Mighty Peking Man (1977)
Stop me if you've already heard this one: a bunch of rugged-outdoors-types go traipsing off to a dangerous, exotic land in search of a legendary giant ape. The bete noir in question is soon located and, after a nominal amount of carnage, the silly buggers cart him back to civilization to get rich by exploiting his hairy butt in front of sellout crowds. Of course, it doesn't take long before the big fella decides that city life doesn't agree with him and goes...well...apes**t, bustin' loose and single-handedly implementing his own radical urban renewal program, and then...oh, so you're familiar with the tale, then?
Re-released by Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Productions, this wacky Hong Kong-Does-King Kong flick was first released in 1977, ostensibly as competition for Dino De Laurentis' King Kong remake which was released that same year. But the new Kong film tanked, and Mighty Peking Man, obviously tainted by the failure of its American counterpart, soon died of neglect. That's just how it goes sometimes - '77 was a great year for punk rock but a lousy one for giant-ape-on-a-rampage films.
Happily, MPM was miraculously revived last year on the midnight movie circuit to considerable acclaim and is now available at the better home vid outlets in your locality. Its new lease on life is the kind of cinematic Cinderella story that just doesn't happen often enough - who knows how many unplucked gems are lying stagnant in some distributor's vault right now? After all, let's not forget that The Rocky Horror Picture Show bombed abysmally during its initial theatrical release, as did It's A Wonderful Life.
Unlike many of my peers I'm not an expert on Asian action/thrillers. But whenever I do see them I'm almost invariably struck by their infectious sense of fun and their near-superhuman energy levels, and MPM goes above and beyond the call on both counts. Even with its junior-high script, cheapie effects and clumsy dubbing, it delivers a punch few of its Western contemporaries can match. And damn, this thing's LOUD! That's another weird trademark of Asian b-movies: it doesn't matter where you set the sound level, they're simply unsafe at any volume. The sound mix starts out in the red and slowly keeps cranking up until the climactic scene, a distorted ear-boxing of explosions, the tragic monster's roars and excerpts from Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony.
Of course, if you're looking for any of the original King Kong's epic vision, moody cinematography or Freudian subtexts, you'll be as disappointed as Elsa Lanchester on her wedding night - this one's just straight-up, relentless action from the get-go. Check your IQ at the door, stupid! And I promise you that I mean that in the best possible sense.