31 Monsters #29: The Mighty Peking Man
I pick on Roger Ebert from time to time. One reason I do so is because of his maddening inconsistency. Another is because his more recent reviews have had a tendency to revel in their own cleverness. Mostly, it’s because if I picked on Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post, no one would care, not even me.
Don’t get me wrong: I love The Mighty Peking Man as well. The reason that I know Ebert is quoted on the DVD cover is that I own a copy. It’s just that I wish the Roger Ebert who was enchanted by the cheesy charms of the Peking Man could call the one who panned Speed Racer and the recent Star Trek reboot.
However, I come here not to bury Roger Ebert, but to praise The Mighty Peking Man. This Hong Kong monster mash was produced by the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio in order to cash in on the fever of 1976′s King Kong remake.
Kong was the most obvious influence on this story of a giant ape who got on civilization’s bad side. However, it also recalled Mighty Joe Young and female Tarzan knock-offs such as Sheena through the inclusion of a jungle girl who was best friends with the beast.
An expedition to India in search of the legendary Peking Man ran afoul of various jungle dangers which really have to be seen to be believed. Even then you’ll be running back the DVD just to make sure you really saw what you thought you saw.
First up was an elephant stampede enlivened by a scene in which a clearly rear-projected trained elephant obediently lay down in response to being “shot.” Even better was the following attempt at cinematic gore, involving a fake elephant foot and a bucket of red paint.
Next came a tiger attack that had me scrambling for the DVD remote. An immobile tiger head was pushed toward a victim’s leg, then pulled back to reveal that the entire lower half of the limb had simply disappeared.
Things got better (from a certain point of view) once the Peking Man and his jungle girl playmate were introduced. Samantha (the girl, not the ape) was left orphaned in the wilderness after a plane crash, and had grown into a majestically made-up and coiffed young woman with a remarkably precarious bikini top. Utam (the ape, not the girl) was released from his underground imprisonment after an earthquake, and wildly varied in height according to the needs of the filmmakers. Somehow, the two became roomies.
That woman/ape bond was threatened once Johnnie, the expedition leader, saved Samantha from a venomous snake bite and the two fell in love. They engaged in a slow-motion romantic montage that not only veered toward the absurd, but accelerated at full speed. The best moments came when Samantha pulled her pet leopard into the happy dance.
I can’t imagine my Maine Coon putting up with this, much less a fully-grown jungle cat. I suspect heavy sedation.
Somehow, Johnnie managed to talk Samantha and Utam into accompanying him back to civilization. Yes, everyone involved thought that this would turn out well.
To absolutely no one else’s surprise, Johnnie’s partner immediately put Utam on display. The primate (whose inexplicable power, you may recall, was to become as big as he needed to be for any given scene) was forced to battle an entire squadron of bulldozers.
Then the unscrupulous businessman went too far and–in an unnecessarily nasty detail for this sort of film–attempted to rape the jungle girl. This, good sirs, simply would not stand. There was nothing left for Utam but a hastily-planned rampage.
Things didn’t go well for anyone except for Johnnie, who got off quite easy given that he dumped Samantha for his old girlfriend the moment he returned to the city. Both Utam and his blonde goddess went up in a fireball as the Hong Kong military detonated the building upon which they stood. This time, it was Johnnie killed Beauty and the Beast.