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[whitespace] Mighty Peking Man
Redevelopment at Work: Mighty Peking Man puts his finishing touches on the downtown skyline.

'Mighty Peking Man' is an often inspired variation on a much filmed theme

By Richard von Busack

THE TALLEST, darkest leading man in the history of Hong Kong film is "Utan," a.k.a. Mighty Peking Man (exhibited in America under the even-better title Goliathon). The film is being rereleased with an eye to the midnight-movie crowd by Cowboy Films and Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder organization, and in some ways it's an improvement on its rival, Dino De Laurentiis' 1977 King Kong. Explorer Johnny Feng (Danny Lee) is sent to the Himalayas to capture the 100-foot-tall gorilla that's reputed to be afoot there. His backers are avid to mistreat the beast: "We'll put the stupid animal on show in Hong Kong! We could have him stuffed!"

Big talk, because Johnny's expedition flees in terror after a tiger attack. The explorer is rescued by the blonde Tarzanette Samantha (Evelyne Kraft), who gravely beckons Johnny to her cave--"Kumbaya," she says. After her parents' death, she was raised by the ape. Clad in the scantiest of buckskin bikinis, she lives in harmony with nature, if not the law of gravity. (Her precarious costume should distract the men in the audience from the day's headlines.) Samantha beckons her giant gorilla with what sounds like Robert Plant's howl at the beginning of "The Immigrant Song." The three set off for Hong Kong, despite the silent warning from the best actor in the cast, a leopard with whom Kraft seems to be on excellent terms. Unfortunately, the cat's name isn't in the credits. As the three depart, the leopard pleads with them to stay. Its melting eyes seem to ask, "Which is the real jungle? Here or that much-vaunted civilization of yours?"

In Hong Kong, the gorilla is welcomed as "Mighty Peking Man" and immediately clapped in irons and forced to perform in a tractor pull for a crowd of jeering, fruit-throwing spectators. Meanwhile, the vicious promoter assaults Samantha, who calls out for help from the gorilla. He rescues her and then rampages, right on schedule. Wide-screen, Godzilla-style stomping of some handsome model sets ensues, and bullets don't stop him. The press kit explains, "The thick layers of his dark brown hair could well serve as a bullet-proof jacket. It can, therefore, be seen that although Mighty Peking Man is an eerie wildlife and disaster movie, the director has not confined himself solely to creating fantasy. The logical sequence of retributive cause is convincing." Hell, it convinced audiences for both versions of King Kong, though the last shot of this gloriously kitschy cult film is sad and inspired: a night cityscape seen through a hole in a ruined skyscraper. As De Laurentiis once sagely noted, "When the monkey die, everybody cry."

Mighty Peking Man (Unrated; 100 mi.), directed by Ho Meng-hua, photographed by Tsao Hui-chi and Wu Cho-hua and starring Danny Lee and Evelyne Kraft.

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From the April 22-28, 1999 issue of Metro.

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