Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It Ain't King Kong, Except It Absolutely Is

“Okay ACT!”
This is a line spoken by Dino, the director of the film-within-a-film (and the rapiest film-within-a-film that I can remember) nestled inside 1976's A*P*E (as in Attacking Primate monstEr, or just "M*A*S*H was really successful so let's go with that"), or Hideous Mutant, or Attack of the Giant Horny Gorilla, or The Great Counterattack of King Kong, or Not King Kong Because If We Mention King Kong We’ll Be Sued And We Already Used the Budget to Cast Maggie Seaver And Fly the American Cast Overseas On Korean Airlines (they get a special mention in the opening credits, along with the U.S. Army). 
This my friends, is Ape, a 1976 Korean/American co-production that does everything but kidnap Jessica Lange and hold a gun to her pretty blond head as she acts beside a rubber costume, much like how South Korea's northern neighbor's Dear Leader had done with his own favorite filmmaking husband and wife team.

Had it actually done that, this movie may have been awesome.
Quick Plot: Two dubbed and dull Americans hang out on the deck of a large ship, casually discussing the 36’ tall ape being transported below. Their conversation gets mildly interesting--though you would never know it based on the dubbers’ (lack of) inflections--when the titular primate escapes his lazily constructed prison to swim to safety, stopping for about 10 minutes to wrestle a rubber shark. 

A shark you say? Not King Kong fights a SHARK in the opening? THIS MUST BE THE GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME, you shout with all the excitement of cat let loose in a box factory.
But what if those boxes weren’t REALLY boxes, but just plain pieces of cardboard? What if they didn’t have any structure or form, what if they were the base of a box before it was assembled or worse, just one-dimensional remnants of what USED to be a box, much like Mookie's current but wilting obsession:

Is it still a box? With no structure, no interior volume, no life pulse, no actual reason for existing...what would you have?
The answer, of course, is Ape, an 85 minute or so adventure that mostly involves stretches of screentime devoted to a terribly costumed stunt man swinging back and forth. Occasionally he changes things up to dance to the incredibly aggressive musical score, perhaps because it was performed by the Seoul Philharmonic and therefore was the most expensive part of the movie (other than Maggie Seaver's scarves and plane ticket). Why not at least show off what you've got?

Not King Kong roams Seoul, generally acting like a jerk. He sees a snake and decides to throw it, just cause. He stomps on cities where unruly children have invaded abandoned amusement parks, thereby killing their fun. He interrupts a john just as he's about to make love to his aggressively apathetic hooker. He makes extras run at full speed, never giving the director any time to remind the Korean cast that they're not actually supposed to be smiling when fleeing for their lives. 

So unlike most versions of (Not) King Kong, the ape in this film is hardly likable. On the other hand, there's not a single human character to care about either. Sure, the Korean army general seems like a nice family man, but the fact that his children are the only ones in the city that speak broken English to one another raises more than a few suspicions. The American commander smokes a cigarette in a way that probably already gave him instant lung cancer, so why bother investing anything in that guy when he's so clearly died after his first take? Perhaps the most telling sign of Ape's inabilities lies in one of its many mob scenes:

Picture, if you will, a truck speeding through a village, pausing so that all the townspeople can hop on the back. They do this while screaming (and some, while grinning). The camera cuts to a child of about two sitting alone on the road, crying. Cut back to smiling/screaming hop-ons. Cut back to child. An elderly woman jumps off the truck--which is clearly in park and not going anywhere--as other extras furiously (and smilingly) shake their heads. Cut to child. Cut to elderly woman picking up the child. Cut back to hop-ons looking confused. Zoom out as elderly woman and child board the truck. Truck moves. End scene.

I need a drink, and I don't even smoke.
High Points
Goodness, there's nothing ACTUALLY good about this movie save for the story around it, which is almost as laughable as the thing itself. Some skimming of Wikipedia tells me Ape was immediately sued by the makers of Dino De Laurentiis' King Kong, which, you know, also featured a giant ape, big city, blond heroine, and director (offscreen) named Dino. The lawsuit went so far that Ape actually had to include the tagline "Not to be confused with King Kong" on its poster art. Now De Laurentiis' King Kong is its own kind of weird bad, but in the pantheon of bad ape movies, I'd be hard-pressed to call that the winner over this one. I mean, sure, Jessica Lange gets pawed by King Kong, but isn't that preferable to this?

