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Monday, September 21, 2009

INFRA-MAN (1975)

Each year when Halloween rolls around we rush to the local video store in search of scary movies that will give us the required seasonal chills. HALLOWEEN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (chainsaw is two words, not one, in the title); each a classic that has stood the test of time, but not really something you can share with your little ones yet. For the little ones — and the big ones who can appreciate it — allow me to steer you toward a movie you may never have heard of. Reader, say “hello” to INFRA MAN (aka THE SUPER INFRA MAN).

Released in China in 1975 and hitting these shores the following year, INFRA MAN is among the most demented spawn of the venerable Shaw Brothers studio, a company beloved worldwide as the quintessential purveyor of old school kung fu films. Ripping off, er, influenced by the classic Japanese super-hero show ULTRAMAN (1966), this film is more fun than a weekend with Lynda Carter where she brings the cocoa butter and ties you up with the Lasso of Truth. Universally loved by those who have seen it, INFRA MAN is even championed by no less a film criticism luminary than Roger Ebert himself, and he loves it for exactly the same reasons as us Joe Sixpacks in the audience. This is a movie replete with what fans of super-heroes, monsters and virtually nonstop action look for in their entertainment, namely fists-a-flyin’ martial arts, an army of monsters who are not only hell-bent on conquering the world but also blatantly enjoy being evil, one of the most memorable villainesses in cinema history, ridiculous dialogue aided and abetted by terrible/hilarious dubbing, and a super-hero who takes the fight to the bad guys like you’ve never seen. In its entire eighty-eight-minute running time there are perhaps five slow minutes and rest is a semi-psychedelic festival of in-your-face crazy fun.

Princess Dragon Mom — no, seriously — and some of her minions.

The story gets off to a slow start with the Earth bursting open all over the place, causing earthquakes, collapsing buildings, spewing lava and incidentally reviving an ancient evil that has lain dormant since time immemorial. Said evil is Princess Dragon Mom — yes, you read that right — a blonde Asian woman played by Terry Liu in a horned helmet, a pointy, gold Madonna-style bra, a cute little pink bow around her neck incase you couldn't tell she's a girl, matching dragon-headed platform boots a la Gene Simmons, and a right hand that doubles as a whip. Broadcasting an incredibly arrogant address to the entire world, she announces:

“Greetings, people of Earth. I am Princess Dragon Mom. The destruction you see is but a small sample of my great power! I have taken over the earth and there is nothing you can do about it! You will be my slaves for all eternity! I have spoken, and that’s all the warning you are going to get!”

And she MEANT that shit!

We are then introduced to the Princess’ bargain basement monster army, an ultra-phony lot who look like the bastard children of Gwar and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, only with less of a budget. They cheerfully joke and boast among themselves about just how they will destroy mankind and beg the Princess to let them loose immediately to kick some human ass; these guys ain’t kidding, and they jump about hyperactively in anticipation of doling out world-class nastiness.

Luckily for us, Professor Chang of the Science Patrol (a bunch of guys in cheap silver and blue jumpsuits who ride around on motorcycles a lot) has figured out that Princess Dragon Mom is a creature from antiquity who ruled the world in the distant past (this information is prefaced with the statement that nothing is known about her, so go figure), and he has just the solution to the problem: Infra man, the “Man Beyond Bionics,” as the movie’s poster so kindly informs us.

Recruiting the Science Patrol’s resident bohunk Rayma (Li Hsui-Hsien) for cyborg conversion, the professor gifts him with an incredible arsenal of built-in weaponry such as ray beams, “Infra Blades,” heat missiles, “Thunderball fists which can destroy everything,” super-senses and strength, and enough kung fu skills to make Bruce Lee say “Damn!”

Upon being fully transformed, Infra Man’s super-hearing detects monsters on the attack and he immediately flies through the roof to enter the fray. When he lands, people point and shout “That’s Infra Man there!” despite the fact that up to this point he has never made an appearance anywhere, and from that point on the movie is a nonstop foot-to-ass orgy of insanely-cackling monsters getting trounced with extreme prejudice by our hero.

Among other insane moments, one of the film’s highlights is Infra Man’s battle with the ranting Spider-Man (no relation), who suddenly shoots up to two-hundred-feet tall when he realizes he’s losing the fight. Infra Man ain’t having it, and in a stunning example of a hero pulling powers out of his ass he too becomes a giant and beats the living crap out of Spider-Man (or rather the empty foam rubber suit of Spider-Man). After getting hurled into high voltage power lines, the monster shrinks back to normal size and the towering Infra Man steps on him like the bug that he is, causing cartoonish gore to spew with appropriate flatulent sound effects.

The rest of the film builds to a dizzying crescendo as our hero storms Princess Dragon Mom’s lair, hands out explosive death to her remaining army of monsters and robots, and finally engages the Princess in mortal combat after she turns into a seemingly unkillable dragon.

Folks, this flick is a stone hoot and will delight kids and drunks everywhere. Finally available in a gorgeous remastered DVD transfer — in fucking letterbox, no less!!! — you owe it to yourself and other like-minded loonies to see INFRA MAN. It ain’t high art, but it is one of the most entertaining movies ever made.

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