The Super Inframan Review
We are living in a filmic golden age. This statement does not refer to the quality of the films currently being released in cinemas, because we all know that they are still of mixed quality. What the statement refers to is the ease of access to film that audiences have nowadays. Not only do online streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime allow for vast libraries of films to be available for a low monthly cost, but companies like Arrow Films, The Criterion Collection, BFI, Eureka! and 88 Films are providing Blu-ray releases of films many people have never heard of or those forgotten from all over the world. Much like the 1975 film made by the Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong entitled The Super Inframan.
The film opens in the futuristic year of 2015 with a bus of school children being driven down a hilly road, when suddenly a great rumbling comes down from out of the sky. Turns out to be a rubber-suited pterodactyl plummeting to the road in front of the bus. As it disappears in a jump cut the road collapses and, while the children and teacher get out, the bus driver falls to his death. Nearby a major city burns. Professor Liu Ying-de has found the reason for all these disasters, a Demon Princess called Elzebub, leader of a race that existed on the Earth’s surface before the ice age awakened after 10 million years of slumber. In order to combat the powerful minions at her command, Professor Liu creates The Super Inframan.
The aesthetic of The Super Inframan should be familiar to those fans of Japanese Kaiju films, Super Sentai and/or Tokusatsu movies, like Ultraman or Kamen Rider. We have rubber-suited monsters and skeleton-themed henchman fighting a superpowered man in a red suit. Due to The Super Inframan's nature as a Hong Kong Tokusatsu film, the film is not going to appeal to everyone mainly because it is not very good. The dialogue, both in the original Chinese language and the dubbed English language track, is laughable, though I am unsure whether that is the fault of the translation. It has some truly awkward and stilted sentence structure that sometimes lacks proper grammar and makes serious scenes hilarious through the language used.
The story itself is window dressing for the action sequences. It is purely functional, providing an explanation for the monsters and Inframan, but when it comes to the intricacies of the characters then it provides us with the bare minimum. For an action film there seem to be surprisingly long breaks between the fighting, as the film, despite being about 88 minutes in length, still feels flabby. This is especially true of the making of Inframan, which involves a long convoluted process of putting mechanical looking things onto Danny Lee and what should have been an emotional scene between Professor Liu and his daughter.
The main reasons why people may want to watch The Super Inframan I would guess is the action and costumes. HD is a wonderful thing for some films but alas not in regards to this film. While 88 Films does a good job in the digital restoration and transfer of the film to high definition, the film itself was clearly not made for it. You can see the strings of the wire work, the plates that actors are lying on to give the impression that they are flying. You can tell what sort of material they use to make the monster costumes; I will say that the growing effect is clever, but the electricity effects, lasers and everything else makes Forbidden Planet look like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Everything in this film explodes. When a monster gets killed, it explodes; a monster appears, there is a jump cut after an explosion; the monster spews acid, it explodes. The future, or rather 2015 has never looked so dated with its Tetris inspired set design and shiny jumpsuits.
All that said, the action is pretty good. The Shaw Brothers have an action pedigree that is unprecedented in Hong Kong cinema and here, even with the clunky heavy rubber suits, they still manage to add a good deal of fight scenes. There is definitely an overabundance of the transformation sequence, like any magical girl anime, using the same footage over and over again, as well as a cornucopia of backflips.
The best way to experience this film is with a group of friends who share your taste in campy Asian superhero movies and all riff on the shoddy costumes, odd dialogue and a threadbare plot. If you are expecting something that will be an entertaining watch in itself then The Super Inframan is probably not going to deliver, but it will be a great party movie.
Outside the film itself, there isn't much to talk about. Yes, there is a booklet of notes by Calum Waddell but it does not feel informative or insightful, just a fan’s cursory glance over the Tokusatsu and Kaiju genre.
The Super Inframan is a film that will be an acquired taste. For those that already subscribe to the so-bad-it’s-good school and are fans of clunky special effects, then this is the film for you, but only if you experience it with others. For everyone else, it is best to avoid this one, as it also lacks anything outside of the feature to promote itself.