Low Points
I'm not a fan of the 90 minute-too-long 2006 version by Peter Jackson, mostly because it's 90 minutes too long (hey, I'm a gigantic figure skating fan, but even I'm aware that the last thing King Kong needed know...A FIVE MINUTE FIGURE SKATING SCENE). Still, that draggy, drawn-out dull club sandwich of a film made with extra thick white bread feels somehow shorter than Ape.

Lessons Learned
Apes dig blonds

The press really hates it when you smoke goddamned cigarettes, so to HELL with them!

In the 1970s, Korea was home to many statues of tiny cows

It Makes You Wonder...
Hey Joanna Kerns, this was probably not the funnest shoot you've ever been on, what with the atrocious dialogue, deadfish love interest, constant fake rape scenes, and rubber scene partner (nope, no connection to the fake rape...unfortunately), but I really need to know: which was worse, filming Ape or constantly trying to escape being baptized by the growing pain that is Kirk Cameron?

If you’ve ever wanted to see King Kong give you the finger, then Ape is probably the only film for you. 

Yes, it's beyond bad and makes a worthy contender for worst 50 films of all time, but it's also the longest feeling short film I've seen. Netflix's sleeve claimed it was 72 minutes, but the running time is at least 80 and when a good 50% of that is spent watching Kong bang his chest, children play with dolls, adults eyeball each other nervously, Kong bang his chest, children play with dolls some more, adults eyeball each other even more nervously, Kong bang chest, children play, and adults eyeball nervously because by now, they're scared of the ape, bored by the scene, and really have to pee, I just lose it.This is a BAD movie, an incompetent and cheaply made monster tale that didn't know where to begin, started anyway, got lost throughout filming, and ended when someone thought of a dramatic final line (SPOILER ALERT: "I guess he was just too big for a small world like ours"). Connoisseurs of trash will obviously eat it up like tasty dukboki with a shot of soju. 

And now I'm hungry. Thanks a lot A*P*E*. Thanks.


  1. This reminds me of a true story:
    I own the DVD. End of story.

    Kim Jong Il's movie club is a sad sight. Nobody ever shows up, despite promises to the contrary. He sits by himself in a big theater watching Zoolander, and occasionally a homeless person wanders in. There's a table off to the side with little cups of kool-aid and a bowl of generic cheese puffs. It is "to cry".

  2. You've a far more pitiful picture of Our Dear Leader than I. I think the first official 'club' meeting went as you described. After that, the seats were filled with the corpses of those who WERE invited but failed to show up the first time, and now, Kim Jong makes sure they see EVERY MOVIE HE DEEMS WORTHY. Mooooohahahahahahahhahahahaha.

  3. And kim jong's playlist should include unborn sins and Pinocchio's Revenge

  4. Yes! If he wasn't a REAL monster and murderer, he'd totally have his own place in February's Month of the Shorties.

  5. So this movie was South Korean? Then why didn't the giant beetle from The Host save the day? This movie definitely sounds like it need 100% more Song Kang-Ho! And probably Pulgasari to help stamp out the boredom.

    This movie reminds me of the legendary lost-or-never-was film King Kong Appears In Edo, which despite possible not existing, I'm still sure would have been two and a half hours shorter than 2005 King Kong!

  6. Silly Chris: the giant beetle was only a baby in the '70s! He was smaller than the tiny statue of a cow!

    And I'm pretty sure Gone With the Wind was also 2.5 hours shorter than Kong '05. And possibly the waiting line at the DMV.

  7. I saw A*P*E a few years back and have vaguely fond memories of it. It was one of those deals where a friend said, "You've gotta see this!" and then we sat down and watched it together. We actually took in two movies about Kong-like beasts that day. First was Invasion of the Animal People, a film from Lapland which was padded out with new footage by American director Jerry Warren. Now, THAT film drags intolerably. After its theatrical run, Warren padded it out even MORE for television... and THAT'S the version on DVD now. My friend and I suffered through Animal People, after which A*P*E seemed like a nonstop roller coaster ride of thrills, chills, and spills in comparison. In the film's defense, Joanna Kerns does look darned good, and the ape flipping the bird is pretty classic.

  8. Good to know that in the realm of poorly crafted Kongish cinema, there's always something worse than what you're watching. And I'm glad you told me about Invasion of the Animal People, because the title is incredibly tempting but DRAGGING is easily the biggest sin of cinema.