Retro Film Report #15: The Mighty Peking Man
What sort of mad genius created The Mighty Peking Man? It is all over the place – combining Sheena with King Kong in a twisted psychotic fusion that follows no rules of logic, space or time whatsoever.
First, a little background: King Kong was remade in 1976, and Hong Kong’s biggest film studio, The Shaw Brothers Studio, decided to capitalize on the hype. They’d been around since the thirties (with a forced hiatus during WWII) and came back with a vengeance with post-war kung-fu movies. They were no lightweights in the Asian film business to be sure, so they knew there was money to be made by hitching a ride on the Dino DeLaurentis Kong remake.
But rather than make just a boring imitation by relying entirely on its Kong association, The Mighty Peking Man basically says "aww screw it" and goes to the absolute extreme in every manner possible. This film really tries to do it all (except have a cohesive story, good acting, and good special effects… minor details). There's tons of T&A sleaze, monsters action, elephant stampedes, and leopard-cobra battles to go around. There’s nary a dull moment, the action sequences are batshit crazy, and the director uses Evelyn Kraft’s “assets” to their fullest extent.
The ape is basically a rip off of King Kong, but the director obviously took a page out of the Godzilla playbook when filming the monster’s scenes. Oddly enough, the ape storyline is really secondary to the Sheena story. One gets the distinct impression that once the director got Kraft into her minuscule jungle bikini; he decided this would be the focal point of the entire movie.
But that's enough rambling, let's see for yourself what kind of crazy mess this movie is. It certainly got both Quentin Tarrantino and Roger Ebert (!) all hot and bothered - so, maybe it's worth taking a look.
The movie starts off with a bang as a gigantic gorilla goes medieval on a tiny Himalayan village. Much like Godzilla on Tokyo, this Kong wannabe makes these primitive villagers his bitches, toppling statues, stepping on huts, and raping their women..... okay, that last part isn't true, but you get my point. This Himalayan ape is a real problem!
Back in Hong Kong, some shady venture capitalists see an opportunity to make some bucks off the situation by capturing the beast.... and they know just the guy for the job - Johnny! It seems ol' Johnny boy has had some trouble with a dame, and is down on his luck drowning his sorrows in Saki.
Immediately, brash young Johnny agrees to the plan. He holds a press conference in India announcing to the world he will be capturing The Mighty Peking Man.
On a wagon train to the deepest depths of the jungle, the hunters traverse a formidable landscape... Good Lord, now it's an elephant stampede!
Yes, that's right. As if a rampaging giant primate wasn't bad enough, these peaceful natives have to contend with herds of wild elephants literally decimating there humble village. Those bad elephants - they must be shot!
Later that evening by the campfire, Johnny, in a moment of weakness, confides to his fellow explorers what exactly happened with him and his woman.
It seems Johnny had planned to marry Lin Chang, but came home early one day and.... well, you know how it goes. He caught is woman in bed with his TV producer brother, Charlie. Damn, that sucks. No wonder he wants to go kill things.
Holy crap, a bloodthirsty tiger! It's mutilating the natives one by one in a frenzy of bloody carnage! Look out! There's quicksand! I told you this movie was batshit crazy!
In all honesty, this looked like a real tiger attack. Something tells me this movie wasn't PETA approved.... and 10 to 1 some poor local got killed during the filming of this scene. Oh, well. Great art requires great sacrifice, I guess.
Anyway, Johnny wakes up the next morning to find that everyone got the hell out of there. leaving him stranded high 'n' dry.
Undaunted, he continues on his mad quest to capture the legendary ape. Look out behind you!
The Mighty Peking Man picks up Johnny and skips him like a stone across the jungle. Luckily there's a blonde jungle queen to take care of him. Unfortunately, she no speaka de English.
Who is this mysterious woman? Johnny is led to the wreckage of an airplane and conveniently discovers a diary which explains things a bit. Apparently, her plane went down in ball of flames and her parents were burned alive, while Samantha (that's her name) was spared. The Peking Man raised her and kept her safe all these years.
Wow, that Peking Man sure is a complex character. One minute he's murdering hundreds of innocent natives, the next he's adopting them and being all nurturing. The many sides of Peking Man.
Next comes the infamous cobra scene. I say "infamous" because it's been regarded as one of the most insanely gratuitous scenes ever. It begins with Samantha, out of nowhere, getting bit by a cobra and writhing around on the jungle floor in pain. (Amazing she was able to live all these years in the jungle without a problem, and now she gets a snake bite?)
