AKA XING XING WANG, GOLIATHON, COLOSSUS OF CONGO
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 90 min
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Hong Kong entrepreneur Lu Tien mounts an expedition, headed by hunter Johnny Feng, into the Himalayan jungles to find a giant ape. After several incidents, Johnny is left alone and eventually encounters Utam the Peking Man. He also discovers that Utam has been befriended by a blonde girl Samantha who has been abandoned in the jungle after the crash of her parents’ plane as a child. The two fall in love, but Utam has other ideas, as does Lu Tien, who sees money to be made….
Dubbing. Love it or hate it, it’s something that’s still a necessary evil. After some consideration [first world problems!] I opted to watch The Mighty Peking Man in its English dubbed form for a fuller bad movie experience – and it’s one of the worst sounding dubs I’ve ever heard. It’s not so much the voices, which aren’t too bad, it’s the sound recording, which makes it sound like the dub track was recorded in another country and then recorded onto the film soundtrack through a telephone receiver. Poor Danny Lee’s character Johnny Fenn – sometimes you can only make out what he’s saying by listening to the same line twice. It can’t be the fault of the great looking Blu-ray that the English version of the film sounds as bad as I remembered my bootleg video [come on, lots of us used to do it] to sound. In fact it seems like the dubbers made this movie even goofier than it originally was. I did check out just a few scenes from the Mandarin language version on the Blu-ray, and it seems that the term “peking man” is never used in the original version, the title of which translates as Gorilla King. Why the writer of the dubbed script decided that characters would constantly call the monster the Peking Man is bizarre considering that he doesn’t come from anywhere near Peking, nor is he anything like the Peking Man from anthropology, an early ape/human hybrid. O well. In any case, I’m sure that this ridiculous cross between Mighty Joe Young, King Kong, the Sheena Queen Of The Jungle comics [ah, that’s just reminded me – the Sheena movie is a terrible joy too!], and Tarzan Finds A Son would be absurd fun in any language.
This is the only one out of the three films in this triple bill that was made after the 1976 King Kong rather than before. Produced by martial arts movie kings Shaw Brothers, it was their biggest budgeted film so far, and took nearly a year to shoot. The company rarely made films abroad, but most of the animal footage for this one was filmed at Mysore, Karnataka, India. Of course the majority of the film was filmed in the Hong Kong countryside and the studio. The Hong Kong stadium was used for one scene. Supposedly Teruyoshi Nakano, who’d done the last few Godzilla movies, was initially doing the special effects, but his contract ran out and Sadamasa Arikawa took over. However, two Chinese men are officially credited with effects, and they are Li Yi-Chen and Hsu Ping-Kong. Strange. Assistant effects director Koichi Kawakita later went on direct most of the Heisei Godzilla films. It did well in the East and some countries got a version entitled Colossus Of Congo which had a different final two minutes where one character who originally died actually survived. It didn’t get released in the US though until 1980 when it was retitled Goliathon and had an attempted rape scene removed, not to mention having a poster which featured a man-like creature not looking ape-like at all. It was re-released in its uncut form in 1999 by Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures.
The filmmakers are kind enough to the viewer to treat him or her to the sight of its title character, plus an effects sequence, right at the very beginning. Lu Tien tells some others of something that happened 15 years ago near the Himalayas, and we witness an earthquake, preceded by thunder and lightning [!] partly destroy a village and free Utam the Peking Man, who celebrates his release by joining in the destruction, trampling huts, throwing boulders and wrecking statues. There’s a surprising amount of blood, but then this one isn’t really for the kids at all, especially with the afore mentioned attempted rape – though saying that I re-watched Back To The Future for the first time in ages the other day and said to myself that they’d never get the Biff/Loraine scene in the car into a ‘PG’ or even a ’12A’ today. The Mighty Peking Man is also slower paced than the other two films I’ve reviewed, with not a great deal of actual action until the final third. Therefore some young-uns may get bored, but fortunately for us adults there’s little chance of that happening as there’s so much to keep us amused, right from when a character says to Lu Tien: “I know an explorer here in Hong Kong! He just lost his girl! He wants to get away!” , and we then cut to Lu Tien finding Johnny Fenn drunk in a bar and telling him: “You’re going to lead our expedition into the Himalayan jungle! You’re the only one I trust!” – and Fenn agrees on the spot. Well, I suppose he is inebriated, but would you want someone like this leading your dangerous expedition?
