J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Simian Verite: The Mighty Peking Man

It is hard to believe Dino De Laurentiis’s 1976 King Kong remake was such a huge hit in its day, but apparently it was. Identifying an opportunity, the legendary Runme Shaw rushed a Mandarin language “riff” into production, sacrificing time-consuming luxuries such as logic and good sense. The result is a ludicrously politically incorrect throwback to Toho’s mid-1960s kaiju-style King Kong movies, but with a Mandarin speaking blonde jungle pin-up queen thrown in for good measure. With the passage of time, it sure looks like the Shaw Brothers Studio got more right in Ho Meng-hua’s The Might Peking Man (a.k.a. Goliathon, a.k.a. etc., etc.), which screens during Anthology Film Archive’s recently launched Simian Vérité film series (trailer here).

Carl Denham would be disgusted by a scumbag promoter like Lu Tien. He hires heartbroken adventurer Chen Zhengfeng to lead his Himalayan expedition in search of a fabled giant simian, but then leaves him stranded, presumably to die, when they clash over Lu Tien’s management techniques. However, Chen is rescued by Ah Wei, an animal-skin-bikini-donning orphan, who is the apple of Ah Wang’s gargantuan gorilla eye.

After a year developing a romantic relationship with Ah Wei, Chen convinces her to come back to civilization with him, with Ah Wang in tow. Of course, as soon as Lu Tien gets his claws into the Ahs, he returns to his exploitative ways. Eventually, Ah Wang will feel put out by such shabby treatment—and you know what that means. Look out Hong Kong.

There are scenes of Chen and his expedition-mates firing into packs of stampeding elephants that you just can’t do anymore. Likewise, the way Ah Wei schleps around compliant leopards suggests the animals must have been drugged into the Age of Aquarius. Plus, Joyce Carol Oates would surely be outraged at the way the giant monkey is treated in the third act.

Regardless, Ho and special effects supervisor Sadamasa Arikawa (a veteran of the Godzilla franchise) pick-up admirably where Toho left off, leveling some of prime commercial district real estate. Given the square footage of Hong Kong, Ah Wang’s rampage is particularly devastating. Fittingly, he makes his last stand on the former Connaught Centre (now known as Jardine House), whose metal circular grid pattern provided plenty of accommodating footholds. At the time, it was the tallest building in Hong Kong, but now it does even crack the top one hundred.

The acting in Peking Man is what it is, but Ku Feng certainly came to play as the dastardly Lu Tien. As Chen, Danny Lee also keeps charging ahead like a trooper. Of course, it is pretty clear in each of her scenes why Ho and the Shaw Brothers cast Swiss-born Evelyne Kraft as Ah Wei.

Mighty Peking Man is just a ton of shameless fun. Don’t call it camp, because it is pure spectacle to behold. Highly recommended for fans of cult cinema and killer apes, The Mighty Peking Man screens this Monday (6/19) and the following Monday (6/26), as part of Simian Vérité at Anthology Film Archives.

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