The Super Inframan (Shan Hua, 1975)

HONG KONG’S ORIGINAL MONSTER MASH!

When the sinister Princess Elzebub and her demonic minions ascend from the centre of the Earth to conquer Hong Kong and then the rest of the world, only Professor Liu Ying-de and the Science Headquarters stand in their way. Danny Lee stars as a young man transformed into Inframan, the sensational superhero made beyond bionics! With solar rays and thunderbolt fists, he sets out to vanquish humankind’s enemies forever in this fantastical story of rubber-suited villainy and plastic armor heroism.

Featuring not just one but two Bruceploitation stars (Danny Lee and Bruce Le), the mind-boggling fight choreography of Lan-Shan Ho (The Way of the Dragon), and costumes and creature designs by Ekisu Productions (Kamen Rider), The Super Inframan is a singular tokusatsu action experience from the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  • Brand New High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original Mandarin mono audio, plus 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Surround Options, and English mono audio dub track (uncompressed LPCM)
  • New English subtitles
  • New interviews with actors Danny Lee, Bruce Le, and Terry Lau
  • Introduction by Mystery Science Theater 3000 producer Joel Hodgson
  • Director Jörg Buttgereit on The Super Inframan
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring writing on the film by Damon Foster and August Ragone and interview with director Shan Hua

For the vast majority of film fans, our relationship with cinema began with wonderment. The movies offered a temporary window into possibility and spectacle. Tastes may refine later and sophistication might creep in, but that fundamental desire to be awed never leaves us. It’s always there, ready to bring us back to the cinema. Roger Ebert famously said, “When they stop making movies like Infra-Man, a little light will go out of the world.” Ebert unashamedly loved the wild, outlandish spectacle of Shan Hua’s The Super Inframan (1975), famously revising his previous star-rating when he reviewed Meng Hua Ho’s The Mighty Peking Man (1977) on its North American re-release in 1999:

I find to my astonishment that I gave Infra-Man only two and a half stars when I reviewed it. That was 22 years ago, but a fellow will remember a lot of things he wouldn’t think he’d remember. I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t thought of that film. I am awarding Mighty Peking Man three stars, for general goofiness and a certain level of insane genius, but I cannot in good conscience rate it higher than Infra-Man. So, in answer to those correspondents who ask if I have ever changed a rating on a movie: Yes, Infra-Man moves up to three stars.

In the intervening 18 years later, I can’t help but wonder if the late Mr. Ebert might have considered a further bump up of another half-star or so. He’d be right to do so, as it’s fair to say that Ebert is correct in holding Shan Hua’s film as the standard by which all action-packed, special effects-laden, rousingly populist, commercial adventure movies should be judged. Few films entertain with as much unashamed exuberance and frenetic imagination as The Super Inframan.

The Super Inframan is Shaw Brothers’ stab at Japanese Henshin action and it’s an impressive tokusatsu imitation. The set-up is basic, Saturday morning, good vs. evil. An array of outlandish villains awaken from within the Earth led by Demon Princess Elzebub/Princess Dragon Mom (Terry Lau), a blonde warrior queen with a gold, Viking-styled horned helmet and metal brassière, gold claw, and dragon-head hand with long tongue-whip. Elzebub’s number two is Witch-Eye/She-Demon (Dana Shum) who also sports a horned helmet and metal breast cups and who shoots green laser beams from an eye located in the palm of her creepy, elongated hand. In addition to a battalion of fantastic looking henchmen get’ems (black and white skeleton men wearing horned motorcycle helmets), Elzebub commands an array of rubber-suited monsters – a plant creature with growing, wriggling vines; a blue mutant with a massive drill-hand; a fire-breathing dragon-man; a rotund, acid-spitting spider; a horned monster with long white hair and eye-beams (my personal favourite); and a pair of mechanical creatures with spring-loaded necks and hands. All that stands between Elzebub’s fantastic army and world domination is Professor Liu Ying-de (Wang Hsieh) and his squad of speed-suited patrolmen at Science Headquarters. The Professor transforms SH officer Lei Ma (Danny Lee of The Killer) into Inframan, a bionic superhero powered by a tiny nuclear reactor and who uses solar blasts, torso missles, Lethal Kicks, and Thunderball Fists to finally defeat Elzebub in her base at Mount Devil and save the Professor and his daughter.

