“Greetings to you, Earthlings. I am Princess Dragon Mom. I have taken over this planet. Now I own the Earth, and you’ll be my slaves for all eternity! The disasters you experienced are just small examples of our great power! Either surrender to me or I’ll destroy all humans! I’ve spoken. It’s all the warning you are going to get from me. You’ll be destroyed!”
Okay, so don’t chalk this Mother of Dragons up as a breaker of chains. Then again, If I’d been jostled awake after a ten million year slumber, I’d probably be cranky and megalomaniacal too. But how does mankind fight back against this ancient evil? Princess Dragon Mom can unleash natural disasters on command. I mean, the eruption of Mt. Devil alone claimed more than ten thousand innocent lives! She has an army of nightmarish creatures at her beck and call. And that whip! Meoww. With its every crack, the princess’ legions of skeletal warriors (in horned biker helmets!) swell larger and larger in number.
“The situation at this time is so serious that it’s the worst in human history,” bemoans the Chairman of Science. But hey, you’ve read the title up there in big, bold letters, so you already know the key to victory: Inframan! Rayma (Danny Lee) volunteers to be subjected to all the double-exposure transistors and neon liquid injections that Professor Chang (Hsieh Wang) has prepared for this sort of catastrophe. It’s the most grueling experience he’s ever endured, but Rayma comes out the other end a nuclear-powered superhero. Look out, rubber monsters! Here comes Inframan.
If you know what tokusatsu means without resorting to Google, you already have a pretty good idea what you’re in for here. The Super Inframan adopts the same general template as Ultraman and Kamen Rider before it. You’ve got your cackling master villain – think Rita Repulsa with a dragon-whip. She’s surrounded by a half-battalion of disposable, completely interchangeable flunkies. There’s a whole TV season’s worth of guys-in-monster-suits, and, yes, one of them grows to city-stomping size.
This genre certainly didn’t originate in Hong Kong, but that didn’t stop the Shaw Brothers from perfecting it. You know how Godzilla movies on average have the Big G onscreen for somewhere around twelve minutes, bridging those moments in between with… well, nothing worth talking about? The Super Inframan pits our hero against a slew of different monsters, from a dragon to a big, bad beetle(borg) to a pair of spring-loaded robots. There are seriously at least a half-dozen of them in all.
This being a Shaw Bros. production, it goes without saying that the martial arts action is as spectacular as the limited movement of the monster suits will allow. If there isn’t a maniacally cackling creature onscreen, the next battle royale isn’t more than a couple of minutes away. Heck, even its scientists aren’t meekly mixing colored liquids in beakers; they’re packing pistols and clad in straight-up Evel Knievel jumpsuits (complete with helmets!).
Just about everything you see on-screen either shoots lasers, sprays acid, or explodes. Hey, why settle for just one of those? There’s a giant tentacle that, when wounded, sprays acid which explodes on contact. One of Princess Dragon Mom’s most trusted warriors is a lady with eyes on her giant claws that blast hypnotic beams. When Professor Chang decides that his unstoppable champion isn’t quite unstoppable enough, he gifts Inframan a pair of Thunderbolt Fists – gauntlets that fly off his hands, pack a million volt punch, and then soar back. Oh, and these metallic gloves also include Infrablades so our hero can decapitate a regenerative dragon-man over and over and over again.
Director Shan Hua cut his teeth as a cinematographer, playing no small role in what a gorgeous film The Super Inframan is. It has some truly daring camerawork. The set design is elaborate and wonderfully imaginative. I’m a sucker for its bright, candy-colored aesthetic; given that its original title translates to “Chinese Superman,” it stands to reason that it’d look like a comic book brought to life. I get that the natural reaction may be to snicker at the overly rubber badniks or the painted electricity/laser effects, but the special effects impress when it counts, particularly as the three-eyed shellfish-spider-monster grows to colossal size.
Don’t sneer at The Super Inframan as “so bad, it’s good.” This is exactly the movie it sets out to be: a frenetic, unrelenting mash-up of science fiction, kung-fu, and big rubber monsters. I don’t want to continue clacking on my keyboard about The Super Inframan; I want to rewatch it right now, and I hardly ever have that reaction so soon.
Tragically, The Super Inframan has yet to find its way onto Blu-ray on these shores, though it has landed a couple of high-def releases overseas. The presentation on Prime Video looks to be sourced from the same master as 88 Films’ recent Blu-ray release over in the UK. The streaming version is, alas, limited exclusively to the English dub, while the more extensive British Blu-ray offers Mandarin audio as well. Consider importing if you can handle region B discs, but Prime Video is the next best thing – not to mention “free,” at least if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber.