Ah – the good old Shaw Brothers. Kings of Kung Fu and Masters of Asian swordsman films (most notably from the late 60s and 70s) the Shaw Brothers took the world by storm with a prolific producing record, chop-socky Kung Fu of the highest order and the ultimate creation of many Chinese living legends.
So on a recent trip to Hong Kong, my friend Chin, knowing of my eagerness to track down some great HK Zombie Club fodder, handed me a VCD of The Super Inframan. “What’s this?” I asked. “Oh, you’ll love it. Lots of monsters and fighting. One of the Shaw Brothers biggest hits. My dad directed that.” “What? Your dad?!”
Now I’ve known Chin, since University, for over 15 years now and I never once found out his dad had directed any films, let alone Shaw Brothers Classics with red Power Rangers suits, Lethal Kicks and Thunder Fists. Sensing a great Zombie Club theme here, I asked Chin what else his dad, Hua Shan, had directed. “Flying Guillotines 2! It's better than the original.”.
Flying Guillotines you say? Alongside the 'looks so good it’s just got to be good' Super Inframan? Well it just simply had to be done, so welcome to our first Zombie Club in a month with a night of 70s Hua Shan and Shaw Brothers action – it’s Chin’s Dad Night.
Brought to you in association with Hong Kong VCDs that have dual language dialogue that you can’t turn off
The Super Inframan (1974)
Plot Bionic superhero Inframan battles Princess (Dragon) Mom and her mutant monsters.`
Rawshark Super Inframan certainly doesn’t hang around. Within the first three minutes we’ve seen a large lizard bird crash on top of a coach full of kids (who were aptly singing “Bird is falling from the sky!”), a devastating earthquake and an emergency headquarters that features, as Jim commented, “Lots of lights that look like Tetris on the wall.” The whole world is under threat from lizards and earthquakes, and before too long Princess Elzibub appears, stating that she has “conquered Earth” along with her motley crew of rubbery monsters.
Luckily Professor Liu has an answer to the evil princess and he initiates the BDX Plan to create a water, fire and thunder resistant Inframan. Rayma is the lucky man (“Professor, please make me an Inframan”) and as a big plant monster attacks the headquarters, Rayma undergoes the transformation, finally emerging in a red suit to kick the shit out of the laboratory’s banisters and defeat Plant Man with some handy fire bombs.
Essentially an early Asian Power Rangers with added multiple mini-monsters, Super Inframan is a great slice of triple cheese deep-pan fun. The monsters are fantastically fake, but great to look at and prompted a Zombie Club monster-naming competition for the likes of Lobster Boy, Hairball, Mutant Drill (well, ok that actually was his name), and best of all, Shanghai Gill Man – “He looks like he’s from Shanghai, and he has gills!” - Zomblee. They also were completely unable to keep still, dedicated to dancing every second they featured on-screen – funny when they’re all together in one shot (“It’s Alien Abba!” – Jim), even better when just one is required to stand alone and wave about a bit in the background during other character’s dialogue shots.
We get a cool motorbike chase, and great big-scale fight off as Inframan and Lobster Boy face-off and lots of fantastic scope widescreen photography. Inframan ultimately wins the day of course, thanks in large to his Thunder Gloves that can take heat up to 7300 degrees, and have been tested on “The most hardest matter on Earth!” Hey, you know what - I want to be Inframan too!
“Witch Eye. Take him for brain-draining.”
Zomblee Yes, Rawshark, you'd certainly feel a lot safer walking through the dangerous streets of London if you could transform into Inframan anytime a perilous situation rears it's ugly head. Thank you so much for bringing Inframan into our lives. This is perfect for Zombie Club.
Upon arrival at Rawshark's pad tonight I was met with the always welcoming sight of about 20 DVD's he brought back from HK, two of which were directed by the now-legendary 'Chin's Dad' AKA Hua Shan. There was no argument that Super Inframan was going first in the queue, in fact this was so 'meant to be' that I'm surprised the disc didn't just walk over and boldly insert itself into the DVD player in a "Watch me! I was made by Chin's dad to be screened at Zombie Club in the year 2005! Watch me now!" kind of way.
Shit me. This is incredible fun, and wastes no time in kick-starting the action. About 5 minutes into the running time, (in fact it may have even been during the infracool opening credits) that Jim said to Rawshark, "This is sooo good. I think this is my favourite film ever made. I'll give you £100 for this movie!" Trust me, this was before it actually started getting REALLY good.
