Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Mighty Peking Man (1977)(Shaw Brothers Studio)

Written By: Ken Hulsey

It is amazing how Asian movie makers have always had a love affair with "King Kong." Just after original film made it's debut in 1933, the Japanese movie studio Shochiku released "Wasei Kingu Kongu", a direct rip-off of the American film, which featured a man in a monster costume (pre-Gojira) running amok. A mere five years later, in 1938, the same Japanese studio would release "Edo Ni Arawarita Kingu Kongu", which featured the giant ape during the samurai era. I have been informed that both of these films are lost and very little is known about them.

A couple of decades later, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and director Ishiro Honda would aspire to create their own Japanese version of "Kong." That film would eventually turn into the classic monster epic, "Gojira" (Godzilla), after it was decided to change the title character from a giant 'fire-breathing' ape, to a dinosaur inspired by "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms."

Despite the success of "Gojira" (Godzilla), Tanaka and Honda would eventually get their chance to feature the giant ape in two films produced by Toho, the first, pitting the monster against their own creation in "King Kong vs Godzilla", then again in "King Kong Escapes." Despite popular belief to the contrary, "King Kong Escapes" was not a sequel to "KK vs G", but a live action movie based on a children's animated series about Kong that was a huge hit in Japan at the time.

That leads us to the 1977 Shaw Brothers film "The Mighty Peking Man", a film that was influenced by both "King Kong" and the Japanese monster films produced by Tanaka and Honda.

In 1976 Dino De Laurentiis had scored a big hit internationally with their re-make of "King Kong", which starred Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and Jessica Lange. The Hong Kong based Shaw Brothers Studio wanted to catch the wave of "Kong's" popularity by producing their own giant ape film. Not wanting to pay for the rights to use the name "King Kong" the studio created their own monster who was inspired by both the early human ancestor, the "Peking Man", and the legendary Yeti of Himalayan folklore.

Director Ho Meng Hua and special effects man Sadamasa Arikawa would borrow a page from Japanese legend Eiji Tsuburaya's book when it came to shooting scenes featuring the monster. The emulation of Tsuburaya's techniques in monster film making are unmistakable, low angle camera placement (to make the monster look huge), slowed down film speed (to produce the illusion of size and mass) and highly detailed miniature sets, are all his trademarks.

Despite having a ten-story tall Yeti in the film, the real star of "The Mighty Peking Man" is the Soviet born actress Evelyn Kraft, who plays Samantha, a young woman who was raised by the monster after her parents are killed in a plane crash. Director Ho Meng Hua knew exactly what he had in casting the actress, who previously had made a name for herself on German television, a sexy blond who would put male viewers in theater seats.

The director would use Kraft's sex appeal to the fullest. He dressed the actress in next to nothing, then had her run and climb her way around the jungle. I'm sure it didn't hurt that every once and a while the actresses breasts would slip out of her costume while she was running or if she mooned the audience when she climbed up a tree. That was what she was there for, eye-candy.

Honestly, "The Mighty Peking Man" is a Tarzan story sandwiched between a monster movie. Granted, the film begins and ends with the monster running amok, but the story in between is a different breed of film. After all is said and done, you walk away remembering the sexy Kraft, not the ten-story-tall Yeti.

That being said, I should point out that the "Peking Man" isn't a lame monster. He stomps the crap out some Indian villagers in the beginning of the film, and he destroys Peking at the end.

The effects are pretty good as well.

It is just a fact that Kraft's Samantha character gets more screen time and the story, for the most part, centers on her. You just can't get around it. Heck, even on the movie poster for the film, it her image that is the largest. The monster is only seen in the background.

A party from Hong Kong exploring the Indian side of the Himalayan mountains discover the eponymous Peking Man, a gigantic ape-like creature, along with a beautiful blond woman named Samantha (Evelyn Kraft) whose parents had been killed in a plane crash. Samantha was raised by Utam (the Peking Man) with nothing to wear but an animal-skin bikini (which she later continues to wear in preference to the type of women's clothing more common in Hong Kong). Like Tarzan, she has learned both to swing through the trees on vines and to communicate with and command the jungle animals, with the exception of a venomous snake who bites her on the inner thigh, requiring the hero, Johnny (Danny Lee), to suck out the poison. Shortly thereafter, they fall in love.

