I’ve written about the wild world that was Hong Kong’s cinematic golden age before with my article on The Boxer’s Omen, but there’s just too much great stuff in there to leave it at one article. While that movie was part of its own weird subgenre, the movie I’m about to discuss requires a bit more external context.
In 1966, Eiji Tsuburaya, the designer of the original Godzilla suit, created a Japanese television show called Ultraman. The show combined science-fiction storytelling with a blend of superhero action and giant monster fights in shrunken city sets. In 1971, Japanese television released another massive hit with Kamen Rider, a show about a motorcycle-riding masked hero who fought outlandish creatures every week. Both Ultraman and Kamen Rider were—and still are—massively popular in their country of origin, but the shockwaves of their initial impact were also felt over in Hong Kong.
Shaw Brothers Studio weren’t afraid to copy the success of foreign hits and so, in 1975, they released their own take on the masked hero shows with The Super Inframan, released in America as Inframan.
Simply put, Inframan is an absolute blast—it’s a blatant copy of those Japanese hits but with its own unique charm to spare. The plot is fairly simple: The evil Princess Dragon Mom brought her evil volcano lair up from the center of the earth, seeking to rule the surface world with her army of monsters and skeleton men. The movie opens with her casually annihilating several cities just so we know she means business. In order to combat this world-ending threat, the genius Professor Liu, leader of the Science Headquarters, turns a brave science soldier into the bionic superhero Inframan.
Inframan’s design is very clearly inspired by the likes of Ultraman and Kamen Rider, with a very similar head to the former and a sick jacket like the latter. The vast majority of the movie is spent giving audiences what they want—namely, rad monster fights and explosions. These battles are delightfully cheap looking with monster costumes coming undone in the back as fights rage on and an overabundance of pyrotechnics to compensate for a lack of money elsewhere.
These are all positives in my book since they add to the charm of the film. The monsters range from a big green lump with a drawn-on mouth and a cardboard drill for a hand to an evil spider who can spit Halloween store-quality cobwebs and grow several stories tall. Inframan’s powers mostly consist of whatever is most convenient at the moment but include robo-fists that can launch off of his wrists and shatter diamonds, jet boots that let him do sweet dive kicks, lasers that make things explode and the incredible ability to do just a shitton of backflips. Seriously, there are so many backflips. The movie is only 84 minutes long, but if you drink every time a backflip happens, you will absolutely die. It owns.
The main thing Hong Kong brought to the preexisting Japanese formula is the addition of kung fu. Even though he has explosion lasers at his disposal, Inframan usually relies on sick martial arts to defeat his enemies. Even the monsters get in on the action. You may ask yourself, “Is it difficult to throw cool punches and kicks when you’re in a cumbersome monster suit?” The answer is yes, and they do not make it look convincing at all.
This isn’t exactly a thinking man’s movie, but if you love monster fights, goofy special effects and explosions (and really, if you don’t you should get that checked out), Inframan has my highest endorsement. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime and includes its English dub, which is good because you definitely want to hear people using the name “Princess Dragon Mom” with complete seriousness.