Guess what Johnny does? You see, Samantha got bit on her inner thigh, and now our boy Johnny sucks out the venom. Holy Christmas.
Are you effing kidding me?
Peking Man supplies some herbs to heal Samantha, and now it's love makin' time. A song which could easily have been written by a Hong Kong Barry Gibb plays in the background, and the two lovebirds frolic in the jungle. Slow motion running, splashing in the waterfalls, playing with big predators,... this sequence has to be seen to be believed.
Then things take a dark turn as the Mighty Peking Man watches Johnny and Samantha screw...
Let's take a moment and stop right here. I want to discuss Samantha. She's been alone in the jungle since she was a toddler, right? Explain to me how in the hell it is possible that she looks like this? She's got lip gloss, eye shadow, mascara, .... WTF?
Even more inexplicable is what comes next: Johnny convinces Samantha to leave the jungle with him, and talks her into allowing The Mighty Peking Man to be captured! After one night of sweaty jungle sex, Samantha basically gives the finger to all her animal friends.
And, Johnny - you fucking idiot! What are you thinking? You've got this hot blonde who's willing to be your love slave. She knows her way around, so can provide all the food and shelter you need. Plus, you've got this giant perverted ape to protect you. Sounds like effing paradise! Now look what you've done, dumbass!
So, they load the big ape on a steam ship and shackle him with chains. Samantha doesn't like this and becomes wildly upset.
Fortunately, Johnny knows women, and offers her a present. She instantly forgets about the stupid ape. Screw Peking Man - what's in the box?
Turns out, Johnny, that sly devil, has bought Samantha a skimpy snakeskin top with leather hot pants! Of course, Samantha can't abide by that, and quickly strips and tosses the clothes out the window. Note: Despite all the sleaziness, there's actually almost no nudity in the film. It gets plenty close, but don't expect to see Samantha naked.... maybe there's a Director's Cut out there somewhere.
Soon, the ship docks in Hong Kong, and Johnny is quick to take Samantha (still in her jungle bikini) to the big city. Here, he introduces her to his brother the TV producer (the one who shagged his fiance), and Samantha gets a taste of the upscale life.
But Samantha should've never left India. Johnny, the bastard, is already getting back together with his old flame, and Samantha catches him in the act! This is becoming more like a soap opera every minute.... with a giant gorilla somewhere in the love triangle.
Samantha flees this vile pretender, and takes her chances in the big city. She stumbles upon a group of spectators watching the Once Mighty Peking Man being treated like total shit on television. The degradation of this once proud ape and her own sad situation proves too much for her bare.
But Samantha spots a sign depicting The Peking Man at the Hong Kong Stadium; she instructs a driver to take her there (this gal learns quick!)
She arrives at the end of a show. The crowds, satiated with monster action, are leaving the stadium as Samantha finds poor Utam (that's evidently what she calls him) in shackles being mistreated in a cage. For a moment, in spite of all the ludicrousness of the film, I actually felt sorry for these two.... and pissed off at dickhead Johnny.
Remember all those venture capitalists at the beginning of the film - those guys that abandoned Johnny? The head honcho of the group grabs Samantha, forces alcohol down her throat, then rips her top off! (still no nudity, BTW)
This dude starts beating her up and tries to rape her, but Utam catches him in the act and goes apeshit crazy (pardon the pun). He starts making like Godzilla and opens up a can of Peking whoop-ass on the whole damn city.
Utam literally picks up the rapist, throws him to the ground, and stomps on him!
But that's not the end of their worries. The military gets involved, and there ensues a pretty damn awesome 15 minute battle scene. Considering this was before CGI and it didn't have the budget like a modern day Hollywood production, I'm pretty impressed with this sequence. Tons of demolished buildings, exploding factories and planes, lots of military firepower.... unexpectedly awesome.
Utam climbs atop the tallest building in Asia, the Jardine House. The military agrees to cease fire for a moment to allow Samantha and Johnny (don't ask how he happened to show up) to talk some sense into the beast. But it's all for nothing. The military just can't keep their fingers off the triggers and continue to blast away, ultimately blowing up the a good portion of the building.
Poor Utam is set on fire and falls down in a giant fireball, while Samantha gets shot and dies in the massive explosion..... yes, you read that right the first time. Samantha is dead.
I could go on and on pontificating about the many themes at play here - the Beauty and the Beast scenario, the Primitive versus Technology element... but I'll refrain. I'll just say one last thing and be on my way...
IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT, JOHNNY, YOU ASSHOLE!!!