After being treated to all sorts of weird, hyperactive, crap but endearingly entertaining space-monsters, the Professor creates the titular hero with the help of a willing human subject who effortlessly disperses his adversaries with little effort and a lot of wicked kung fu. I say little effort - it's actually not as easy for Inframan as it seems for other super heroes, but that could be down to the old 'don't change into the superhero until you're getting a good beating' trick, making all fights at least twice as long as necessary. Ah, now he changes into Inframan. About time, too.
The sheer outrageousness of this silly superhero flick demands that you see it. It goes from being a bit crazy to super-duper insane in a 'Japanese Godzilla films on acid' kind of way. Look out for 'Thunder Gloves' - a character who's huge, spiked gloved literally detach themselves in the direction of the opponent when he throws punches. Also check out the character near the end who, when decapitated, grows a new head, then gets decapitated again, then grows another head, and so on, until the ever-vigilant continuity man Rawshark asks, "Hey! Where have the ten heads gone?!"
I purchased this film less than a week later. Had to be done. And yes, i've watched it again.
"Give me the city disaster report!"
Jim You’ve bought it already? And watched it? And it’s dubbed? In that case my offer still stands; I’ll give you £100 cash in your hands clear for it if you bring it to the next ZC. Cheers.
So Super Inframan. Where the hell have you been all my life? As Zomblee hinted at, the closest thing to this as far as comparison’s sake (with the obvious exception of Ultraman – his Japanese cousin) is 70s Toho Godzilla, but with one major exception. Whereas Godzilla movies invariably involve an hour of dull scientific exposition while the monsters get into position (invading from space, rising from the deep, escaping from the lab, etc) for the big monster rumble finale, Super Inframan just gets right on with it. First up there are plentiful earthquakes and fires, then Plant Man swells to bus station proportions and attacks the scientific base, knocking innumerable Korean stuntmen flying and making the floors spin. “Like a Chinese restaurant?” – Zomblee. Yeah kinda, but Inframan can luckily also swell to bus station size, so Plant Man’s days are numbered. Bring on the next rubber monster!
That’s the real trick, actually. Being an evil princess, Elzibub always has another monster in the wings to take the fallen fella’s place, and that’s your 84 minutes in a nutshell right there. It’s fight, fight, fight all the way; sometimes one-on-one, sometimes two-on-one, and sometimes just Inframan versus all comers, at one point including a biker gang that looked like an “Evil Knievel gang from the warriors!” Thanks Rawshark.
And there’s not much else either; the very few chatty bits are either unintentionally funny due to the kooky dubbing, or they involve trying not to look at fidgety extras in those rubbery monster suits, Shanghai Gill Man being the most guilty of possessing wavy arms syndrome (“I can’t look at anything else!” – Zomblee). Add to the mix scenes with Mutant Drill displaying his manners (“yes, he’s very polite…” – Zomblee), the laughable Lobster Boy (“…sooo Mr Blobby.” – Rawshark), plus a host of craziness we just didn’t have enough time to write down, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a movie.
“The research centre is in emergency mode from now on!”
Director Hua Shan
Cast Danny Lee
Runtime 84 mins
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The Flying Guillotine 2 (1978)
Plot Han rebels, flying guillotines and iron umbrellas.
Jim Next up Flying Guillotine 2, which had all the promise of the kind of chop socky kung-fu movie that just hits the spot after a couple of glasses of wine, a joke and a smoke. In fact Rawshark summed my feelings up brilliantly with “There’s gonna be lots of ch-ch-cha-ching in this movie, isn’t there?” I think we all know what he means.
The plot, from what I could understand, goes something like this. In feudal China, the Emperor has gone all evil and has a personal army of soldiers who all have “little traffic cones on their heads…” (thanks Zomblee) and have been trained to use the flying guillotine. They've been charged with the task of tracking down a group of rebels (called Hans) who are hiding in the mountains after a botched assassination attempt on the Emperor. Err, and then there’s a bunch of people called Ling Bai, Yung Jing, Shih Szu, and so on; all names that are very hard to relate to faces when the subtitles come thick and fast and you’re a bit drunk. Ma Tan we could identify as he's the reluctant hero of the movie because he wields the iron umbrella (the only weapon which counters the flying guillotine), but this is rendered useless when one of the Emperor’s stooges develops the double flying guillotine. Tch – back to the drawing board…
And that’s about all I can tell you. There are loads of plotty chatty bits, not enough fighting, and certainly no tournament of martial arts in there, which I figured was kind of a prerequisite for movies like this. Never mind.
