THIS MOVIE COULD NOT BE MADE TODAY. Computer effects have all but knocked out the use of models, and computer-assisted animatronics have replaced men in monster suits. Made in 1977 by Hong Kong's prolific Shaw Brothers, Mighty Peking Man was supposed to cash in on the success of Dino de Laurentiis' massive remake of King Kong, and it has all the low-budget charm of the Roger Corman drive-in horror cheapies of the '50s: the tanks look like toys, the giant ape looks like nothing more than a man in an ape suit, and the effects combining the actors with the destructive events taking place could not look less convincing. It's great.

What makes this movie a true camp classic is the fact that, even though the filmmakers obviously knew how cheap the movie was going to look, they never acknowledge it. Everybody seems sincere. These days movies that try to imitate that aesthetic can't help but wink at the audience or fall into self-parody; even if someone were to make a movie with the same kind of models and outdated special effects, it wouldn't work, because the tone would be all wrong.

The story is pure adventure melodrama: Johnny Feng (Danny Lee) agrees to undertake a dangerous expedition to find the mythical Peking Man after he discovers his girlfriend has been cheating on him with his brother. Even before they find the giant ape, members of his hunting party are killed by stampeding elephants, jungle cats, and crumbling cliffs. Finally, everyone quits the expedition but Johnny. Peking Man attacks him, but he's saved by a sexy jungle woman (Evelyne Kraft) who's always on the verge of falling out of her revealing jungle bikini. She, of course, communicates with the ape, and when Johnny convinces her that the three of them should go back to Hong Kong to show Peking Man off, well, another miniature version of an Asian metropolis bites the dust. A perfect midnight movie.

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