APE practically defines the term “quickie rip-off” as the South Korean film industry, teaming up with an American production company, rushed their Kong rip-off to the screen just ahead of Dino DeLaurentiis’s multi-million dollar King Kong remake. It was originally going to be called The New King Kong until RKO got wind of it and sued them for $1.5 million dollars. The film was then titled Super Ape but eventually released as simply APE with the tagline, “Not to be confused with King Kong,” as if there was any danger of that happening. But the lawsuit didn’t stop South Korea from releasing it in their own country, and various international markets, under such titles as Super King Kong and King Kong Returns. Though my personal favourite title for this film is Attack of the Giant Horny Gorilla as it was renamed for its 1982 re-release. It was certainly a more accurate title, to say the least.
The movie opens with a freighter transporting the 36-foot tall titular ape from points unknown, though one sailor mentions it was picked up in Harlem and is being transported to Disneyland. I’m not sure if that is an attempt at comedy or just plain racist, it’s quite hard to tell in this film, but it’s clear that this movie’s $23,000 budget could not afford to give us Skull Island, and the toy boat we see in this opening scene is indicative of the effects this movie will bring us. For some reason, the ape awakens early and starts to smash his way free. “Oh shit,” exclaims one of the sailors, and by “exclaim” I mean to deliver it in the deadest monotone possible. The acting in this movie goes from hilarious to hilariously bad. The ape escapes the flaming wreckage and then proceeds to fight a giant shark, and that the shark in question isn’t a terribly constructed prop but an actual shark is a bit off-putting. If you thought Rick Baker in an ape suit wrestling a big rubber snake in the DeLaurentiis King Kong was lame wait until you see APE wrestle a dead shark.
This scene is not helped by how badly the ape suit looks wet or by the fact that the actor’s t-shirt is briefly visible during the “fight” sequence. The ape then wades ashore and proceeds to rampage through this seaside village, but really it looks more like a drunk stumbling home while trying to scrape dog shit off his shoe. APE is not poetry in motion. Aside from the big ape, the film focuses on four other characters; Captain Kim (Nak-hun Lee), a local police official, whose claims of a giant ape terrorizing the countryside are ignored, then there is movie star Marilyn Baker (Joanna Kerns though she was billed as Joanna DeVarona as that was her given name, it was after this film that she changed her name to Kerns, for obvious reason) and when she arrives in South Korea she is met by a gaggle of press that includes journalist and ex-lover Tom Rose (Rod Arrants), who comes across as more of a stalker than a serious love interest. But the real star of this movie is Colonel Davis (Alex Nicol) as the beleaguered American military officer who can’t believe he is stuck dealing with an oversized monkey, and he spends the first half of the movie in denial that this giant ape even exists.
If there were awards for “Phone Acting” Alex Nicol would have won all of them, almost all his scenes consist of him ranting into his phone, Nicholas Cage could take a lesson from this guy on chewing the scenery. Nichol does not work alone as he has a Buster Keatonesque aide Lt. Smith (Jerry Harke) who spends his time silently writing notes while his boss loses his shit, and Harke’s deadpan reactions to his boss’s raving are comedy gold. It’s also Nicol who gets the film’s best lines such as “Hell with the press, I’m going to smoke this damn cigarette!” and “Let’s see him dance for his organ grinder now!” when the ape is being shot to pieces by the military. But when Alex Nicol isn’t trying to win an Academy Award for overcooked ham we have to spend time with actress Marilyn Baker and Tom Rose. Tom continually tries to get Marilyn to either marry him or at least sleep with him, but she had asked for a break from their relationship so that she could pursue her career and his response was to fly to South Korea to continue harassing her. He even crashes the rape scene she is shooting because rape and romance go so well together.
Note: The film’s director Paul Leder does a cameo here as Marilyn’s on-screen director, and he’s given the name Dino which is an obvious jab at Dino DeLaurentiis, the producer of the big-budget Kong remake, and given such great lines like…
It’s while she is filming this movie that the ape spots Marilyn for the first time and becomes fascinated with her, she’s blonde and I guess that is something giant simians just can’t resist, but before grabbing the damsel he does spend time terrorizing children at an abandoned amusement park which had me waiting for one of the kids to exclaim, “That’s not a giant ape, it’s only Mister Jenkins the park owner!” The giant ape also beats up on a snake, interrupts a Kung Fu movie being made, and plays with a passing hang glider.
Tom and Captain Kim race after the ape, as well as much stock footage of military vehicles they could afford, and they catch up with the ape in some rocky terrain. Colonel Davis is upset that the authorities want to catch the beast alive, and the ape isn’t too keen on the idea either.
While the ape is swatting down toy helicopters Tom is able to sneak in and rescue, and then Captain Kim offers his home in Seoul as a safe place for Marilyn to hide. Unfortunately for us, this leads to endless shots of Kim’s wife and kids putting on a marionette show for Marilyn. While this puppet show goes on the death toll mounts as the ape leaves the countryside in search of Marilyn. Colonel Davis almost bursts a blood vessel when the stupid “scientists” still insist on catching the rampaging monster alive.
It’s also clear that South Koreans do not have the same model-making skills as their Japanese counterparts.
APE is not a good film, it’s not even a so bad its good film, instead, it is a piece of cinematic trash that stands all alone in the annals of “What the Fuck?” theatre.” A shoestring budget can account for a lot of things; an ape suit that looks as if it was made out of a moth-eaten fur coat, a soundtrack that consists of all the public domain music that the producers could find at the local music library, extras that forget they are supposed to be terrified and instead smile at the camera, the use of repeated stock footage to pad out the 86 minute running time, and a collection of actors ranging from bad to people obviously just trying to pay the rent, but what cannot be explained is just how terrible it is all put together.
Worse is that this film was made in stultifying 3D! So not only were audiences being bombarded with a ludicrous script and bad acting but every few minutes something would be thrown at the camera. The ape would throw barrels at the screen, random martial artists would lunge at the viewer with spears and battering rams, soldiers would stick the barrels of their rifles at you, and pretty much anything thrown was being held by clearly visible wires. The 3D in Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Pancakes was better than this stuff, and that SCTV skit wasn’t actually in 3D.
As King Kong rip-offs go this is at the bottom of the barrel of monkeys, they even try to top the original’s ending by having the hero state, “He was just too big for a little world like ours.” What the hell does that even mean? That director/writer Paul Leder actually put his name to this movie is possibly the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen a filmmaker do. This is a movie that makes The Mighty Peking Man look like Oscar-worthy material, and should only be watched after consulting a doctor or local bartender.
A*P*E is the pinnacle of bad film making, a pure example of a cash grab/rip-off that insults the viewer every moment of the film’s running time.