Howdy folkses! As I sit on the north balcony here at Million Monkey Towers sipping fresh-squeezed lime-ade, slurping a big bowl of Kong-guksu and preparing today's article we are still languishing in the sweltering days of summer*, and it's been a real scorcher 'round these parts...hot enough to bake turds into bricks and build a shithouse, if you're into that sort of thing. I've been sweating my appealingly well-sculpted buttocks off in this blistering blast furnace of an August, too, grimacing and grunting my way through a series of grueling construction projects, including building a brand-new banquet hall for our quarterly Godzilla-themed orgies and installing a state-of-the-art abattoir in the old barn out back. Sure, it might seem odd for a vegetarian to have a slaughterhouse, but we've got some pretty annoying neighbors and I never know when one of them might set me off.

*[Editorial note: Due to some snafus involving the meddlesome jackanapes in our legal department (see below) this review required extensive rewrites and suffered multiple delays. As of publication the weather is pleasingly mild and the banquet hall and abattoir are complete, fully operational and ready for boinking and butchering respectively.]

After the punishing, perspiratory exertion of these past few weeks and the lingering, limburger stench of my last contribution to the site, I thought I should review something cheerful and cheeky, loopy and light, free of subtlety, subtext, gravitas or grandiosity of any kind...and man-oh-Mankiewicz have I ever found a vacant, vacuous, willowy wisp of insubstantial ichor to reset and recharge my creaky critic's cranium. It's a farkakteh farrago of botched, bumbling buffoonery, deeply derivative doggerel and chucklingly chintzy cheapness. Yes, sometimes I alliterate when I iterate. Sue my socks off, if you're so inclined, but my pernicious point is that this day's diversion is as dumb as a doorknob...and you can't even open anything useful with it. Like a liquor cabinet or a gun safe.

A*P*E is a South Korean/American co-production made in 14 days for approximately $23,000, and concieved to exploit the upcoming Dino De Laurentis remake of King Kong (1933) which had been announced for release in 1976. There was a great deal of industry buzz surrounding this new, big-budget version of a golden-age classic virtually everyone over the age of five had seen, and De Laurentis was fiercely protective of his investment, seeking to quash any copycat knock-offs through aggressive litigation. In the case of a film called Queen Kong, a daft feminist parody originally scheduled to come out at the same time as his own movie, the producer managed to prevent the film's release almost entirely, with the exception of brief theatrical runs in West Germany and Japan.

It still enjoys a minor cult following in the latter country.

As amply demonstrated by our own CEO/Grand Poo Bah Pam's 2018 review of Queen Kong, the litigation and injunction was a completely wasted effort, as no one was likely to mistake that plodding piece of cinematic garbage for the plodding piece of cinematic garbage De Laurentis eventually released himself. The only thing worth noting about it is that its director, Frank Agrama, would later be convicted of tax fraud and embezzlement in a case involving disgraced Italian Prime Minister Silvio Burlusconi, still remembered and admired amongst descerning debauchees for his infamous bunga bunga parties. In the interest of avoiding a libel suit I should add that since Agrama was over 70 years old at the time of his conviction he served no jail time, and that due to statute of limitations issues some of the convictions were later overturned.

The producers of A*P*E somehow got off much easier than Agrama in De Laurentis' lawsuit against their own execrable sham, having had only to remove the words "King Kong" from their film's title and put a disclaimer on all promotional materials stating that their movie was "not to be confused with King Kong." They complied with the letter of the law, if not its spirit, by printing the words "King Kong" in enormous block capital letters, dwarfing the rest of the phrase, so the part they were ordered to disclaim on their posters would be the only part anyone would remember. In small international markets where the presiding court had no jurisdiction they further thumbed their nose at De Laurentis by releasing the film variously as Super King Kong, King Kong Returns and King Kong's Great Counterattack, the latter of which was one of the titles they'd intended to use all along.

The distributors' balls were almost as big as the gorilla's.