The weird thing is though, when Rawshark told me he’d just bought Flying Guillotine 2 for Zombie Club, I had to admit that I’d just gone and bought Masters of the Flying Guillotine, which is a completely different kettle of fish as it features only one guy with a flying guillotine and a host of other crazy fighters from around the world, all with their own styles and cool weapons. Oh, and that one does feature a tournament of martial arts. It's a shame Chin's dad didn't direct that one.
“We are incompetent and deserve death!”
Zomblee Jim, you're obsessed with bloody martial arts tournaments. Not every martial arts movie is Enter the Dragon you know. Unless you're Robert Clouse of course, but more on that at next Zombie Club, featuring Gymkata. Having said that, though, I would loved to have seen a martial arts tournament in Flying Guillotine 2 because, like Jim says, there just ain't enough fighting in this. At one point, Jim did shout out something about the need for such a tournament, and then as soon as he said it, it looked set to happen, except it wasn't a martial arts tournament at all, but rather "some sort of mass-branding ceremony". Don't ask me, I just work here.
Generally though, it was really hard work to understand what the hell was going on in Flying Guillotine 2,, though our struggle for plot comprehension was no doubt exacerbated by Jim's relentless panicking about having to go first on this one. Jim literally lost the plot tonight. Rawshark was also having trouble, but hit the nail on the head with "It's like watching the Godfather Part 2 without watching part one". Yep, now that works on a few different levels, because there's about as much kung fu in The Godfather Part 2 as there is here. Those flying guillotines are pretty cool though, even though I say they defy the laws of physics. But they look great, and they chop heads off, so, you know, that's got to be good.
With all three of us on a massive comedown from Super Inframan (unlike Rawshark's flatmates Ren and Matt, who didn't stop complaining about how "rubbish" it was - tch!), the second film tonight really had to deliver the goods. Instead, it just delivered the fastest subtitles you've ever seen whiz by in your life, making you pine for days of yore with funny dubbing. Hey - don't knock it, at least you'd have some idea about what's happening.
"I don't want their hearts. I only want the Kingdom."
Rawshark I hadn’t seen Flying Guillotine part one, or the previously mentioned Masters of the Flying Guillotine, so it was helpful to have resident Kung Fu expert Jim on hand to explain the plot in the first few minutes of Flying Guillotine 2. "Flying guillotines are bad, guys. Flying guillotine’s are bad." Cheers Jim, that’s essentially all the plot we needed…
After some brief decapitations, lots of chatting and Star Wars-type storytelling, Flying Guillotine 2 really shines the most every time female assassin Na Lin (Shi Szu) appears. The daughter of a Han mother and a Ching military advisor, Shi Szu provides the core conflict of the film, as she’s torn between her mission to kill the Emperor and her love for her father with some well-played dramatic scenes. We even learned what the phrase 'filial piety' meant after flatmate Jane joined us for the last hour. I also just love seeing female assassins skilled in Martial Arts onscreen too, so maybe that’s the main reason.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of the film is the excessive use of swish-pans and zooms. Although a mainstay of HK action cinema, here the constant use of camera movement (even during dialogue scenes) is disorientating to say the least, especially when trying to concentrate on the night’s second set of small subtitles. Jim summed it up the best with "it’s like whip-pan, zoom, chit-chat What? Who?" Quite. Still, the flying guillotines themselves were good value prompting a debate as to when were they actually used on Asian history. " I think it was just a fad. Like yo-yos" said Zomblee. I think he’s right.
Ultimately Ma Tan finds a way to counter the Double Flying Guillotine with wet cloths, and the stage is set for a big finale fight, that unfortunately seems to stop suddenly with a freeze-frame ending. Which is a shame, as we still don’t know if the Emperor was eventually assassinated or not…
"And my loyalty shall become filial piety."
Director Cheng Kang and Hua Shan
Cast Miao Ching
Mui Sang Fan
Wen Chung Ku
Fai Wong Lam
Runtime 88 mins
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There was no doubting that in the Hua Shan (Chin’s dad!) Shaw Brothers seventies showdown, Super Inframan won hands (or should that be fists?) down. With perfect cult pitches, Inframan is a cheese-lovers delight, and it’s all the better to hear that Imagine have finally bought the rights to 30 Shaw Bros films, with Super Inframan set to be amongst the first to receive an official US release in April next year. Jim, save your £100 and get that one! (see news here).
Unfortunately, the fairly fun Flying Guillotine 2 was not quite as good. We’ll put that down to the fact that Hua Shan co-directed that film with Cheng Kang, and the fact that they probably weren’t allowed to use any rubber monsters or space-age suits. The flying guillotines themselves were great though. Ch-ch-cha-ching.