Mighty Peking Man
Steve's rating: four lava lamps.
At first glance, the Shaw Brothers' 1977 demi-epic Mighty Peking Man might seem like the usual substandard big-monkey-on-the-loose shenanigans. But truly, this is the greatest reworking of the archetypal man-woman-ape love triangle since the original King Kong threw down the gauntlet in 1933. Not that there's much competition; Son Of Kong didn't cut it, the Japanese were too shy to let the monkey go head-over-heels in King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes, and the two DeLaurentiis Kongs, well, they just sucked, as did the Korean-made A*P*E and the skirt-wearing, British-made Konga. As for the Mighty Joe Young movies, they don't count because Joe survives. Mighty Peking Man has a tragic, Kong-like finale in which the heartbroken beast not only careens to his death off a skyscraper, he gets blown up in a gasoline explosion first!
A decade later, an expedition to capture the beast is organized by a big-toothed Chinese promoter and led by Johnny (Danny Lee), a dejected young Indiana Jones-type who's just caught his girlfriend sleeping with his brother, and so he really wants to get the hell out of Hong Kong. En route to the Indian outback, the explorers are attacked by stampeding elephants that flatten thatch huts, and a vicious tiger that bites off a man's leg. Is this mission really worth it?
As it turns out, Johnny doesn't find the Mighty Peking Man, but it finds him, snatching him up in a big, cloth-covered mechanical paw. Johnny is rescued by the ape's stepchild, the beautiful, Caucasian, 20-something, loincloth-wearing Samantha, whose parents were killed in a plane crash years before, and who now speaks only jungle gibberish (and, apparently, has discovered a jungle store that carries makeup and lipstick). When the girl is snake-bitten (in the crotch area, what luck!) Johnny sucks out the poison and they fall in love. Given the choice of living with a voluptuous, nearly nude blonde among the animals in a lush natural paradise, or ruining everything by taking her and the big ape back to civilization, Johnny of course chooses the latter.
Mighty Peking Man is part chop-socky flick, part Kong and Mighty Joe Young, part Tarzan, part Godzilla (the monster's final rampage through the miniature city has a particularly Japanese feel) and part The Naked Gun (there are two romantic montages set to cheeseball music which, although not played for laughs, are funnier than Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley's romp). Yes, it's the postmodern kitsch factor and the psychotronic elements -- obvious miniatures, the human actor's eyes peering through the sockets of the ill-fitting monster costume, mismatched film stocks, wild animals that seem doped-up on valium to keep them docile, bombastic music score -- that provide much of the entertainment value, but no modern monster film packs as much action and spectacle into 90 minutes.
In an era when Hollywood is bankrupting itself on dreck like Virus and TriStar's Godzilla, Mighty Peking Man is a throwback to those good old days when technical virtuosity wasn't the only thing that mattered, and low budget didn't necessarily mean low-octane.
Review date: 5/14/99
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