Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
One of the more memorable moments in pop film criticism was watching Roger Ebert laugh himself silly when heartily recommending the 'guilty pleasure' The Super Inframan, a non-stop Hong Kong kung-fu monsterfest with a slinky villainess named Princess Dragon Mom. Long limited to pan-scanned versions with sickly color, this new DVD performs a full restoration on this eye-popping epic of cartoonish insanity.
Princess Ezelbub a.k.a. Princess Dragon Mom (Terry Liu) and her horde of nasty monster minions are causing world disasters up on Devil Mountain. As his own headquarters is being threatened with earthquakes, Professor Chan (Wang Hsieh) prepares to transform loyal volunteer Rayma (Li Hsui-Hsien / Danny Lee) into a superhuman bionic fighting machine. The evil princess dispatches various monsters on missions of assassination and destruction, and uses brainwashing and kidnapping to force Earth to surrender, but she's countered at every turn by the new superman, dubbed Inframan. By stealing Professor Chan's blueprints, the Princess devises a way to defeat Inframan's Solar Ray, but Chan has engineered Thunder Fist, another secret weapon accessory that gives Inframan the edge against the Princess's army of kung-fu maniac monsters.
"How do you feel?" asks the professor, and the newly transformed Inframan answers, "I'm full of energy!" He must be, as he spends at least 79 of the next 80 minutes of movie tumbling, Kung Fu fighting and flying through the air. The Super Inframan wastes no time with characters, motivations or the philosophy behind demonic world conquest. It's the perfect film fantasy for agitated seven year-olds, a comic strip reduced almost entirely to 'the good stuff': Disasters, explosions and wall-to-wall combat of the kind where people are knocked silly or disintegrated, but hardly ever bleed. It's not hard to imagine matinees brimming with little kids punching the air as they watch Inframan in action, or staging their own super-battles right in the theater. Sedate adults are bound to step away from the show feeling old and exhausted.
Logic and rationality have no place in this world of fantasy combat between an elite group of silver-suited technician-martial artists and scores of the silliest rubber monsters ever made. Costumed in ridiculous super-babe garb, Princess Dragon Mom cackles, snaps her whip and barks out orders; her equally gaudy female assistant Witch Eye uses a matter-transmitter to retrieve chosen monsters from cold storage, as if taking them out of a toy box. Waving rubber tentacles and shouting tough-guy oaths, the monsters beg to be next to challenge Inframan, as in an old-fashioned wrestling exhibition.
The all-powerful hero is transformed in a machine that implants 'super bionics' into his body. In his 1976 Cinefantastique interview, Tim Lucas noted that even though Inframan makes his first public appearance moments after he's been named and launched, two kids point to the sky and shout "Look, there's Inframan!"
Explosions, ray blasts and plenty of gymnastic kung-fu acrobatics accompany every battle confrontation. Excellent wire-work keeps everyone flying through the air and even the rubber-suited monsters make with the fast-action chop-socky action. One Plant Creature converts into a tangle of giant rubber vines, and another rubber warrior enlarges himself tenfold. No problem: Inframan simply pushes a button and grows to super-height as well. Another pair of Dragon Mom assassins has spiked maces in place of hands and can project them (and their heads as well) twenty feet as deadly weapons. Inframan rescues those in need of rescue, wipes out a legion of Skeleton Warriors and pushes the feisty Witch Eye into a volcanic pit. Dragon Mom must eventually fight Inframan personally, after transforming into a (surprise) dragon.
The Super Inframan is said to have been 'highly influenced' by Japanese superhero movies and TV shows, with personnel from Japanese fantasy filmmaking in key creative positions. The influence shows in the rubber monsters made by the designer of the goofy aliens in The Green Slime, and the stylized color visual effects engineered by the cameraman of Nobuo Nakagawa's Jigoku (Hell). The red-suited, silver faced Inframan undergoes his "Shazam!"-like transformation at least five times, a ritual composed of an identical sequence of shots: Flashes of red and green light are followed by Inframan flipping three times, a shot of him flying horizontally, and then two more flips. Then the head-bashing and rocket-powered super kicks can continue.
The Super Inframan isn't intentionally funny yet is guaranteed to elicit howls of laughter. When Professor Chan travels to Princess Dragon Mom's lair, he's picked up by a boatload of outrageous monsters. Chan sits nonchalantly between two ridiculous rubber creations that also seem to be having a pleasant boat ride. A similar absurd delight comes along every few minutes.
Image / Shaw Brothers / Celestial Pictures DVD of The Super Inframan is a beautiful restoration from original elements that should delight fans of these kooky Hong Kong fantasies. The colors pop off the screen and every shot in the raggedly edited show looks attractive. The 'scope frame is crowded with décor and battling monsters. If only the classic Jackie Chan movies were restored as well as this!
Audio choices are Mandarin with removable English subs or the English dub version that calls Princess Ezelbub is called by her hilarious name Princess Dragon Mom. An image gallery and trailer are included. An insert booklet contains liner notes from Damon Foster and August Ragone, Asian fantasy authorities able to give the film a sense of context: Star Danny Lee later costarred in John Woo's The Killer.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Super Inframan rates:
Supplements: Still and art galleries, liner notes by Damon Foster and August Ragone
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 7, 2006
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson