Well, well. My first real Shaw Brothers exploitation film. You can see the executives meeting to greenlight it: “Right, guys, let’s make a King Kong movie, but use the Connaught Centre, not the Empire State building. Using scale models and a guy in a big suit, like Godzilla. And some location shooting in India, with tigers and elephants. And a blonde wearing a square foot of animal skins, who swings through the trees on lianas. That’ll really sell tickets.”
And so, a great film is born. Or, if not a great one, a pretty entertaining mishmash of popular genre flicks that holds your attention for a couple of hours.
Our story is pretty predictable and rather razor-thin: a shady entrepreneur (Ku Feng) and his band of hangers-on travels to India to try and capture a massive (seven stories high!) gorilla that’s been reportedly destroying villages in the Himalayas. He takes with him a young disheartened adventurer (Chen, played by young Danny Lee) to lead the expedition. They don’t succeed in finding the gorilla, but the local wild animals take a terrible toll on their party, with one of them losing a leg to a tiger (anyone remember the Monty Python sketch?), and a host of other misadventures. Chen is left on his own, while the others return empty-handed.
Left on his own, Chen is required by monster movie convention to encounter the beast he’s been looking for immediately. And so he does, along with a blonde bombshell named Ah Wei (played by Evelyn Kraft), who has an unexpected connection with the seven-story tall gorilla. Events lead them to back to Hong Kong, and a host of characters who complicate things considerably. Conveniently, Ah Wei speaks Mandarin, despite being a Western woman who’s lived in the jungles on India since she was a small child.
This is a film that’s dated quite a bit by modern standards, with wild animals looking quite obviously projected on to screens in the background in many tense moments. It doesn’t look quite as terrible as some of Dragon Swamp, which uses the same technique, but it doesn’t look as cleanly done as (for example) most of the effects in the much older Godzilla to me, either. Evelyn Kraft is there to provide a lot of scantily clad flesh for the men in the audience, and she does a lot of it. Occasionally even running in slow motion, or climbing trees while being photographed from below. This is the exploitation bit, people. Shaws have her rather impressively do a lot of her own stunts, though, and quite a bit of animal handling, even pirouetting around with a cheetah wrapped around her shoulders. Danny Lee does a decent job as our conflicted adventuresome lead, and the romance between him and Kraft doesn’t seem at all forced.
Ku Feng plays an excellent villain, exploiting the Mighty Peking Man for all he’s worth, and being thoroughly unwholesome in other ways, too. Our star, the enormous gorilla, is given more range than Godzilla, even having a few emotional moments in the film. He’s not really developed as too much more than just a huge stomping creature being taken advantage of, though, despite his relationship with Ah Wei. Maybe that’s all he needs to be, too.
Though it’s uneven (the first twenty minutes rocket past) and quite dated, The Mighty Peking Man is great fun as a popcorn B-movie and a look into popular filmmaking of times past. It doesn’t have an agenda to push or an incredibly meaningful underlying message, but it’s good fun.