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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » A·P·E
Image // PG // October 30, 2001
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 20, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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Dino De Laurentiis' remake of King Kong inspired a slew of thinly veiled attempts to cash in on its hype, even before the film limped into theaters worldwide. Some of these, particularly The Mighty Peking Man, stand up reasonably well on their own. Somewhere on the polar opposite end of the spectrum, though, is the 1976 Korean production A·P·E, which was released under numerous different titles, including Hideous Mutant, Super Kong, The New King Kong, and, of all things, Attack of the Giant Horny Gorilla. There's also nothing in the film to indicate why each letter in A·P·E is separated by dots. Perhaps this was seen as classy or inventive in the '70s, the same decade that brought macrame and string art to the mainstream.

Though the plot really isn't worth delving into, I'll toss together a quick summary for the sake of completeness. En route to Disneyland in sunny California, an unnamed 36 foot ape escapes from the cargo ship transporting it halfway across the world, tussles with a gigantic rubber shark, and proceeds to wreak havoc on Korea. During his destructive jaunt across the East, Ape stumbles upon American actress Marilyn Baker (Joanna Kerns; credited as Joanna DeVarona), the Fay Wray clone-du-jour that's destined to be captured and admired by her newfound simian suitor. The future Maggie Seaver is whisked out of harm's way by her fiancée, reporter Tom Rose (soap veteran Rod Arrants), and spirited off to the Seoul home of Korean military head honcho Captain Kim. The Ape is hot on her trail, though, savagely destroying half-heartedly-constructed cardboard buildings that seem strangely tiny in scale compared to his scarcely-three-story frame. Still, the Ape is no match for the combined might of the American and Korean military, and a battle to the death is soon to ensue, with Marilyn caught somewhere in the general vicinity of the crossfire.

A·P·E would probably fall into that "so bad, it's good" category of schlock, though that sort of vague description doesn't come close to describing how surreally terrible this movie is. A·P·E's highlights are far too numerous to mention. What seems to be the setup for a battle between the ape and a giant snake results in our hero merely grabbing the reptile and tossing it towards the camera. A pair faux-rape scenes played for laughs. The oddly-silent ape flipping off the remains of a helicopter smashed into the side of a mountain. The ape dancing whimsically throughout the barren Korean countryside. Children laughing hysterically for several minutes at a flimsy wooden doll, enthralled by the wiggling of his arms and incessant winking. It comes as no surprise after a few minutes of casual watching that A·P·E was originally shot with 3-D in mind. Items are often and unconvincingly approaching the screen, with all-too-visible wires slowly propelling them forward. Even stranger than these forced attempts at grabbing the audience's interest is the frequency with which the same handful of 3-D effects are recycled. The same log, the same rock, and a smirking Korean soldier lugging around a machine gun lurch towards the screen more times than I'd care to count. These might have been vaguely engaging theatrically; seen flat on television, the effect is severely diminished and just seems awkward, particularly to those viewers unaware of A·P·E's 3-D origins.

The three-dimensional effects aren't all that's weak about A·P·E, as production values in general are nowhere to be found. Pieces of styrofoam can clearly be seen crumbling off poorly-fashioned boulders in the closest thing to a climactic battle sequence A·P·E has to offer, and off-the-shelf toys were apparently used to pass for tanks, helicopters, and even livestock. The acting is wooden and stilted across the board, not that cliché-riddled dialogue like "To hell with the press - I'm going to smoke this cigarette!" would seem any more lively if voiced by Laurence Olivier. Worst off is the title character. The suit looks awful even in long shots, but close-ups of reproductions of the creature with the film's cast fare poorer still. Perhaps the art department ran fresh out of brown carpet while assembling the giant hand, and the ape's yellow chest makes it seem as if he's in the late stages of jaundice. The script can't seem to decide if the ape, which doesn't utter a single roar or bellow throughout the entire length of the film, is evil or misunderstood. He's shown mindlessly destroying everything in sight in the opening scenes of the film, but after the ape's predictably violent demise, Tom wistfully murmers something about the creature being too big for our small world. Whether or not the ape is meant to be a sympathetic monster is left up in the air.

As harsh as I'm sure this review is shaping up to be, I'm doublt I can fully describe how much I enjoyed A·P·E. Even with the ridiculously lengthy shots of the children laughing at the stupid puppet and the stock footage of the Korean military, this hysterical movie amazingly manages to avoid dragging for the vast majority its 87 minute runtime. Its ineptitude is all-consuming and inescapable to the point of being painfully funny. Though A·P·E is wretched on nearly every technical level, the combination of its innumerable flaws makes for a very memorable and wildly entertaining movie-going experience. Any reader who watched the first few seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000 with any zeal will almost certainly get a kick, if not multiple kicks, out of A·P·E.

Video: Letterboxed to the rather curious aspect ratio of 2.00:1, A·P·E has been given the anamorphic treatment courtesy of Image Entertainment, with mixed results. The image is peppered with a fair amount of dust and minor print damage, and there is some infrequent but distracting jitter, as if someone repeatedly bumped into the hardware during the telecine process. What fans there are of A·P·E should probably skip over the laundry list of quibbles that follow, as most of the flaws associated with A·P·E's presentation are the fault of its poor film stock. Detail is wanting, and shadow delineation ranges from 'murky' to 'an indistinguishable blur'. Some portions are so soft that they almost seem out of focus, and black levels border on non-existent, seeming more like a mid-range purple in several scenes. Grain is present throughout, though it's rarely intrusive, particularly after the decidedly-VHS-like shark attack in the early moments of the film. Despite what seems like an overwhelming number of complaints, A·P·E actually comes through appearing decent enough, all things considered. The movie almost certainly looked lackluster during its theatrical releases under its variety of different names, and without a considerable amount of time and money devoted to its restoration, chances are remote that A·P·E will ever look any better than this.

Audio: Much like the video presentation, the film's soundtrack, dutifully reproduced in Dolby Digital mono, isn't awe-inspiring but likely never was. Most of the problems can be traced back to the original elements, with the occasional crackles and pops in the audio as the only flaws that Image Entertainment might've considered smoothing out a bit. The usual zaniness associated with Z-grade foreign productions are all present here, ranging from grossly out-of-sync sound effects, poorly looped dialogue, and lengthy periods of awkward silence. Dialogue is sometimes difficult to discern, buried under effects and a score almost certainly lifted from the public domain. My favorite aspect of the soundtrack is almost certainly the cavernous echo in Colonel Davis' office, despite as laughably small as it appears to be in the film. Though I don't have a solid point of reference, the mono audio seems to be faithful to how A·P·E sqwawked from speakers theatrically.

Supplements: Nothing, not even those DVD mainstays, the trailer and production notes. I was kind of curious how A·P·E was promoted domestically, so the lack of even a trailer is a mild disappointment.

Conclusion: Though the asking price of $24.99 is a bit steep for this sort of guilty pleasure, there are few movies as perfectly suited to gathering a bunch of friends for some late-night riffing as A·P·E. This is the sort of movie that's fat-packed with scenes I feel compelled to screen for anyone unfortunate enough to come within earshot of my apartment. Image Entertainment's DVD release of A·P·E is well-worth at least a rental for schlock enthusiasts, if not a purchase. Recommended.
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