|| Review by
the late 1960s, Ultraman premiered on Japanese television,
debuting a character who would eventually go on to entertain
children all across Asia. Every week, the show's title character,
a red-and-silver costumed superhero, would do battle with
rubbery-looking monsters bent on earth's destruction. In
1975, the Shaw Brothers studio tried to capitalize on the
popularity of that long-running franchise by creating their
own superhero, a Chinese Superman they dubbed "Inframan."
The film never took off as a series, but the very mention
of the name might bring back fond memories for an entire
generation of Americans. The same year Super Inframan
was released in Hong Kong, producer Joseph Brenner bought
the international rights to the film, slapped on an English
dubbed track, and unleashed the film on American audiences.
Sometime in the mid-1980s,
I myself was exposed to this cult classic when it aired
on a local channel one fine Saturday morning. Although I
possess a genuine affinity for the film, the truth is I
haven't watched my dubbed copy in ages, so my memories are
a little rusty. Even so, I jumped at the chance to buy Celestial's
widescreen re-release of the film with the original language
track. But along with my enthusiasm came a tinge of dread.
Would this be yet another case of a childhood favorite that
didn't stand the test of time?
Super Inframan begins
with a rash of earthquakes and fires which endanger the
lives of Hong Kong's innocent citizens. The local authorities
soon learn that the devastation is a direct result of some
mysterious happenings at Mount Devil, a place that evil
subterranean creatures now call home. They've just woken
up after the last ice age, and boy, are they pissed! Luckily
these goons just so happen to speak fluent Mandarin so there's
no misunderstanding their intentions: these freaks are out
to take over the world with Hong Kong as the starting point.
But no horde from hell would be complete without a nefarious
leaderin this case Princess Elzibub (Terry Lau Wai-Yue),
a blond haired, whip-cracking dragon lady (literally!) who
will stop at nothing in her goal for world domination. With
horn-helmeted skull warriors and rubbery mutant lackeys
at her command, Princess Elizibub looks unbeatable.
Lucky for us, the earth
has the good Professor Liu Yingde (Wang Hsieh) on its side
as well as the courageous hero Rayma (Danny Lee) to combat
the awesome power of Princess Elzibub's forces. To save
humanity, Rayma undergoes a highly experimental procedure
that transforms him into Hong Kong's answer to the Six Million
Dollar Man, the bug-eyed, red-suited superhero known as
Inframan. In this cybernetic form, Rayma possesses such
powers as x-ray vision, flight, and the ability to enlarge
at will (insert joke here). With such impressive weaponry
as Thunder Fists, Lethal Kicks, and the Ultraman-like "Sun
Ja" move at his disposal, Inframan seems more than
ready to take down the monster terrorists. Plenty of "men-in-suits"
ass kicking ensues as Inframan dispatches his Godzilla-like
opponents one by one.
Meanwhile, the bad guys secretly
kidnap Rayma's compatriot, Zhu Min (Lam Man-Wai) and take
him back to their underground stronghold. The monsters use
the aptly named "Brain Drain" machine on Zhu Min,
which leaves the poor guy a pasty shell of his former self.
Now under the control of the enemy, Zhu Min attempts to
swipe the design plans for Inframan and blow the heroes'
base to shreds! At this point in the story, there's the
obligatory child endangerment subplot as a kid under the
care of Professor Liu's daughter Mei (Yuen Man-Chi) just
so happens to wander into an ominous-looking cave and gets
captured by the enemy. Of course, Mei starts looking for
the young boy, only to find herself taken hostage as well.
Luckily, Rayma/Inframan just happens to be in the neighborhood
and shows up to save their sorry asses.
Time after time, Princess
Elizibub sends various rubbery monsters to deal with Inframan,
but to no avail. Realizing that she's giving up home field
advantage, the evil Princess decides to play rough and kidnaps
the hapless Mei, demanding that Professor Liu must come
alone to Mount Devil or his precious daughter will die.
The doctor complies, and of course Inframan can't just sit
on the sidelines and wait things outwhich is just
what Princess Elzibub expects. Utilizing the stolen design
plans for our hero, she learns of Inframan's weaknesses
and sets a trap to kill him. But unbeknownst to the princess,
Inframan's got more than a few tricks left up his shiny
red and silver sleeve. Laser amputations, multiple decapitations,
projectile fisticuffs, and somersaults galore occur in the
rousing fight-filled finale.
So, did it hold up? If you
couldn't already tell, I found this movie to be pure fun
from the first frame to the last. I readily admit that my
enthusiasm for the film may be in large part due to its
connection with my childhood and, for all I know, audiences
unfamiliar with the character might think the whole experience
to be an exercise in tedium. But somehow, I suspect otherwise.
For those wanting to get in touch with their inner child,
Super Inframan amounts to nothing less than excellent
escapist entertainment. The plot is straightforward and
action-packed with not a trace of intentional campiness
to mar the proceedings. And for those with a sardonic sense
of humor, the film provides ample fodder for a Mystery
Science Theater 3000-style late night viewing with friends.
Part of the charm of the movie is that all the actors play
it extremely straight which makes for a variety of incongruous,
and therefore, unintentionally hilarious moments.
For those viewers more familiar
with Danny Lee's hardboiled cop roles in movies like The
Killer, this film (along with 1977's Mighty Peking
Man) serves as a rare gem on the actor's filmography,
long before he became known as "Lee Sir." And
though many might refer to Super Inframan as a blatant
Ultraman rip-off, this movie puts its Japanese predecessor
to shame largely due to the Hong Kong style of filmmaking
(i.e., action choreography). Whereas many films of this
ilk tend to delay the big hero fights until the final confrontation,
Super Inframan does everything it can to satisfy
the viewer's thirst for wall-to-wall action, as nearly every
scene is chock full of well-choreographed kung fu fights,
nifty motorcycle stunts, and/or loads of unsanitized violence
against monsters! To clarify, when Inframan starts delivering
a beatdown to his enemies, not only do blood squibs spurt
from the monsters' body, but they explode, too! In fact,
damn near everything in this movie is explosive!
While Super Inframan
predates Nintendo by almost a decade, the film shares much
in common with that company's side-scrolling video gamesand
not just in the nostalgia department. The given plotline
for nearly any of Nintendo's 8-bit relics was that the hero
fights the flunkies, beats some mini-bosses, fights some
more flunkies, faces the last boss, blows up the villain's
lair, and finally saves the girl. The End. Now that video
game style of filmmaking may not be a recipe for high art,
but it's no less entertaining when it's done right. And
in keeping with that mindset, I'm glad to report that Super
Inframan still delivers even after all these years.
(Calvin McMillin 2003)