Thursday, November 20, 2014

Infra-Man (1975)

          Something of a Saturday-matinee fever dream, this strange superhero saga was made by the prolific Hong Kong company Shaw Brothers, which found most of its success making martial-arts flicks. And, indeed, kung fu fights find their way into Infra-Man, even though the plot is about a cyborg battling demons and monsters sent by a mystical princess who emerges from her underground lair to conquer the surface world. Within the first five minutes of the movie proper (following the credits), a giant dragon falls from the sky onto a highway, blocking the path of a school bus, and then the dragon disappears, somehow causing a giant sinkhole that consumes the bus and sparks a fiery maelstrom that destroys a nearby city. The pace doesn’t stay quite that frenetic throughout Infra-Man, but the level of lunacy does.
          The first major human character introduced in the story is Professor De (Wang Hsieh), who runs a massive government science lab. As a means of telling the audience that the lab is futuristic, the professor arrives at work wearing street clothes and then changes into a sliver-lame lab coat festooned with military epaulets. Soon the humans discover that the culprit behind a series of monster attacks is Princess Dragon Mom (Terry Liu), who wears some sort of dominatrix outfit and a headdress designed to look like a dragon skull. From her subterranean HQ, where the attendants include lackeys garbed in skeleton costumes and assorted indeterminate critters who seem like they wandered over from a Sid & Marty Kroft soundstage, Princess Dragon Mom announces her intention to conquer Earth and/or destroy everyone using her monsters.
          To fight back, the professor enlists one of his subordinates, Lei Ma (Danny Lee), to undergo a high-tech transformation and become the cybernetic superhero Infra-Man. Lei can transform into Infra-Man at will, so whenever danger arises, he instantaneously summons a bright red costume with a bug-like helmet, thereby incarnating a drag-queen’s vision of a Power Ranger. (Accentuating the presumably unintended gay-chic nature of the character, one of Infra-Man’s superpowers involves “thunderball fists.”) Endless scenes of Infra-Man tussling with monsters ensue, and the filmmakers employ zero logic with regard to what levels of power and/or vulnerability each character possesses. Sometimes, Infra-Man simply engages in kung fu combat with human-sized monsters, and sometimes, both Infra-Man and his opponents magically expand to gigantic proportions.
          The creatures in the movie are as silly as the main character, including some sort of octopus monster, various robotic henchmen, and myriad mutants portrayed by actors wearing bargain-basement rubber suits. Further, Princess Dragon Mom seems more like a sexually frustrated S&M enthusiast than a super-villain, because she spends most of her time cracking whips and torturing people. Infra-Man borrows the worst possible tropes from Toho Studios’ Godzilla movies, so the professor delivers such insipid lines as, “Lieutenant, I’m going to need printouts on these monsters!” (Because, of course, detailed files are available on monsters previously unseen by man.) And yet the professor’s line can’t compare to some of Princess Dragon Mom’s dialogue (e.g., “She-Demon, I wish to speak to the mutants at once!”).
          All of this is made so much weirder, of course, by the horrible soundtrack of the movie’s English-language version, which features, in addition to the predictable out-of-sync dubbing, a motif of a monster laughing and scheming in a gravely voice reminiscent of Depression-era American gangster movies.

Infra-Man: FREAKY


Unknown said...

Peter, thank you for this. I will always remember how exuberantly Roger Ebert reviewed this.

Unknown said...

Loved the movie as a kid when I saw it twice theatrically. Today, I own 3 different DVD editions and have the poster framed and hanging in my bonus room. Infra forever!

Booksteve said...

So weird! Not 20 minutes ago I was reading a review of this one in an old issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG and then I drop by here and you're discussing it, too!

Guy Callaway said...

The greatest movie ever made.