Tuesday, November 7, 2006

SUPER INFRAMAN

I first recall hearing about SUPER INFRAMAN (JUNG-GWOK CHIU-YAN, 1975) on an episode of Siskel & Ebert’s SNEAK PREVIEWS when the flick was released to U.S. drive-ins (as INFRA-MAN) back in the mid-Seventies. I vividly remember a brief clip of the titular hero battling a bunch of bad guys in monster suits, and that Gene Siskel was sneering at this goofily giddy Hong Kong super-hero flick, while Roger Ebert sang its praises. I knew I had to see it.

Unfortunately, if it ever played theatrically in Central Maine, I missed seeing the ads in the newspaper. If I had seen such an advertisement, I know I would have begged my mom to take me to see it. Fortunately for her, I never did.

When the home video boom came along some years later, I saw the Prism VHS pre-record of INFRA-MAN in pretty much every video store I walked into. But, oddly, I never bothered to rent it. You see, I’d grown up a bit since the film’s U.S. run in 1975-76, and I thought I was above such things. (This was around the same time that I turned my back on cartoons, too.) But, by the early 90’s, I was once again happily indulging my inner child, and when I came across a used copy of the tape for sale in a South Florida video store for about $5, I bought it, took it home, and gave it a screening.
Man, what fun!

The story begins when the mysterious Princess Dragon Mom appears and threatens the world with her army of monsters and skeleton-men. (“Greetings to you, Earthlings, I am Princess Dragon Mom. I have taken over this planet. Now I own the Earth and you’ll be my slaves for all eternity.”) In response to this awesome threat, the governments of Earth cede all authority to the smartest man in the world, Professor Chang, and his Science Patrol – a group of athletic young Asian men dressed in Vegas-era Elvis-styled uniforms (one of whom would soon go on to gain exploitation film fame as “Bruce Le!”). Professor Chang persuades one of his blindly obedient operatives (future HK superstar Danny Lee of MIGHTY PEKING MAN and John Woo’s THE KILLER) to submit to extensive operations which turn him into the “bionic” super-hero, Infra-Man.

With his stylin’ new suit of red and silver, AM-FM equipped helmet, and newfound powers of flight, super kung fu, bionic backflips and “thunderball” fists (it is not revealed whether these include goldfingers – ha! Get it?), the invincible Infra-Man is unleashed upon the monstrous minions of Princess Dragon Mom, who are – let’s face it – simply overmatched.

Call it the ultimate lazy Saturday afternoon veg-out flick. Ninety minutes of kung fu fightin’, rubber monsters, mad science, cheesy special effects, and swingin’ Seventies sci-fi schtick… I mean, seriously – what more could anyone possibly want from a movie?

Produced by Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers studio, home of hundreds of kung fu flicks, SUPER INFRAMAN was an attempt to duplicate the success of Japanese super-hero shows like ULTRAMAN and KAMEN RIDER, which all featured garishly-costumed heroes who battled rubber-suited monsters. Shaw Brothers even imported some Japanese talent to help whip up their creature costumes. Ultimately, though, it was the studio’s (and the country’s) only full-fledged attempt at the genre… and that’s a shame.

For, while it may have been an imitation of Japanese super-hero shows, the final film had a unique Hong Kong vibe and distinct identity of its own.

Image Entertainment (as part of their Shaw Brothers collection) has now released SUPER INFRAMAN on a really nice widescreen DVD. The print and transfer are virtually flawless, with bright colors and sharp details, and it’s even cooler looking in its proper “Shaw Scope” aspect ratio. The film is presented in its original Mandarin with subtitles… and in the wonderfully comic book-ish English dub, which, for once, is actually preferable, as the Mandarin dialogue – if the subtitles are accurate – is rather straight-forward and dry. The English track is much more fun, with over-the top dialogue and goofy voices for the monsters.

Extras include a bunch of trailers for other Shaw Brothers films (in Mandarin without subtitles), an image gallery, and informative liner notes by August Ragone and Damon Foster.

BUY: The Super Inframan