Tokusatsu Network writer Rain reviews Inframan, the excitingly silly Hong Kong movie inspired by Ultraman and Kamen Rider.
In 1975, Shaw Brothers Studio released The Super Inframan, inspired by the success of Japanese tokusatsu. Labelled ‘The man beyond bionics’ in its American release, Inframan is everything good about the overwhelming cheese and fun of 1970s tokusatsu (and a little of the bad too). Inframan is essentially what the average layman thinks tokusatsu is: a flashy, shallow, slapstick action movie where a silly-looking superhero uses awesome martial arts against evil rubber guys.
The plot of Inframan is simple. Dragon Princess Elzebub has awoken from within the Earth, and is determined to conquer Earth. The only person who can stop her is Lei Ma, the one and only Inframan! This set-up is quick and blunt, leaving no room for misconception. You aren’t here to see a deep and touching film, you’re here to see guys in suits whale on each other. Inframan provides this in spades; a variety of weird monsters with unique abilities provide constant spectacle, and despite oft-cheap visuals the fighting is always fun to watch.
Sometimes the fights are reminiscent of Ultraman, with Inframan growing giant and shooting suspiciously familiar beams from his forearm. Other times it carries the aura of early Kamen Rider, as Lei Ma skillfully dispatches hordes of grunts.
Effects wise, Inframan revels in its constraints. Beams are drawn by hand onto the film. Clever cuts make Inframan’s ridiculous finishers look exciting, and the transformation sequence is simple yet effective. The only times Inframan is held back by its own circumstances are the sound effects and character design. Fights are punctuated by a small population of generic impact sounds, recycled over and over again. This is fine – until Inframan is fighting a dozen grunts and the din does my head in. As for the characters, there’s definitely something charming about the lumpy monsters Inframan fights, but it feels like they were grabbed at random from a bargain bin. To its credit, Inframan takes this in stride. No attempt is made to explain anything away – we’re just along for the ride.
Similarly, Inframan cheaps out on its female characters. Aside from Mei – a damsel in distress archetype – the two other prominent women are Dragon Princess Elzebub and her servant Witch Eye. Both are clad in revealing outfits that contrast unpleasantly with every interesting kaijin in their evil lair. Elzebub even has a dragon form which is painfully underutilized, so why not use it more? (Her dragon form, coincidentally, has the best gag in the movie: Inframan cuts her head off five times as it grows back again and again.) The movie shoots itself in the foot with misogyny, denying us more awesome monster designs and instead giving us boring and needlessly sexualized outfits.
Overall, Inframan is exactly what it says on the tin. Come into it expecting a cheesy action movie dripping in style and fun, and Inframan gladly delivers. It embraces the limitations of film, and while held back by budget and production choices, it remains a fun weekend watch almost 50 years since its first release.