Commander decides this is their best chance, and
orders the shooting to start again (SUPREME COMMANDER, YOU ARE A
JERK). Sam is in the line of fire, and gets hit; Johnny tries to
get her out before the explosion, but she chooses to stay with Mighty
Peking Man. Kaboom. The end.
that burnt fur smell winds up lingering over HK for days anyway.
case you didn't catch it, this was the Shaw Brothers Studio's attempt
to cash in on Dino deLaurentiis' less-than-successful remake of
King Kong. It has to be admitted that it makes a few attempts
to carve its own niche, but putting the Fay Wray/Jessica Lange character
in a leather bikini and letting her swing from a few vines is hardly
enough to let the production stand on its own two feet, no matter
how huge they may be.
own ambivalence toward the giant ape movie still puzzles me - perhaps
because it is assumed that, since the main character is a monkey,
I will automatically
feel sympathy toward it; that I will go, Aaaaaaaw! Monkey!
and blubber when it is done wrong and cry when it dies. It bespeaks
a certain amount of laziness when I am not given a reason
to feel for the big monkey, and I certainly do not in the case of
Mighty Peking Man - then again, the JOHNNY YOU ARE A JERK
notes are pretty superfluous when everybody on display is one form
of jerk or another, including the title character. The only character
I feel any sympathy toward is the Surgical Tiger, who does his work
quickly and well, and gets the hell out of the way. Excelsior, noble
Surgical Tiger! I shall miss you!
do like to give credit where credit is due: The mandatory Kaiju
Rampage scenes are pretty good, and the miniature work is especially
well done, except where it was forgotten to overcrank the camera
to give the miniatures a sense of size and mass - admittedly, something
that occasionally happens in films made by the Japanese, who are
the past masters at this sort of thing. The craftsmanship on the
models, however, cannot be doubted. It's always nice to see some
city beside Tokyo take it on the neck, and Hong Kong is different
enough to add an exotic thrill to the usual smash-through-the-building
been a certain amount of fanboy hubbub over Mighty Peking Man
since Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures (love
the logo, Quint) re-released it. I enjoy a sour bit of ironic bemusement
when I consider that these same fanboys passed the film up, over
and over again, at their local video stores for years when it was
known as Goliathon. And now Roger Ebert praises it as "Genius!
Crazy demented weirdness!" (or so claims the video box). I'll
agree to the crazy demented weirdness, but genius? There is a large
amount of entertainment potential in Mighty Peking Man -
with two-dimensional characters doing amazingly stupid things, all
in badly-dubbed glory, the movie seems to exist only to be ridiculed,
not even trying to tell a convincing story. It fails as a solitary
pleasure but it will make a great party tape - and I'll probably
enjoy it far more in that setting.