Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Mighty Peking Man (1977)

          Of the various exploitation movies that Quentin Tarantino re-released in the ’90s through his short-lived Rolling Thunder Pictures banner, The Mighty Peking Man is undoubtedly the most confounding. Whereas other QT grindhouse faves explore viable themes of inner-city tension, The Mighty Peking Man is a cheap knock-off of producer Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong (1976), which was of course a remake of the classic 1933 movie bearing the same name. Hong Kong schlockmeisters the Shaw Brothers—best known for their martial-arts flicks—decided to piggyback on De Laurentiis’ massive marketing push for King Kong by making a giant-primate movie of their own. To say something got lost in translation is an understatement.
          The monster in this movie is indeed an enormous ape, but he’s presented as some kind of hybrid Abominable Snowman/gorilla, and much of the movie concerns his fascination with a pretty (and normal-sized) blonde woman. Yet while the beauty who bewitches the beast in the various versions of King Kong accompanies a search party venturing into the wild, the babe in The Mighty Peking Man is some kind of female Tarzan, a young woman who crash-landed in the jungle with her family as a child and then survived the accident to become a loincloth-wearing friend to animals including a pet leopard. As if that’s not enough of a stretch—considering the audience is already being asked to accept the presence of a monstrous mammal—the babe in question, Ah Wei (Evelyne Kraft), is inexplicably presented with perfect grooming, hair, and makeup. Seriously, her loincloth top is a push-up bra, and her legs are immaculately shaved. Huh?
          The story, such as it is, begins when the big ape is freed from a temple during an earthquake and lays waste to a nearby village. Because, of course, living creatures normally reside inside statues and then lumber out with full mobility after hibernating for who knows how long. Anyway, intrepid explorer Johnnie (Danny Lee) is hired to track down the newly dubbed “Mighty Peking Man,” but in his travels he encounters and falls in love with Ah Wei. Their dreary courtship consumes a large chunk of screen time, and the naughty highlight of this sequence involves Johnnie sucking on Ah Wei’s inner thigh to remove poison after she’s bitten by a critter. Considering what a lovely figure Kraft has, nice work if you can get it! Eventually, the movie slides into the usual King Kong plot elements, with the Mighty Peking Man subdued and transported to civilization, where he escapes and goes on a rampage that doesn’t end well.
          The Shaw Brothers clearly studied De Laurentiis’ movie, because the last third of The Mighty Peking Man features many shot-for-shot emulations of the De Laurentiis epic. Unfortunately, these rip-off images are delivered by way of atrocious costumes/makeup and cheap miniature work, so The Mighty Peking Man ends up feeling like a spoof of the 1976 King Kong—which, it should be noted, many thought was already unintentionally funny. It’s all enough to make the head spin, especially because The Mighty Peking Man features the same sort of disjointed dialogue dubbing one usually encounters in the Shaw Brothers’ chop-socky movies.
          One hopes that Tarantino felt compelled to re-release this movie for some comprehensible reason, whether it was a crush on Kraft or the memory of a fun afternoon spent laughing at the film’s incompetence, but in any event, watching The Mighty Peking Man is a bewildering experience. FYI, the picture has been marketed under many different names, including Goliathan, the title used for the picture’s first US release in 1980; Tarantino went with The Mighty Peking Man when he put the flick back into theaters (and into video stores) in 1999. Whatever.

The Mighty Peking Man: FREAKY


Cliff said...

If you're interested in a little more on the lovely Ms. Kraft:

Peter L. Winkler said...

Mighty Peking Man is much more entertaining than De Laurentiis' remake of King Kong.