“Two King Kongs Fight to the Death!”
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Starring Akira Takarada, Rhodes Reason, Mie Hama, Linda Miller, Hideyo Amamoto
Do you know what I haven’t had in a while? A proper bad movie night. Well, that’s what I could have answered yesterday.
UN Kongologists Carl Nelson (Reason) and Jiro Nomra (Takadara) are exploring the waters near Kong’s home on Mondo Island (Skull Island’s post-rebrand nomenclature, I guess,) in a submarine, accompanied by ship’s nurse Susan Watson (Miller). Meanwhile, the diabolical Dr Who (Amamoto) is building a robot Kong based on research stolen from Nelson, bankrolled by a never-specified Asian state which is represented by rubbish secret agent Madame X (Hama, whose character is apparently also known as Madame Piranha), who want him to use the robot to dig up a vast quantity of Element X to kickstart their nuclear programme.
After the radiation from Element X fries the MechaKong’s circuits, Who and his goons kidnap Kong – who has of course fallen in love with Watson – to do the mining for them. Nelson, Nomura and Watson follow to try to rescue Kong, but get captured. Kong busts loose when the radiation fries his hypno hat and flees to Tokyo. Madame X releases our heroes because reasons (mostly that Who is a dick,) and is unsurprisingly murdered by her erstwhile ally to obviate the need for our heroes to do it. Kong battles MechaKong in Tokyo to protect Watson, before finally sinking Who’s ship and killing the doctor.
What’s wrong with it?
King Kong Escapes is a Toho co-production with Rankin/Bass, and combines the Japanese studio’s take on the classic big ape with a storyline loosely lifted from the American partners’ Saturday morning Kong cartoon. None of this explains why Kong looks so damned goofy, mind you, and the suit work is definitely sub-par for its era. Both Kongs look hilarious when they run.
The monster fights are sadly a bit weak. Kong relies on his ‘ground and pound’ manouevre like a Street Fighter noob spamming a character’s one good move, while MechaKong repeatedly resorts to shining lights in Kong’s face to disorient him. Even the film’s take on the classic ‘dino-jaw snap’ finisher is a bit lame.
Dr Who’s plan…
Okay, yeah, so… The villain’s name is Dr Who. He’s played by prolific Japanese actor Hideyo Amamoto, but dresses a bit like the First Doctor with his cape and grey hair. So weird.
Anyway, Dr Who’s plan is to create MechaKong to mine Element X from beneath the North Pole, an area with no dry land, and yet the element is easily reached via a rock fissure. The whole thing smacks of just needing something to do with the robot to justify the expense of building it.
Madame whatever has a top-notch costume game, but is a terrible spy. Her femme fatale moves would barely move Danny Rand, and her inability to shoot a mad scientist at five paces speaks poorly of her training.
About 80% of Watson’s dialogue involves shouting someone’s name: “Kong!” “Jiro!” “Commander!”
Jiro doesn’t really do a lot, and seems to be along as a sort of reverse Raymond Burr, only written in from the beginning.
Does the UN really have its own submarines?
What’s right with it?
Amamoto and Hama pay the bejeesus out of their roles as the sinister mad scientist and the international femme fatale. I mean, look at those two up there; their enjoyment is practically infectious.
Kong fights a robot Kong.
The UN sub has a wicked little hovercraft that flies up out of the deck. Very cool.
The film’s Neru jacket game is strong, and Jiro’s hair is on point.
How bad is it really?
King Kong Escapes is a terrible, terrible film. It’s poorly made even by the standards of its day, features a weak female protagonist, a waste of a good femme fatale and a villain inexplicably based on Doctor Who (well, and some Bond villains.) Our protagonists are square jawed and worthy and Kong looks goofy AF.
And yet it’s immense fun, I can’t deny it.
Best bit (if such there is)?
While excavating the powdery white Element X, Kong goes into a sort of reverie. With his huge, glassy eyes it looks like he’s just massively high.
What’s up with…?
- That face?
- Those eyes?
- That run?
- This Kong?
- MechaKong? I think the idea is that Dr Who is going to excavate the Element X in exchange for seed capital. Building the robot was its own excuse.
Production values – I haven’t watched anything this shonky in quite a while. The suits are duff, the greens screen obvious, and the sets wobble. The Japanese Defense Force is clearly mobilising under the command of General Jumbo. 14
Dialogue and performances – For the most part, the performances aren’t bad, although they are of their time, and several characters are indifferently dubbed. The script is pretty average. 12
Plot and execution – Honestly, the plot makes little sense and mostly hangs together with contrivance. When MechaKong’s excavations at the North Pole cause an earthquake of sorts, the only other thing affected is the UN submarine Explorer in the Java Sea, captained by the one man who knows shit about Kong and, coincidentally, just off the shores of Mondo Island at the time. 14
Randomness – Madame X’s costume changes. MechaKong. Dr Who? 16
Waste of potential – Cobbled together from trash, King Kong Escapes ends up a lot of fun, not least because it was put together with effort, if not necessarily care. It’s a classic example of the difference between a good bad movie and a Sharknado. 4