I’ve read that The Super Inframan distinguishes itself by its kung fu-infused fight sequences, but frankly I can’t discern much difference from the “flailing in a quarry” style of its Japanese predecessors. Overall, The Super Inframan displays great fidelity to the tokusatsu formula established in series like Moonlight MaskUltraman, and Kamen Rider. That seems by design, as Shaw Brothers specifically used Japanese technicians in the film’s production. Toru Fuyuki’s compositions from Ultra Seven and Mirrorman appear in the film, costumes and prosthetics were provided by Ekisu Productions (whose work had just recently appeared on the Kamen Rider V3 series), and Tadashi Nishimoto (billed as Lan-Shan Ho) provided cinematography, having previously worked in his native Japan but was well-established in Shaw Brothers by the time of The Super Inframan. The movie was only Shan Hua’s second effort as a director. Hua has previously worked as a cinematographer on at least a dozen films in the preceding four years, perhaps also explaining The Super Inframan‘s success in capturing the look and spirit of its inspirations.

The Super Inframan is all killer and no filler, a seemingly endless barrage of wild, gigantic monsters and over-the-top action. Discussions of the movie inevitably fall into lists of indelible moments, scenes, and characters. Returning once again to Roger Ebert, his review opens with:

Within the first four minutes of “Infra-Man,” (a) a giant flying lizard attacks a school bus, (b) the Earth cracks open, (c) Hong Kong is destroyed by flames, (d) mountains disintegrate to reveal the forms of reptilian monsters with blinking yellow eyes, (e) the Professor announces that a twenty-million-year-old woman is unleashing the hibernating monsters upon civilization, (f) the Science Headquarters is shaken by a second quake, (g) the Mutants awake, and (h) the Professor, obviously shaken, informs a secret meeting of world leaders, “This situation is so bad that it is the worst that ever has been!

Two paragraphs later, Ebert remarks:

I’m a pushover for monster movies anyway, but Infra-Man has it all: Horrendous octopus men, a gigantic beetle man with three eyes who sprays his victims with sticky cocoons, savage robots with coiled spring necks that can extend ten feet, a venomous little critter that looks like a hairy mutant footstool, elaborately stages karate fights, underground throne rooms, damsels in distress, exploding volcanoes, and a whip-cracking villainess named Princess Dragon Mom (Philip Wylie, please note).

In conclusion, he comments:

There are other good things. Lines like, “We are doing this for the children of the world.” Or, “The clouds will cut off the sun and deprive Infra-Man of his power source.” Or, “Drop the Earthling to her doom, she will melt at 3,0000 degrees.”

Take this not as a dismal comment on a scarcity of complex characters or sophisticated plotting, but rather a tribute to the film’s abundance of awesomeness. The Super Inframan exists to entertain, not to challenge, and it succeeds with atomic-powered alacrity. Don’t think, just sit back and ride the fun dragon. It knows where it’s going.

No high definition edition of The Super Inframan exists in the North American market. A German Blu-ray may be the best edition of the film, although it and the existing Image Entertainment Region 1 DVD are somewhat underwhelming in their special features. The cult film market needs a quality Blu-ray edition of The Super Inframan, and while Shaw Brothers is more typically the domain of another British label, 88 Films, Arrow Video could just as easily fill that void. They too know the joy of riding the fun dragon.

Credits: This imagined edition loosely adapts the Image Entertainment DVD’s cover summary and ports over the trailer, the liner notes of Damon Foster and August Ragone, and the interview of director Shan Hua. Jörg Buttgereit provides an introduction on the German Blu-ray and so we’ve supposed an interview given the filmmaker’s existing relationship with Arrow Video. We’ve also added an introduction by MST3K producer Joel Hodgson who maintains that the program’s villain Kinga Forrester is “the Dragon Queen from Infra-Man and Lucille Ball’s head” and the Skeleton Crew Band is based on  The Super Inframan‘s get’ems.

And that’s it for 2017! See you all in 2018!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

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