Thursday, August 11, 2022

#2,798. The Mighty Peking Man (1977) - Spotlight on Hong Kong


What The Mighty Peking Man lacks in special effects wizardry, it more than makes up for in pacing and balls-to-the-wall action scenes, with a smattering of “WTF” thrown in for good measure.

The Shaw Brothers’ take on King Kong, The Mighty Peking Man follows expert guide Johnny Meng (Danny Lee) as he leads a team of profiteers, including promoter Lu Tien (Feng Ku), into the jungles of India. Their objective is to track down and capture a giant ape that has been terrorizing the area, in the hopes of bringing it back to Hong Kong and turning it into a moneymaking attraction. But the team must deal with other dangers as well, including stampeding elephants and hungry tigers, forcing all but Johnny to abandon the adventure and return home.

More determined than ever to find the gargantuan ape, Johnny continues his trek, during which he meets a beautiful feral girl named Samantha (Evelyne Kraft), who, after being stranded in the jungle years earlier when her parents’ plane crashed, was raised by the giant ape!

Johnny manages to convince Samantha to coerce the ape, which she calls “Utam”, into accompanying them back to Hong Kong, where Utam is chained and put on display in Hong Kong stadium. But when Lu Tien tries to rape Samantha, it sends Utam, aka the Mighty Peking Man, into a rage that might spell doom for the entire city!

The Mighty Peking Man wastes no time getting down to business, opening with an earthquake in the Indian jungle that somehow awakens Utam, who then attacks a small village. Again, the effects are only so-so; as with Toho’s early kaiju films, Utam is a guy in a suit who attacks miniatures, and a lot of the action comes courtesy of mediocre rear projection (which is prevalent throughout the movie).

Yet there’s an undeniable energy to this beginning sequence, as well as many others. Even when Utam isn’t on-screen, the elephant stampede and tiger attack keep the audience’s adrenaline pumping, and when the story shifts to Hong Kong, the movie rarely stops to take a breath (along with Utam destroying the city, the authorities desperately search for Samantha, who escaped Lu Tien and ran into the streets in the hopes of calming the wild beast). The Mighty Peking Man also provides some background on its main characters via well-staged flashbacks, from Johnny’s doomed romance with an ambitious singer to the plane crash that stranded a very young Samantha in the jungle.

Again, the effects are (for the most part) borderline laughable, and some of the “strategies” used by the military in the last half hour to end Utam’s reign of terror will have you scratching your head; the decision to pump thousands of gallons of gasoline into the water pipes of a skyscraper seemed especially foolhardy. There’s also a batshit crazy romantic jungle montage, where Samantha flirts with Johnny by picking up a leopard and swinging it through the air!

But odds are the insanity and lackluster quality of such moments will barely register with you, because as cheesy as the movie can be, The Mighty Peking Man is consistently thrilling and a hell of a lot of fun.
Rating: 8 out of 10

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