Monday, May 19, 2008

Thai-style Kaiju: The films of Sompote Sands Part IV

Giant and Jumbo A

It's time for another installment in my series of reviews covering the work of Thailand's own monster man, Sompote Saengduenchai -- aka Sompote Sands. Today's considered title, Giant and Jumbo A, is the first of the two co-productions that Sands' Chaiyo Productions participated in with Japan's Tsubaraya Productions, the second being the infamous Hanuman and the 7 Ultramen. Like Hanuman, Giant and Jumbo A features characters from one of Tsubaraya's numerous live action giant super hero series, though in this case not one as time-tested or enduring as Ultraman. In fact, Jumborg Ace was already off the air in Japan by the time of Giant and Jumbo A's release in 1974, and does not appear to be all that well remembered today.

The series was very similar in concept to Ultraman, in that it featured a human pilot saved from death by the intervention of benevolent aliens. However, rather than merging the human hero with one of their own, as in Ultraman, these aliens give hero Tachibana Naoki (played, as the result of some mysterious conceit on the part of the show's producers, by an actor also named Tachibana Naoki) the ability to transform his Cessna into a gigantic fighting cyborg called Jumborg Ace. Along with a Science Patrol type space-age paramilitary group called PAT ("Protection Association Troop"), Naoki and Jumborg Ace do battle against an invading race of aliens called the Gurosu Seizin, who attack the planet using an army of giant monsters. At about the midpoint in the series, Naoki's alien benefactors also give him the ability to transform his Honda Z into a second giant cyborg, Jumborg 9, who also makes an appearance in Giant and Jumbo A.

Unlike Hanuman and the 7 Ultras, which mostly comprised special effects footage that was unique to it, Giant and Jumbo A relies a great deal on repurposed footage from the Jumborg Ace television series both to establish its narrative, such as it is, and to further its action. The result makes it difficult to assess those merits that are specific to Giant and Jumbo A, though it certainly sold me on the charms of Jumborg Ace itself, and I'm now eager to get my hands on some original episodes. From what I witnessed in those numerous clips that make up so much of Giant and Jumbo A's running time, the series was blessed with some of the most bizarre looking monsters in all of Tokusatsu-dom, not to mention a lot of over-the-top monster violence and cool miniature work.

What Sands and company do contribute to the mix, of course, is the participation of some well known creatures from Thai folklore -- in this case, the two guardian giants Yuk Wud Jaeng and Yuk Wud Pho, who both featured prominently in Sands' 1971 film Tah Tien. As the Gorozu Seizin's monsters wreak havoc upon Tokyo and Bangkok (though mostly, for obvious reasons, Tokyo), we learn that Thailand has their own super-scientific paramilitary group, though one not quite as well appointed as the PAT. This group, which includes the kid who played Piko in Hanuman and the 7 Ultramen, goes about giving life to the two giant statues so that they can join in the fight against the aliens. The ungainly Yuk Wud Pho is the first into the fray, and he is quickly defeated by one of the aliens in giant form, necessitating bringing in the big guns in the foot stomping form of Yuk Wud Jaeng. Yuk Wud Jaeng takes the battle to the aliens' home turf, flying to the moon-like surface of their planet for the big dust-up that takes up the final third of the movie. Jumborg Ace is also on hand and -- just like in an old Shaw Brothers wuxia movie -- he and Yuk Wud Jaeng start things off by having a battle with one another before realizing that they're on the same side. Then it's on to much of the same type of bloody anti-monster mayhem we saw in Hanuman, with the Gorozu Seizin and their monster menagerie being sliced, diced, roasted, toasted and filleted in every way imaginable. Good times.

Even of what's original to Giant and Jumbo A, it's hard to determine the extent of Sands' and Chaiyo's contribution. As with Hanuman, Tsubaraya's effects department had hands-on involvement in the production, a fact which is more obvious at some points than at others. The brief fight between Yuk Wud Pho and the giant alien, which is set in a miniaturized section of Bangkok, has a different look from those sequences featuring Jumborg Ace and Yuk Wud Jaeng -- which match-up better with the recycled footage from the series -- and as such leads me to suspect that it might have been done by the Chaiyo effects department (in which case, I have to say, it looks pretty good -- much better than the similar giant monster battle sequence in Tah Tien, filmed just a couple of years earlier).

Given that it is, to such a great extent, a highlights reel of Jumborg Ace, Giant and Jumbo A doesn't leave much room for the usual infusions of sleaze and weirdness that would mark it indelibly as being a Sompote Sands' production. There are, for example, no extended skinny-dipping sequences or instances of child murder. Still, the film does deliver up frenetic kaiju battling action from start to finish, disjointed and incoherent though it may be, and as such offers a lot to enjoy for indiscriminate monster fans such as yours truly.


Wise Kwai said...

Part V? Don't tip your hand if you don't want to. But I find this series fascinating - a whole world of Thai cinema I never knew existed.

Todd said...

Wise Kwai, when it comes to Sompote Sands, ignorance may indeed be bliss! ;) I kid, of course. The Noble War was actually pretty interesting, and the Tsubaraya co-productions are both fun to watch. Next up, whenever I get around to it, will be Hanuman and the 5 Riders which, of what I've seen, stands out as Sands' sort of sleaze masterpiece. After that it's a matter of what else of his I can find on VCD or DVD. Thanks for reading!