Written By: Ken Hulsey
It is amazing how Asian movie makers have always had a love affair with "King Kong." Just after original film made it's debut in 1933, the Japanese movie studio Shochiku released "Wasei Kingu Kongu", a direct rip-off of the American film, which featured a man in a monster costume (pre-Gojira) running amok. A mere five years later, in 1938, the same Japanese studio would release "Edo Ni Arawarita Kingu Kongu", which featured the giant ape during the samurai era. I have been informed that both of these films are lost and very little is known about them.
Related: Konga's Revenge #1 - December 1968 Issue - Charlton Comics Group
A couple of decades later, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and director Ishiro Honda would aspire to create their own Japanese version of "Kong." That film would eventually turn into the classic monster epic, "Gojira" (Godzilla), after it was decided to change the title character from a giant 'fire-breathing' ape, to a dinosaur inspired by "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms."
Despite the success of "Godzilla", Tanaka and Honda would eventually get their chance to feature the giant ape in two films produced by Toho, the first, pitting the monster against their own creation in "King Kong vs Godzilla", then again in "King Kong Escapes." Despite popular belief to the contrary, "King Kong Escapes" was not a sequel to "KK vs G", but a live action movie based on a children's animated series about Kong that was a huge hit in Japan at the time.
That leads us to the 1977 Shaw Brothers film "The Mighty Peking Man", a film that was influenced by both "King Kong" and the Japanese monster films produced by Tanaka and Honda.
In 1976 Dino De Laurentiis had scored a big hit internationally with their re-make of "King Kong", which starred Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and Jessica Lange. The Hong Kong based Shaw Brothers Studio wanted to catch the wave of "Kong's" popularity by producing their own giant ape film. Not wanting to pay for the rights to use the name "King Kong" the studio created their own monster who was inspired by both the early human ancestor, the "Peking Man", and the legendary Yeti of Himalayan folklore.
Director Ho Meng Hua and special effects man Sadamasa Arikawa would borrow a page from Japanese legend Eiji Tsuburaya's book when it came to shooting scenes featuring the monster. The emulation of Tsuburaya's techniques in monster film making are unmistakable, low angle camera placement (to make the monster look huge), slowed down film speed (to produce the illusion of size and mass) and highly detailed miniature sets, are all his trademarks.
Despite having a ten-story tall Yeti in the film, the real star of "The Mighty Peking Man" is the Soviet born actress Evelyn Kraft, who plays Samantha, a young woman who was raised by the monster after her parents are killed in a plane crash. Director Ho Meng Hua knew exactly what he had in casting the actress, who previously had made a name for herself on German television, a sexy blond who would put male viewers in theater seats.
The director would use Kraft's sex appeal to the fullest. He dressed the actress in next to nothing, then had her run and climb her way around the jungle. I'm sure it didn't hurt that every once and a while the actresses breasts would slip out of her costume while she was running or if she mooned the audience when she climbed up a tree. That was what she was there for, eye-candy.
Honestly, "The Mighty Peking Man" is a Tarzan story sandwiched between a monster movie. Granted, the film begins and ends with the monster running amok, but the story in between is a different breed of film. After all is said and done, you walk away remembering the sexy Kraft, not the ten-story-tall Yeti.
That being said, I should point out that the "Peking Man" isn't a lame monster. He stomps the crap out some Indian villagers in the beginning of the film, and he destroys Peking at the end.
The effects are pretty good as well.
It is just a fact that Kraft's Samantha character gets more screen time and the story, for the most part, centers on her. You just can't get around it. Heck, even on the movie poster for the film, it her image that is the largest. The monster is only seen in the background.
A party from Hong Kong exploring the Indian side of the Himalayan mountains discover the eponymous Peking Man, a gigantic ape-like creature, along with a beautiful blond woman named Samantha (Evelyn Kraft) whose parents had been killed in a plane crash. Samantha was raised by Utam (the Peking Man) with nothing to wear but an animal-skin bikini (which she later continues to wear in preference to the type of women's clothing more common in Hong Kong). Like Tarzan, she has learned both to swing through the trees on vines and to communicate with and command the jungle animals, with the exception of a venomous snake who bites her on the inner thigh, requiring the hero, Johnny (Danny Lee), to suck out the poison. Shortly thereafter, they fall in love.
Johnny and his partners bring Samantha and Utam to Hong Kong, where Utam goes on display to the incredulous public. Johnny, meanwhile, reconciles with the girlfriend whose romantic betrayal with his brother had been the impetus behind his sudden decision to explore the Himalayas. Samantha sees this and runs off, nearly getting raped. Utam goes berserk and squashes the rapist, then runs off with Samantha to the tallest building he can find (namely the Jardine House), climbs it, and is burned/shot to death by several helicopters in a scene greatly reminiscent of the ending of King Kong, and falls off. Samantha is killed in an explosion during the conflict, and Johnny receives what appears to be a very minor gunshot wound to the lower leg.
Ever since it's release in 1977, "The Mighty Peking Man" has been rarely seen, until recently, by audiences outside Asia. In 1999 Quentin Tarantino re-released the film in American theaters. Despite some positive reviews, the film bombed miserably.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1954)(Toho)