The team & guests cover Shaw Brothers classics from Arrow Video’s Blu-ray box set!
Cinapse has always been, and will always be, about cinematic discovery and discussion. Our Shawscope Volume One: Round Table Reviews column is, therefore, a watch project allowing our team, and guests, to work our way through this phenomenal 12 film Blu-ray box set from Arrow Video. These capsule reviews from a variety of writers are designed to give quick glimpses of our thoughts on all of these films as we discover them for ourselves. Some of us are experts and some of us are new to the world of Shaw Brothers studio and kung fu cinema in general. All of us are excited for the adventure.
The Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers Studio cranked out a staggering number of feature films over its lifetime. With worldwide influence continuing to this very day, their contributions to cinema are myriad and undeniable. But with the vast output they generated, it can be hard for modern audiences to wade into their catalogue and find the diamonds in the rough. Fortunately, Arrow Video has curated their first Volume of 12 titles; a phenomenal way to wade into the deep waters of the Shaw Brothers. Beyond just capsule reviews, our team will also offer thoughts on the curation of the set and bonus features found within. Watch along with us, join us in the comments, or reach out to us on social media (linked below) if you’d like to submit your own contributions!
As much as I adore kung fu movies, I was very excited to check out The Mighty Peking Man as a bit of a break from the four films we’ve explored thus far in the Shawscope Volume 1 box set. A sort of exploitative and sexed up kaiju/King Kong knock off, The Mighty Peking Man is most definitely a departure from the grace, nobility, and foibles of martial heroes.
Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t a particularly positive departure. Look, I enjoy just about every King Kong I’ve ever seen, from the original on up to the bombastic Godzilla Vs. Kong. But it’s the heart and character work and yes, even sometimes the spectacle, that really get my heart racing in giant monster movies. It isn’t really a guy in a suit crushing miniatures. And I have to be honest that while I appreciate lots of kaiju properties, they’re not always my favorite to actually watch.
There’s no denying the occasional titillation at the gorgeous Evelyne Kraft and her seedily scant wardrobe, or the wildly unsafe filming with live animals, or the hilarious slow motion montages set to sappy love music. Entertainment was achieved. But even for its time this wasn’t executed with particularly effective special effects, and the cheapness and blatant knock-off quality didn’t help me get engaged in the flimsy story being told. I ultimately felt this was empty spectacle bolstered by some memorable exploitative elements. — Ed Travis
Some context may be required to appreciate Mighty Peking Man as a movie for its time. 1976 brought Dino De Laurentiis and John Guillermin’s modernized, awkwardly horny (and thoroughly enjoyable) remake of King Kong, featuring Jessica Lange in skimpy animal skins and Jeff Bridges as a hunky environmentalist who finds himself contending with unexpectedly hairy competition in an unusual love triangle. The film was a massive hit, and knockoffs/parodies including South Korea’s Ape and Europe’s Queen Kong soon followed.
Shaw Studios joined the party with Mighty Peking Man, even further emphasizing the sexy shenanigans with a radiant Evelyne Kraft barely contained by an animal skin bikini, and handsome superstar Danny Lee as the male lead.
The film’s a blast, sometimes genuinely great and sometimes enjoyably campy. The jungle-set part of the adventure is full of wild (and perilous looking) animal stunts, and it’s an interesting twist that the “Kong” relationship leans more paternal than romantic. Like the ‘76 Kong, corporate greed is the villain, embodied by a smarmy idiot who gets his comeuppance when the action moves back to modern society – in this case, Hong Kong.
Like many among the film’s US audience, I was introduced to it by its home video release under Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder banner, and it’s in that spirit, as a fan of exploitation cinema, that I can best appreciate it. Mighty Peking Man isn’t a good movie by any critical metric, but it’s a thoroughly entertaining one. — Austin Vashaw
While The Mighty Peking Man is not nearly as strong an example of its genre as most of the rest of the films in this set are of theirs, I found a lot here to like. Beyond the admirably energetic cheese and exploitation (to say nothing of the very solid suit and model work during rampages), there are enough genuinely interesting story choices to justify King Kong With The Serial Numbers Filed Off. The choice to lean into the “Beauty and the Beast” elements with the female lead being a willing companion rather than captive gets played out with surprisingly strong thematic results, and Evelyne Kraft is ludicrously game for what the film asks of her.
Not everything works – Danny Lee isn’t given much interesting to do as the male romantic lead, aspects that were already distasteful at the time have aged like warm milk, and a lot of Act 2 is just slow and meandering. But I love that it’s a full-on 1930s Tarzan movie for the first 20 minutes, I adore that monkey suit, and that last set piece cooks better than anything in the 1976 big budget Kong remake. It’s a far softer recommend than other films in the set, but is easily a worthwhile curiosity for fans of the genre. — Brendan Agnew
My Shaw Brothers experience is mostly Kung Fu, but there have been a few other films from the studio that I’ve been able to check out over the past few years. And, in fitting with my experiences of those films, I have to admit… I prefer Shaw films when they remain in the martial arts realm. Whether an intentional comedy without the action of the Kung Fu classic, a horror film, or – in this case – a kaiju flick, nothing outside of their classic Kung Fu has done much for me.
This particular joint felt mostly like a King Kong ripoff, with elements from other kaiju films, Tarzan, and George of the Jungle thrown in for good measure. Admittedly, King Kong films are a bit of blind spot for me to begin with – due mostly to never feeling extremely interested in watching them – but I am familiar enough with the main tropes and themes. Thus, seeing familiar tropes of a film series I’m not horribly interested in, worse production values than other films in this subgenre, and a generally weak plot, I was not too impressed.
I’m still open to giving more non Kung Fu films in the Shaw library a chance, but this one didn’t do any favors for the cause. In short, it just wasn’t really for me. — Justin Harlan
And We’re Out.
Shawscope Volume 1 is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video