Super Inframan (1975)
Review by Alex at Assorted Loaf
Leave it to the Shaw Brothers to import the Japanese tokusatsu/henshin (Special effects/transforming hero) genre and get it completely right on the first try. Director Shan Hua and team took a Japanese convention to Hong Kong, sprinkled just a bit more “umm, what?” on top, and what came out was a slight mess of a film but a whole lot of fun.
The story follows science team member Lei Ma (played by Danny Lee) as he undergoes a highly experimental procedure to transform himself into a bionic superhero, Inframan, whose abilities will be used to combat the recently surfaced Demon Princess Elzebub who of course is bent on ruling the world. Anyone familiar with the genre will know what to expect here as far as acting and drama are concerned, but what makes Super Inframan stand out is the quality of martial arts from conventional hand-to-hand to trampoline work (this quality is often missing in many Japanese entries into the genre), as well as the un(?)intentional humor that comes out of certain line deliveries, action sequences, costumes, etc.
The Inframan role was still relatively early on in Danny Lee’s career, which now spans across four decades and more than 130 films including John Woo’s classic The Killer. He does a serviceable job here as the hero, but what the viewer will be looking for primarily is the masked version of said hero, where dramatic head and arm movements take the place of a moving mouth and facially expressed emotion. The standouts however, from their costumes to their melodrama, are Terry Liu’s Demon Princess Elzebub, her insane demon sidekick with her frightening fingers and eyeball palms, the awesomely costumed Skeleton Ghosts, and the hilariously costumed monsters at her disposal. All here are very over the top and highly entertaining. Surprisingly, the monsters in their surely cumbersome foam rubber suits, move very well in combat sequences, and hardly slow the action down one bit. The costumes were at the very least created with consultation from a group that worked on many costume hero productions in Japan.
The plot is straight forward, but does suffer a bit from a side story featuring the kidnapping of a professor’s daughter and some nosy kids which seem to be commonplace in the genre. I understand the inclusion of such things to keep the ball rolling so to speak, and also to fill out some time as the film is still only 84 minutes long, but it’s elements such as these that make this a feature length film at this time as opposed to television shows like Ultraman, Kamen Rider, etc. These complaints are relatively minor, however, because the action, entertaining special effects, and brisk pace make up for any shortcomings.
Fans of the genre will surely be satisfied with Super Inframan. Being the first superhero film out of China, it is historically valuable for fans, but has enough going on to hold the attention of those less familiar. A fabulous blend of Japanese superhero with Hong Kong kung fu, Super Inframan gets a high recommendation from me.