Robin’s Underrated Gems: The Mighty Peking Man (1977)

On this week’s Shouts From the Back Row podcast about our favourite movie monsters, we mentioned a few monsters that just happened to be both terrible and awesome at the same time. Let’s face it, if you get a kick out of watching bad movies, the most fun type of bad movie to watch is often the monster movie and it usually seems that the worse they are, the more charm they have. I almost wondered if I should write one of my rare editions of “Robin’s Underrated Crap” on this particular film, but The Mighty Peking Man falls into the category of such classics as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Troll 2, where the movie is so entertainingly bad that it’s impossible to hate. The one thing a classic bad movie should never do is commit the cardinal sin of being boring and The Mighty Peking Man more than succeeds on that front. The film was originally made in 1977 by Shaw Brothers Studio, which was the largest movie production company in Hong Kong at that time. The Mighty Peking Man originally got a brief run in North America under the title, Goliathon, but the film wound up getting a lot more exposure in 1999 when Quentin Tarantino decided to give it a theatrical and home video re-release as part of distribution company, Rolling Thunder Pictures, which he has used to introduce modern audiences to some of his favourite B-movies of yesteryear, such as Switchblade Sisters and Detroit 9000. Well, let’s just say that if this movie was good enough for Quentin Tarantino, it’s good enough for me. Mighty Peking Man was obviously made to capitalize on Dino De Laurentiis’ 1976 remake of King Kong, which was a stinker in its own right. Even though the King Kong remake is a much better film from a technical standpoint, I’d always choose to watch The Mighty Peking Man in a heartbeat.

The Mighty Peking Man is a gigantic ape-like creature (whose actual size seems to change numerous times throughout the film) who is unearthed by a massive earthquake in the Himalayan mountains. An expedition is immediately put together to go after the creature by the greedy entrepreneur, Lu Tiem (Ku Feng), and they are joined by a hunter named Johnny, who recently caught his girlfriend in bed with his brother and just “wants to get away”. Even though he is credited under the name “Li Hsiu-Hsien”, you may recognize the actor playing Johnny as Danny Lee, who did a ton of B-movies for Shaw Brothers Studio during the 1970s before finding stardom by teaming with Chow Yun-Fat in such action classics as City on Fire and The Killer. Anyway, Johnny is soon separated from his party and is attacked by the Mighty Peking Man until he is saved by a blonde girl named Samantha (Evelyne Kraft), who comes swinging onto the scene on a vine like Tarzan. It turns out that Peking Man rescued Samantha when she was a young girl after a plane crash in the jungle killed her parents. Johnny and Samantha soon develop a romance, but it’s obvious that Peking Man has a strong affection for his blonde jungle friend and is bottling up a jealous rage. The villainous Lu Tiem eventually captures Peking Man and takes him back to Hong Kong in order to make a fortune by displaying him to the public. The enraged Peking Man eventually breaks free from his shackles and goes on a massive rampage through Hong Kong. He is soon cornered by the military after climbing to the top of a giant building. Hmmmm, does any of this sound familiar to you at all? Yes, it is a completely shameless ripoff of King Kong, but The Mighty Peking Man is also completely irresistible fun.

Now, obviously, this is not going to be a “Robin’s Underrated Gems” column that examines the merits of the film in question, so instead, I would like to list ten random things about Mighty Peking Man that I found particularly amusing and priceless.

1. A flashback shows the scene where Johnny catches his girlfriend in bed with his brother, and the brother’s response is: “It’s not what you think! It started out as a joke!”. Um… what the hell does THAT mean?!

2. Of course, Mighty Peking Man does what all classic bad movies do: fills time in order to pad the film out to feature length. It does this a lot during the first half hour by having the expedition run into a bunch of non-Peking Man-related disasters that have nothing to do with the main story, including a random elephant stampede. It’s quite amazing how quickly this one elephant goes down after Johnny blasts it with a tiny six-shooter (which also happens to fire eleven shots).

3. After that, the group is attacked by a vicious tiger, and some of them seem to think that the best way of dealing with it is to leap into quicksand!

4. In a movie this ridiculous, it’s funny to think that the most physics-defying element is Samantha’s animal skin bikini costume. Since her bikini top does not have a left shoulder strap, it is an absolute miracle that her left nipple does not pop out of her top at any point! But then, the movie does give you its fair share of glimpses at the tape holding everything in place.

5. The most jaw-droppingly hilarious sequence in the film is this ridiculously out-of-place slo-mo romantic musical montage between Johnny and Samantha, which features Samantha swinging a very uncomfortable-looking leopard around on her shoulders!

6. When Samantha is taken to Hong Kong, she refuses to adapt to traditional women’s clothing or footwear, and decides to walk through public places barefoot while still wearing her animal skin bikini. What’s strange is that nobody else in Hong Kong ever stares at her or seems to find this jungle girl the least bit unusual! At one point, Samantha asks a random couple on the street to give her a ride to go see the Peking Man, and they do so without hesitation!

7. I have to give Lu Tiem credit for one thing: in King Kong, the greedy promoter pretty much just wanted to have Kong stand on a platform for several hours, but Lu Tiem puts on a show inside a stadium where Peking Man has a tug of war with some monster trucks (which, of course, look like toy Tonka trunks)! And while the promoter in King Kong was allowed to survive, at least Lu Tiem gets a worthy comeuppance at the bottom of Peking Man’s foot.

8. During Peking Man’s rampage, Johnny tells the police that the only way to stop him is to put an APB out on Samantha. The following exchange is actually delivered with a straight face:

“We’ve got to mount a search. The only thing I know is that she’s dressed entirely in animal skins. That ought to narrow it down a little.”

“Only animal skins? She’d be damned easy to find then!”

9. The hunt for Peking Man in Hong Kong is lead by the most repetitious military commander in history, who actually says into the radio: “All units, you are to concentrate your fire… and also intensify it! Anything to kill Peking Man. Anything to kill this Peking Man. Kill the Peking Man by any means you can. Kill the Peking Man by any means, that’s an order!”. Gee, thanks, I’m sure they’d forgotten what they were supposed to do.

10. Of course, during the climax, Peking Man grabs a few soldiers and throws them off the top of the building. However, in the world of this movie, being thrown to your death from the top of a skyscraper does not equal being splattered on the sidewalk, but merely a mildly uncomfortable landing.

So what else can I say? The Mighty Peking Man contains all the usual traits you’d expect to find in a bad Asian monster movie, with terrible dubbing, laughable dialogue, phoney special effects and a very unconvincing title monster. However, it does move at a quick pace, contains plenty of action, and delivers more laughs than a dozen comedies put together. The use of CGI has taken a lot of the heart out of many of the movie monsters we see today, and like Roger Ebert stated in his review, phoney effects are sometimes a lot more fun than the perfect, sophisticated special effects of Hollywood blockbusters. Mighty Peking Man got its re-release only a year after the much-maligned Godzilla remake came out, and many people commented on how Peking Man contained a lot of the goofy charm that Roland Emmerich’s big-budget film lacked. Sadly, The Mighty Peking Man grossed very little money during its theatrical re-release and pretty much spelled the end of Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures. However, even though it is definitely not for everyone, Mighty Peking Man represents the perfect midnight movie that you can have a blast watching if you see it with the right audience. It is the perfect representation of a monster movie that is both terrible and awesome at the same time.

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