Anyway, the expedition sets off, not in land-rovers as we might expect, but in two-wheeled ox carts, though that’s not nearly as silly as seeing the explorers climb a cliff not seemingly carrying any supplies, after which we then cut to a huge tent filled with sleeping cots which has been set up. There’s an elephant stampede which edits together India and Hong Kong footage quite well, though it leads to a terrible bit where someone is supposedly partly crushed by an elephant’ s foot and we cut to lots of that familiar Shaw Brothers blood on his stomach but no visible wound. Lu Tien soon shows what a bad guy he really is when he shoots someone who’s had his leg bitten off [just above the knee], but he’s also a coward who leaves for home with the others when Fenn is asleep. A flashback tells us how Fenn found his fiancee Lucy [I assume she’s not called that in the Chinese version] in bed with his brother because she wants to get ahead in show business. Never mind, he soon meets jungle beauty Samantha. ‘Actress’ Evelyne Craft may give the impression that her character is dumb because of her awful acting, but Samantha must actually be really clever considering that she only speaks by grunting but can read a diary written in English. When she’s bitten by a snake, Fenn sucks out the blood, and the way it’s shot and edited it looks like she’s really enjoying it – though she’s an odd sort anyway. She and Utam are clearly just friends, but the way she cosies up to him and at one point looks genuinely lustful is decidedly dodgy, unless the floozy is just leading him on. But I suppose that if a huge gorilla is able to fancy a tiny human woman, it’s the law of averages that the opposite could just happen too – isn’t it?
We get not one but two slow motion montages of the two falling in love to a cheesy music theme which gets vocals the second time round, though the second one consists largely of Samantha swinging her pet cheetah round and round. It’s so incredibly corny but you can’t help but love it. See what I mean though – kids may lose attention at some of this stuff but us adults will just want to keep on watching. And having an interracial romance was still quite daring for the time. It’s Fenn who gets her to leave with Utam, and Utam conveniently stops to fall asleep half way there so he can be chained down and transported by boat to Hong Kong. Lu Tien displays Utam in a stadium, and Utam seems to constantly see Fenn and Samantha at it, though it’s some fools beating his feet with long sticks which causes him to escape, after which it’s lots of kaiju-style fun. The back projection never gets any better, but the model work really isn’t bad considering that Utam isn’t nearly as big as Godzilla and his pals so the buildings would need to be reasonably detailed, though the vehicles never look like anything other than toys. The climax is very similar to that of the 1976 King Kong and tries to be even more emotional but fails partly due to Craft’s dreadful acting. And then we get a real downer of an ending which is almost out of place. SPOILER Our two innocents are killed off, but Fenn is just injured, and if any readers have seen this film, tell me how on earth Fenn survived being locked in the same floor with those exploding canisters? SPOILER END.
As with Ape and the Yeti, Utam seems to constantly change size. For goodness sake, didn’t any of the directors and special effects people in these films pay any attention to this aspect? Sometimes he’s the same size as a tree, other times he’s the same size as a skyscraper. Utam’s mechnical hands look thrown together, but the suit is reasonable, as is the facial design, though the way the mouth often slightly opens and closes is bizarre. It’s also funny how the eyes are sometimes huge and sometimes not, though this is because a prosthetic face was used for close-ups and it looks rather different to the mask. The performer inside doesn’t really try to bring much personality to his role. Of course Lu Tien, well played by Feng Ku, is the real monster – or is he? I can’t work out if Fenn is someone with really bad memory or a complete bastard, but he’s certainly an idiot. He convinces his new squeeze to leave her home, then a few words from his unfaithful ex and he’s making out with her. He quickly makes up with Lu Tien as if nothing had happened and lets him basically kidnap Utam. Star Danny Lee, who hadn’t long been seen in the even funnier Super Inframan, does his best to make Fenn likeable but doesn’t quite succeed. As for the incredibly well groomed Samantha, she’s the only major human in the film who isn’t an imbecile, but her animal costume keeps peeling off, especially when she runs – you can even see some of the glue peeling off at times [oh how I love Hi Definition]. I don’t know why they didn’t just have her naked considering the drooling exploitative nature of the piece. And actually, though I’ve previously knocked her performance, she did do nearly all of her own stunts and looks commendably calm when acting alongside various animals. Even Lee gets to wrestle a tiger. If the film was made today it’ll be all CG creatures.
Shaw Brothers veteran Meng Hua Ho does a solid job as direction. The score is credited to Yung-Yu Chen who is actually Frankie Chan [a familiar name to Hong Kong movie fans], and De Wolfe, which is actually the name of a collection of library tracks. Chan chose the pieces quite well, though there’s usage of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony in places, including the final moment which use the closing bars of the fourth movement. The Mighty Peking Man may not be quite as consistently bonkers as A.P.E., while parts of it are definitely better than both that film and Yeti: Giant Of The 20th Century, though it did have a substantially bigger budget. It’s still all over the place and there are plenty of bizarre things I haven’t yet mentioned like quicksand that sucks people in in two seconds – or the way that one minute Samantha parades around Hong Kong in her animal outfit and goes unnoticed, then a few scenes later when it’s on the news that she’s needed to try to calm Utam down, she’s suddenly pursued by a horde of men, women and children as if we’re watching a zombie flick. I seem to have got carried away writing this particular review because it’s a paragraph longer than my norm – but then this is a film about which there’s so much to say.
I’m rating these three films on entertainment value rather than quality. So: