Those of you that grew up in the 90s are most likely familiar with The Power Rangers but their origins, and most of the footage used in the show dates back to the mid-70s and the Japanese Super Sentai Series. This show consisted of a team of people who would transform into superheroes in order to battle a group of evil beings that threatened to take over the world. Such Japanese television shows as Kamen Rider, Ultraman and Super Sentai gained worldwide popularity and China wasn’t going to just let that stand. Thus in 1975, the Shaw Brothers produced China’s very first superhero movie, The Super Inframan.
The movie opens with a dramatic attack on a school bus by what looks like a cross between a Mynock from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ At the Earth’s Core and a small dragon. The creature destroys the mountain road causing the bus to slide off and explode, but luckily the children were evacuated in time. Hong Kong is not so lucky, as it is consumed in flames. What could be the cause of such destruction, and if it isn’t natural who could be behind such a monstrous act? Lucky for China there is a high-tech Science Headquarters, run by Professor Liu Ying De (Hsieh Wang) and his super team of martial arts experts, to save the day.
After tracking the destruction to Mount Devil the team is shocked when the top of the mount explodes to reveal a monstrous fortress. The image of a dragon appears on the monitor but it then shifts into a more human, and curvy form, that of Demon Princess Elzebub (Terry Liu). She makes the startling claim that “I’ve conquered the Earth. I’m your new master now. This disaster was just a small example of my great strength. You just have to surrender to me or I’ll destroy the whole human race.”
The Professor had just completed work on his BDX project which can transform a person into a bionic kung fu superhero, and Rayma (Danny Lee) volunteers to undergo the process even after the Professor tells him, “We will wire your arms and legs with powerful transistors and death rays. You will be powered by a tiny nuclear reactor. Unfortunately, the operation will be very painful and you may die.”
What follows for the next 90 minutes is a continuous battle between the forces of Demon Princess Elzebub and the science attack team backed by Inframan. Elzebub will unleash a giant plant creature whose massive vines seek to crush the super-secret science base, then Inframan will appear and destroy it with an array of futuristic weapons. The Demon Princess will capture and brainwash one of the science team so that she can get a hold of Inframan’s blueprints, and then Rayma and company will take off in hot pursuit. Rayma is ambushed by a group of Elzebub’s skeletal warriors, plus a crab-like henchman, and Rayma has to use every martial arts trick to stay alive. Now, this leads to one of the goofier elements of this show (and to be fair almost all shows of this genre suffer from it) and that is how long Rayma will engage in a kung fu fight with the horde of monstrous henchman before turning into Inframan.
After Rayma and his friends engage in hand-to-hand combat eventually a second monster appears and Rayma finally yells out, “Change to Inframan!” and then proceeds to kick some serious butt. Stranger still is when the one crablike monster suddenly grows to about two hundred feet high and only after dodging giant pincers does Inframan finally follows suit and grow to an equal size. Is there a reason he waited so long? Unlike Ultraman, there is never a stated time limit as to how long he can remain Inframan.
Inframan’s armaments include missiles stored below his ribs, a laser blade he can unleash at will (which he uses to sever the hands of Elezebub’s second in command), he has a solar attack called the “Sun Ja” which is an instant kill attack, he has Thunderball Fists that can be launched as a ranged attack and can destroy any matter known to man (they gauntlets also have limb severing blades in them as well), and he has something called the “Lethal Kick” which also instantly kills his enemies. I think Rayma just really loves kung fu for there is no other reason to spend this amount of time backflipping around and throwing punches when you could obliterate your foe instantly with one of several awesome weapons.
Of course, the real reason behind his holding back is because then the movie would be over at about the twenty-minute mark and we’d miss out on a whole lot of fun. Instead, we are treated to a mind-blowing colourful action film with some of the goofiest looking monsters you will ever see; from the Elzebub’s skeletal army (just guys in horned motorcycle helmets), a monster with drills for hands so he can burrow into the science base, a red witch-like demon with long hair and huge horns that shoot yellow beams, the aforementioned plant monster and crab creature, and best of all is Witch-Eye Elzebub’s beautiful-but-deadly second in command who can fire hypnotic or destructive beams out of the eye’s located in the palms of her hands. She is the most dangerous next to the Princess but I particularly love the pair of robots that can launch their armoured heads or their spiked-clubbed fists on retractable coiled springs.
This is one of those guilty pleasure movies that fans of “monster suit cinema” will get a kick out of it (hopefully not the lethal kind) but even your average moviegoer should get some fun out of a movie that has a dragon princess from the Earth’s core unleashing a horde of monsters against a team of scientist who are studied in the martial arts and who also has a bionic superhero on their roster. What’s not to love?
The Super Inframan (1975)
Directed by Shan Hua and produced by the Shaw Brothers Super Inframan is a candy coloured romp through a psychedelic world of beautiful girls and goofy monsters. This is the kind of movie that awakens the child in you.