A joyful and frenetic cult classic take on the superhero movie…
In the late 1960s / early 70s, a wave of Japanese takusatsu (literally, “special effects”) films and TV shows, like Ultraman and Masked Rider, featuring transforming costumed superheroes fighting rubber-suit monsters, were finding success and making money. The Super Inframan was the Shaw Brothers attempt to grab a piece of that pie. But if Japan’s movies played at ten, then the Shaw Brothers took it up to eleven by adding in kung fu elements, wall to wall action and a hefty dose of explosions and, in doing so, produced one of the most fun and bonkers pieces of cinema to grace the big and small screen.
The Super Inframan opens with a van of school kids being driven along a cliff-side highway when a dragon lands on the road in front of them. This causes an earthquake to crack open the asphalt and the driver is barely able to get all the kids off safely before he and the bus hurtle off the cliff. And then a random city is on fire.
Professor Liu (Wang Hsia, The Twelve Gold Medallions, The Bamboo House of Dolls) rushes to the underground Science Headquarters where he and his silver-suited scientist team are using bleepy machines to investigate the disasters. They learn that, after lying dormant beneath the earth for millions of years because of a glacial disaster, Princess Elzibub (Terry Liu Wai-Yue, The Killer Snakes, Oily Maniac) has risen to conquer the earth with her army of skeleton soldiers and ice-monsters (who are so adorable, they literally jump up and down in joy when she tells them to attack).
But it’s okay because Professor Liu has a plan! His recently completed BDX project. Through the implantation of sophisticated weapon designs, a special biological hormone injection and electric waves, he can turn your average scientist into Inframan, a superhero with strength, tumbling skills, flight and the ability to grow very large at will. To save humanity, scientist Rayma (Danny Lee, The Killer, City On Fire) agrees to undergo the experimental procedure and is transformed into the vinyl-clad and bug-masked titular hero.
Pretty soon Inframan is despatching his rubber-suited monster foes one by one. Kapow! Down goes Plant Monster that shoots out killer vines. Boom! That’s the end of Spider Monster and his web bombs. Princess Elzibub tries to regain the upper hand by kidnapping Rayma’s colleague, Zhu Min (Lin Wen-Wei, The Flying Guillotine) and using the aptly named ‘brain drain’ machine on him which leaves him under the mind-control of his enemies and attempting to steal the design plans for Inframan and blow up the Science Headquarters. She also kidnaps Professor Lui’s daughter and lures him to her evil lair, so she can move forward with her plan B to destroy the sun in order to weaken Inframan.
Eventually Rayma makes it to Princess Elzibub’s base for an all-out monster attack finale and it takes infra-blades and thunder-ball fists to finally trump the evil of lizard-forms and lazers and for the good guys win the day.
The most recognisable face, Danny Lee, is entertaining enough as the hero, but really this film belongs to Terry Liu Wai-Yue. Dressed like a sexy-Viking from space at Halloween, the whip-cracking Princess Elzibub steals every scene she’s in, even when it’s just to shout out orders to her monster-minions. She’s in control and powerful, and throws herself right into the final fight rather than stand on the side-lines and deliver a villains monologue. Her Toho-styled monsters are no slouches either. Their rubber-suits are just the right mix of bizarre and recognisable and they move surprisingly well in their combat sequences.
Director Hua Shan (Flying Guillotine Part 2, Bloody Parrot) has put together a riotously fun and entertaining fantasy/sci-fi/kung fu/superhero/monster film. Its Tron-like FX (there’s a lot of overlaid graphics and stop motion) and candy-coloured visual sensibilities create an especially nostalgic feel when viewed today, but the charm of all the actors playing it straight takes it out of full-on campiness even as it creates some hilarious tonal incongruities. The publicity for the film claimed that it was one of the first produced with a storyboard, but you really wouldn’t know it – whilst the story is straightforward there are still a few spots where it looks like integral scenes have been edited out and this causes a few ‘whaaaat?’ moments, but in this instance the ramshackle nature only adds to the fun. It’s the kind of film that’s best watched with a group of friends and maybe a few drinks.
The Super Inframan is available to download or rent in HD and SD on iTunes, GooglePlay and YouTube. See the full list of Shaw Brothers movies on iTunes here.
Home media details
Distributor: Celestial Pictures/IVL (HK)
Edition: DVD (2006)
Excellent quality picture and subtitling from Celestial Pictures. Extras are a photo gallery, the original poster, film trailer and biographies/production notes.