Johnny and his partners bring Samantha and Utam to Hong Kong, where Utam goes on display to the incredulous public. Johnny, meanwhile, reconciles with the girlfriend whose romantic betrayal with his brother had been the impetus behind his sudden decision to explore the Himalayas. Samantha sees this and runs off, nearly getting raped. Utam goes berserk and squashes the rapist, then runs off with Samantha to the tallest building he can find (namely the Jardine House), climbs it, and is burned/shot to death by several helicopters in a scene greatly reminiscent of the ending of King Kong, and falls off. Samantha is killed in an explosion during the conflict, and Johnny receives what appears to be a very minor gunshot wound to the lower leg.

Ever since it's release in 1977, "The Mighty Peking Man" has been rarely seen, until recently, by audiences outside Asia. In 1999 Quentin Tarantino re-released the film in American theaters. Despite some positive reviews, the film bombed miserably.

Over the past year the film has been shown on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) cable network.

Xing xing wang (1977)
Aka: "The Mighty Peking Man" - Hong Kong (English title), International (English title), USA (DVD title)
"Colossus of Congo" - Europe (English title)
"Goliathon" - USA
"Mighty Peking Man" - USA (reissue title)

Director:Meng Hua Ho
Writer:Kuang Ni (writer)


Evelyne Kraft as Ah Wei
Danny Lee as Johnnie Fang (as Li Hsiu-Hsien)
Feng Ku as Lu Tiem
Wei Tu Lin as Chen Shi-yu
Norman Chu as Ah Lung (as Shao-Chiang Hsu)
Hang-Sheng Wu as Ah Pi
Theodore Thomas (as Ted Thomas)
Steve Nicholson
Yao Hsiao as Huang Tsui-hua
Ping Chen as Lucy

See Also: Mothra (Mosura)(1961)(Toho) / King Kong vs Godzilla (Kingukongu tai Gojira)(1962)(Toho) / Rodan (Sora no daikaiju Radon)(1956) / Gigantis The Fire Monster (Godzilla Raids Again) / Godzilla: King Of The Monsters

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Burbank, CA – March 29, 2010 – Legendary Pictures announced today that they will develop and produce a new film based on Toho Company’s famed GODZILLA character. Through the terms of the agreement, Legendary Pictures has acquired the rights to produce a movie inspired by Toho’s Godzilla, a franchise the Japanese company created and has nurtured for over fifty years.

Toho’s GODZILLA franchise boasts one of the most widely recognized film creatures worldwide, resulting in a series of books, television programs, video games and more than 25 films worldwide. Legendary intends to approach the film and its characters in the most authentic manner possible. The company will, in the near future, announce a filmmaker to helm the film for an intended 2012 release. The film will fall under the company’s co-production and co-financing deal with Warner Bros. Toho will distribute the film in Japan."

"Godzilla" is coming back -- this time, with Legendary Pictures taking the lead, co-producing and co-financing with Warner Bros. for release in 2012.

Legendary announced Monday it had obtained rights to the iconic monster character from Japan's Toho Co., which has overseen more than 25 "Godzilla" films. Toho will release the pic in Japan.

Legendary said it's planning to announce a director shortly.

In addition to Legendary, producers on the new film will be Dan Lin, Roy Lee and Brian Rogers. Yoshimitsu Banno, Kenji Okuhira and Doug Davison will exec produce.

"Godzilla is one of the world's most powerful pop culture icons, and we at Legendary are thrilled to be able to create a modern epic based on this long-loved Toho franchise," said Thomas Tull, Chairman and CEO of Legendary. "Our plans are to produce the Godzilla that we, as fans, would want to see. We intend to do justice to those essential elements that have allowed this character to remain as pop-culturally relevant for as long as it has."

Legendary noted the film will fall under its co-production and co-financing deal with Warner Bros. Legendary's productions with Warners have included "The Dark Knight," "300" and "The Hangover."

Speculation about a new "Godzilla" has been active since last summer. The Bloody Disgusting web site reported in August that the project was in development.