The Mighty Peking Man ~ 1977, Meng Hua Ho
The Mighty Peking Man is sort of like a Chinese King Kong, but with some Tarzan mixed in. It was produced by The Shaw Bros. studio, so it’s a predictably solid production with great sets and a lot of charm. That being said, this film came out the same year that Star Wars did, so take a look and you’ll see it’s not exactly cutting edge.
The Plot: Reports of a bizarre, gigantic ape have come filtering out of The Himalayas. From Hong Kong, a team is organized by wealthy, money grubbing types, eager to drag Peking Man (or so the ape has come to be called) back for display, dead, or alive. Our hero is a capable hunter called Johnnie, who is offered the job of leading the expedition to find the creature, a job he accepts, because he recently walked in on his girlfriend in bed with his brother, and so now he don’t give a ‘f’ about nothin’.
The hunting party undergoes many trials while hunting for Peking Man, who is like, impossible to find even though he’s friggin’ giant, and eventually, they return home defeated, leaving Johnnie behind after he becomes separated from the group. Little do they know, however, that Johnnie would soon find the beast, as well as Samantha, a beautiful white girl who was left orphaned in the jungle after a plane crash and subsequently raised by Peking Man. She is totally buds with all of the jungle animals, and it is with her help that Johnnie survives. Soon, the two are in love, and Johnnie persuades her to travel back to Hong Kong with him, and also to bring Peking Man, who would absolutely be shackled up and jeered at for the rest of his miserable days on Earth, but he leaves that part out. They make the trip, and things are okay, until they aren’t. The film ends with a giant monkey rampage, which was really the only possible outcome.
So, what’s going on here… Firstly, the movie makes excellent use of thematic repetition to tell a story. The best example of this is how people are constantly walking in on the person they love in the arms of another, and how that inevitably pushes the story into darker and darker territory. First, Johnnie walks in on his brother in bed with his girlfriend, which is the catalyst for him going into the jungle. At the end of the movie, Johnnie and said ex-girlfriend are in the throws of potential reconciliation, at which point Samantha, his new jungle GF, barges in and flips out. That’s sort of what kicks off Peking Man’s tantrum. I’ve saved the best for last, though, around the halfway point, we see that Peking Man is actually in love with Samantha (how’s that gonna work, PM?) And he has his giant, simian heart broken when he peeks into her little cave only to see her gettin’ down to business with Jonnie.
This is done to further emphasize the tragic element in Samantha’s unwitting betrayal of Peking Man. The moral here is pretty clear- if what you have is good, keep it, don’t mistreat it, and for heaven’s sake, don’t go running into the arms of whatever fancy hotshot rolls into town. That’s not fair to the one you’re with. That’s treating him/her like James Marsden in X-Men. Or James Marsden in Superman Returns. Or James Marsden in The Notebook. Or James Marsden in Enchanted…. Or James Marsden in… Is James Marsden married in real life? If I were him I’d be nervous. Any man his wife mentions by name is trouble brewing.
Another point that no written assessment of The Mighty Peking Man can fail to explore; Samantha’s wardrobe. Never before has any garment lingered so tenuously on the boundary of a wardrobe malfunction for so long. As a matter of fact, nothing else is the movie captures suspense the same way her left boob does. It transcends human sexuality and becomes less about seeing a woman’s boob, and more about “how in the hell can that possible stay on like that?!?” You will be on the edge of your seat, shaken with disbelief that so shabby a caveman bra could manage to stay in place under such conditions, and in fact, eventually, even this miraculous contraption finally succumbs to the most basic laws of physics, and the inevitable nip slip becomes a reality. Never before has a skimpy top made such a valiant effort to suppress a jungle boob, though, but in the end, those 1977 pasties just couldn’t hack it.
Later in the film Johnnie explains to Samantha that her hyper-sexualized mystery top just isn’t appropriate to wear in mixed company, so on their way back to Hong Kong he presents her with a new outfit; some sort of weird, leather Crocodile Dundee as a hooker costume. It’s the trashiest thing I’ve ever seen, and I own Frankenhooker on BluRay. Even without any idea of what is acceptable clothing for a young woman, Samantha can only handle wearing it for about thirty two seconds, and then she chucks it out of a porthole.
There’s still other fun stuff to be discussed, but the single best thing that The Mighty Peking Man has going for it is that even though it is technically a kaiju film, it manages to be a lot of fun and stays interesting, even without spending that much time with our giant monster. The greatest challenge of the Kaiju movie is making you give a shit about its human characters, who 99% of the time are an unwanted necessity put there to hold the narrative together. The Mighty Peking Man cheats a little bit, it’s Tarzan-Woman subplot jazzes up the time we spend with our humans so successfully that Peking Man himself becomes secondary to the story of Johnie and Samantha. Another important reason that works? Because it’s well written. That, more than anything else, is why The Mighty Peking Man is so enjoyable, and why is stands out against the crowd as being an especially memorable little grindhouse kaiju flick.