Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Mighty Peking Man

Dating back to 1977, The Mighty Peking Man (AKA Xing Xing Wang) is a King Kong rip-off of the most shameless variety, however, don't condemn it just yet...  Hearing of a giant gorilla that supposedly lives on an Indian island, a group of wealthy Hong Kong businessmen set about capturing it in order to expand their ever-growing fortunes.  For this they acquire the services of a disillusioned, bummed-out anthropologist (Danny Lee), and set off for an adventure to locate the beast.  On the island they first find a scantily clad beauty who was left behind as a baby when her touring parents died.  Somehow she's managed to learn Mandarin in the process, as well as forging a relationship with the mighty gorilla.  She and Danny also develop the hots for one another, and before long the group have captured the ape and chained him to their boat (how they manage this part is conveniently skipped), taking him back to Hong Kong to be put on display like a gargantuan zoo animal.  Naturally, the ape breaks free and causes Godzilla-style havoc in the city.
Closely adhering to the plot of King Kong, the Shaw Brothers make a few changes to the story and process of bringing an oversized animal to the big screen, notably creating the ape by placing a man in a suit on miniature sets for much of the time (instead of time-consuming stop motion effects).  The girl of interest to the ape is not brought to the island either, as she was in the 1933 classic; here she's found almost as if she's a female version of Tarzan, and played by Russian blonde Evelyn Kraft she is almost too perfect for words.  She also possesses the amusing characteristic of not wishing to get clothed up (she does try on a few things on route to Hong Kong but promptly throws them out of the window in favour of her rag bikini!).  The monster gets angry enough to escape when he witnesses someone attempting to rape her (again, that never happened to Fay Wray!) and goes on the rampage that leads up to a climax that apes (apologies...) its inspiration.  The army, appearing with the sole intention of putting an end to all the mayhem regardless of morals, is led by a nasty westerner natch.  Aside from the prolonged frolicking love story element (which bizarrely features Kraft swinging around a leopard on her shoulders at one point), this is an action packed spin on the story, probably better than the 1977 US remake because it's a hell of a lot more fun.

88 Films have put out a dual edition Blu-ray/DVD of The Mighty Peking Man into a reasonably respectable package that preserves its original theatrical ratio in a clean, if a little grainless print.  Comparison between the two discs reveals, surprisingly, almost no difference in terms of raw detail, although contrast is noticeably different.  This may be an older master that's been supplied to 88, as I can't imagine something shot on 35mm in the seventies boasts maxed out detail on standard definition.  However, Blu-ray is not just about picture quality; it still wins out because the DVD is sped up for PAL, and the subtitles on Blu-ray are always more attractive to the eye than the blocky Spectrum-esque characters that plague DVD.  Audio is presented in two options, English or Mandarin (good English subtitles are available), and extras include a commentary by Bey Logan, and booklet that focusses on Danny Lee's cult career (written by Calum Waddell), with a little bit of a look at the film at hand here - apparently the booklet is limited to the initial print run.  The cover is also reversible and packed in a clear case (I actually really like the style of case they've adopted for the Asian Collection, which eschews the standard plastic header in favour of a full size cover).  Probably the best home video release of the movie itself, 88 Films continue to put out cult material of interest in the UK and extend their Asian range with a great addition.

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