Iron Superman (1974)

Written & directed by: Kwok Ting-Hung
Producers: Li Kui-Wu & Chang Cheh
Starring: Stephan Yip, Paul Chun, Jamie Luk & Maggie Li

Although fans of Japanese tokusatsu entertainment know Taiwan combined the beloved Kamen Rider with their own narrative- and action footage for a trio of features (including in Superriders Against The Devils), Hong Kong also did a merger of something distinctly Japanese and their homegrown in place of the original favourites. The mix here of a story populated by the likes of Stephan Yip, Jamie Luk, Maggie Li and Paul Chun is surrounded by action footage from the Japanese TV-series Super Robot Mach Baron that aired between 1974-1975. Tasked to make the transition to Hong Kong, the need to replicate or streamline storylines from the small screen and to keep the illusion that it's one film, director Kwok Ting-Hung seemingly keeps matters as simple as half an hour of TV would be. Only now it's 81 minutes of talking, fighting, talking, fighting followed by a quick ending. If you've already bought into the notion of miniature- and men in suits-action, this mecha-fest gets automatic approval. It also deserves it thankfully.

Throughout history there's been mysterious disappearances of boats and bombers in the Bermuda Triangle. The theory is that it's caused by an alien task force and the Earth's Defense Commander (Jamie Luk) and his team of pilots (including newcomer Kay, played by Stephan Yip) are continually deployed to ward off threats from bigger and badder robots of the 'Noble Coordinator' (whose hair continually stands up and changes color depending on success- or failure-rate). In need to counter the robot-threat with one of their own, newcomer Kay is chosen to be the pilot of The Super Weapon (i.e. the Super Robot Mach Baron) and he also has a personal score to settle since his parents died at one incident at the Bermuda Triangle...

Whether or not the Hong Kong production rented any sets and costumes from Japan or did their best to duplicate settings that required new scenes with local talent, Kwok Ting-Hung fully understands that this should be a simple spectacle on the move at all times. Probably thinking that audiences merely get 30 minutes of their favourite TV-series per episode, Iron Superman stuffs the sellable content into a longer session without lulls in the process. And while it's not the Hong Kong effort that's the star of the show, they have a part in the assembly obviously and are the reason why we're on board with the visual onslaught here. Clinching fun and fine technical execution early with the Bermuda Triangle attack that includes our first look at the alien robots and miniature pyrotechnics, dizzying zooms and frantic editing, these are advantages thankfully as that makes the proceedings lively. But not too loud and messy as we can easily appreciate the efforts the Japanese crew went to sell both underwater and land-based mecha-action. The Hong Kong crew then just have to use simple narrative and editing to convince us that this is a new Hong Kong film and mostly the technique works. Stephan Yip is often in a car or cockpit looking at or reacting to action the effects-crew would've shot separately anyway and only the fact that his footage appears a bit sharper versus the more grainy, soft effects footage gives the game away.

But in reality it does not if you decide to have fun with the content and genre Iron Superman (and Super Robot Mach Baron) intensely throws themselves into. Especially fun and in some ways dangerous are the various fights The Super Weapon has with enemy robots. The deployment of weapons such as rockets leads to explosives being set off against the suits of the actors and within this dizzying energy that often gets punctuated by a ray detonation of an opponent (and groovy music cues in and around fights), there's splendid energy here. Granted a lot of it is pulled action from various TV episodes but the film never loses sight of the simple conflict and story. Further kooky sights such as gun wielding and kung fu fighting assassins dressed as football players (they also kick around exploding footballs) and Paul Chun as an inventor/police officer called Porky, it all makes you interested from a market perspective to look at how Iron Superman was tailored for Hong Kong and it definitely sparks an interest in Super Robot Mach Baron for more hours of the same.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson