ON DVD & BLU-RAY
The Super Inframan (1975) Blu Ray (88 Films)
Mutant monsters unleashed!
This Shaw Brothers-produced kung fu superhero monster movie starts off as Mount Demon, a volcano thought to be extinct, suddenly erupts, unleashing a swathe of fiery destruction on the city below. At the nearby Science Headquarters, Professor Chung (Hsieh Wang) orders an examination of what could have caused this unexpected natural disaster. Soon afterwards, Chung receives a transmission from the villainous Princess Dragon Mom (played by Terry Liu) - the ruler of an ancient race of mutants who went into hiding before the last ice age. She threatens to unleash far greater destruction on the Earth unless humanity submits to her will.
Luckily, Chung has a secret weapon which he can use to fight back. He persuades one of his best men, Rayma (Danny Lee) to undergo a hi-tech transformation process which turns him into a metallic superhero called Inframan. However, Dragon Mom is a cunning adversary and seeks to destroy Science Headquarters itself, thereby leaving the Earth defenceless against this ancient threat.
Watch a trailer:
Japanese-style superheroics from Hong Kong
The Super Inframan was Hong Kong’s answer to the Japanese tokusatsu - a superhero-based subgenre of the kaiju monster movie which included such TV series as Ultraman and Super Sentai (the latter of which was reworked into the Power Rangers series, which recycled its action footage and blended it with new scenes involving an American cast). In the true spirit of those other entries, it features a hero in a wildly gaudy costume which enables him to wield incredible powers as he wages battle with a variety of strange monsters in rapidly-edited fight sequences. Also in common with others of this ilk, his transformation from man to robotic hero occurs via the same over-the-top montage recycled time and time again.
The main difference between The Super Inframan and most of the others in this cycle is that it is a feature-length film, as opposed to an ongoing serial filled composed of short episodes. However, it does end up feeling rather like an 88-minute reel of edited highlights from one of those series. From start to finish, it’s basically an endless succession of kung fu fights, special effects and scenes of peril with very little build-up or character development in between. I mean that in both a good and bad way.
A guilty pleasure
The special effects here are, as you might expect, pretty cheesy. The various monsters are, quite obviously, men in rubber costumes without any form of animatronics to make them look remotely lifelike. There is also plentiful miniature work along with a little in the way of stop-motion and trick photography to make it look like these mutant creatures have expanded to a huge size. Again, these scenes are rarely particularly convincing. However, what the special effects lack in finesse, they make up for in sheer imagination. The various monstrosities are colourfully bizarre and diverse: robots with spiked ball projectile hands, a giant red fly which ends up getting messily splattered under the foot of an enlarged Inframan, a creature which sprouts huge plant-like tendrils, a woman with eyes in her hands and an army of skull-faced foot-soldiers who bleed orange smoke when they die. As you would expect from a Shaw production, the kung fu scenes are excellently and energetically staged. The various kitschy sets are also pretty cool.
However, while The Super Inframan is undeniably fun in a guilty pleasure sort of way, it does become slightly less so as it progresses. The problem is that it takes so little time getting to know the characters that it’s hard to really invest in any of them. The one real moment of character development comes with the introduction of Professor Chung’s daughter whom, it is revealed, took care of her younger siblings when her mother passed away. Eagle-eyed viewers will also notice that, at one point, she is seen reading a book by Dennis Wheatley for some reason! Rayma, meanwhile, is a blandly anonymous hero who is totally lacking in any distinguishing traits when he isn’t wearing his suit.
On the whole, The Super Inframan isn’t exactly a great film. However, it is a diverting way to kill an hour and a half in the cheesiest possible way. No film featuring a creature who can regrow their head again and again after repeated decapitation attempts can be all bad, can it?
Runtime: 88 mins
Dir: Shan Hua
Script: Kuang Ni
Starring: Danny Lee, Hsieh Wang, Terry Liu, Man-Tzu Yuan, Dana, Bruce Le
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
All of that colourful, noisy garishness is captured in all of its glory on this 88 Films disc.
The only real extras here are the reversible sleeve and enclosed booklet. The latter contains the essay Cool as Kaiju by Calum Waddell. The Asian cinema enthusiast takes a look at the monster movie genre which started in Japan but then spawned its own homages in other countries. These include not only Hong Kong’s Inframan but also the two disappointing Hollywood Godzilla movies - in 1998 and 2014 respectively. He even mentions a North Korean entry called Pulgasari which is available on YouTube (thanks for the tip, Calum!). The booklet also contains a few behind-the-scenes stills.
The Super Inframan may not be amongst the finest of 88 Films’ numerous exhumations from the Shaw Brothers vaults. It is, however, rather more family friendly than most, considering that all of the blood and dismemberment here strictly involves rubbery monsters and spurts of green or white fluid. Worth a look for fans.