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Super Inframan
   |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |      



images from the world of Super Inframan.
AKA: Inframan, Chinese Superman, Infra Superman
Year: 1975
Director: Hua Shan
Writer: Runme Shaw
Cast: Danny Lee Sau-Yin, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Wang Hsieh, Yuen Man-Chi, Lam Man-Wai, Bruce Le (Huang Kin-Lung)
The Skinny: Shaw Brothers puts a Hong Kong spin on Japan's popular Ultraman character in this fun-filled, sci-fi flick starring a young Danny Lee.
Review by
Calvin
McMillin:

     In 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 leader—in 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 out—which 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 games—and 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)

Notes: • In the out-of-print English dubbed version, Princess Elizibub is called "Princess Dragon Mom".
• In perhaps the only overt wink to the audience, Bruce Le is cast as "Xiao Long," which is the real Bruce Lee's nickname and means "Little Dragon" in Mandarin.
• Some sources claim that Super Inframan is three episodes of a television show edited together.
Super Inframan was reportedly the direct result of a collaboration between Shaw Brothers, production manager Cai Lan, science fiction writer Ni Kuang, and the film's director Hua Shan.
• Press releases accompanying the film's released touted it as "The first superhero movie in China! The first movie promotion in Hong Kong using a hot air balloon! The first Shaw Brothers production using a storyboard! The first film in Hong Kong with so many monsters!" Whether these "firsts" are worthy of such enthusiasm is debatable.
12" and 3" tall action figures of Super Inframan and the Skeleton Soldier were created to accompany the DVD release of the film.
Besides the standalone VCD edition, there are also two boxsets: one contains the VCD and a 3' tall Koobo action figure (Super Inframan); the other contains the VCD and two Koobo action figures (Super Inframan and a Skeleton Soldier).
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video Limited
Widescreen
Mandarin and Cantonese Language Tracks
Removable English, Chinese, and Bahasa Subtitles
Trailers, picture gallery, poster art, behind the scenes pictures, biographies/filmographies, and production notes

images courtesy of Celestial Pictures

   
 
 
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