With a title like A*P*E you surely shouldn't go in expecting Academy Awards-level material, but reportedly the filmmakers planned their film with the honest intention of crafting some decent simian-themed kaiju mayhem. By the end of the first day of shooting, however they realized they weren't very good at that sort of thing, so they made an off-the-cuff decision to introduce more comedic and parodic elements whenever it occurred to them during the remainder of the shoot. It turns out they weren't very good at that sort of thing either, so they ended up with a shaky, out-of-joint balancing act that's neither horror nor comedy nor parody, but a mucky, nebulous mess of muddled tones and absurd jokes that never quite sticks any of its landings. The "action" is puerile nonsense of the sort that might well have appealed to the six-to-eight-year-old demographic back in the mid 70's, before video games and surfing three hundred cable channels inexorably reduced kids' attention spans to the level of fruit flies, but it's weighed down by awkward, uncomfortable sexual situations no child should see, and obscure, humorless japes no child would understand.

Still, if you're a little punchy from lack of sleep and willing turn off that part of your brain that tries to make rational sense of things you might just get a couple of snickers out of it...and that's as ringing an endorsement as I can manage.

We begin our threadbare, pinchpenny tale somewhere off the coast of South Korea where a plastic model of a barge drifts across the stygian waters of a shallow, clumsily lit studio pool. As the First Mate of the toy boat is enjoying a smoke break up on deck, staring into the impenetrable darkness of both the night ocean and the empty abyss his career as an actor has become, a Seaman emerges from below to take his turn at the watch. The First Mate offers the Seaman a cigarette and as they genially puff away they have a chat about the rather unusual cargo the ship is transporting.

"All quiet below?" asks the Mate. "Yessir!" replies the Seaman. "He's sleeping like a kitten..."

"...as will be the audience, soon enough."

There's some gawky exposition wherein we learn that the Ape is thirty-six feet tall, was caught on an island someplace, and is set to make his first appearance as a living leisure attraction at Disneyland. The Mate expresses some fleeting sympathetic regret that such a magnificent beast should be forced into captivity, but it doesn't seem to weigh too heavily on his conscience or spoil his enjoyment of his cigarette.

The Seaman is more concerned that the gas the Ape's captors used to render him unconscious might not last long enough to get the beast to his destination, but the Mate tells him not to worry his pretty little head. The captors told him the stuff should keep the critter asleep for at least another five days...which is not quite as reassuring as it sounds considering it takes over seven weeks to get from South Korea to California by sea.

As it happens, this point is rendered moot by the beast himself suddenly awaking and punching his way out of the hold. The Seaman mutters "Oh shit" in the lazy, unhurried and dreamily subdued tone someone might use when they've just remembered it's casual Friday but they're already halfway to the office wearing a button-down shirt and tie.

Then the barge explodes.

That's $15 of the $1200 special effects budget already gone.

The Ape, of course, is unhurt by this, otherwise there wouldn't be a movie, but he does seem plenty pissed off at waking up in the middle of the ocean, presumably many miles from home and without so much as a beach ball or a pool noodle to play with.

He emerges from the waist-deep water and proceeds to splash around and beat his chest, then grabs and wrestles a shark that happens to be swimming past. It's about two thirds as long as he's tall, and the prop appears to be an actual dead shark with its teeth removed. The Ape has a grand old time swinging and thrashing the thing around in slow motion for a couple of minutes before pulling its jaws apart and rending it in half.

This was reportedly meant as a spoof of Jaws (1975) which was at the time of this production setting unprecedented box office records all over the world, but without any tell-tale music cues to mark it as parody it just comes across as a pointless, non-sequitor bit of weirdness thrown in on a whim, perhaps because somebody happened to have a dead shark handy and needed to do something with it before it spoiled. Sadly, or mercifully, depending on your point of view, I can't show you any of it anyway.

When Pam and I took over Million Monkey Theater a few years back we had to sign an agreement stipulating that no sharks would ever appear on the site, because our beloved founder Nate is deathly afraid of them. I'm bending that rule to its breaking point just by describing this scene, but considering how brief and superfluous it is I think I can safely manage without having to sell off my stock and yield control of the business to Pam and the interns. Between this and the Frank Agrama thing, though, I think I'd better run it past our legal department before I publish, just to be safe.

Five rewrites, seven weeks and an independent arbitration later our new intern Hector reports that the review has finally been approved. He also reports that he is not impressed with our legal department.

After dispatching the finny interloper the Ape looks around and spots the glittering lights of a port town in the distance. He swims to shore to wreak some havoc in the classic Godzilla style, but with cheaper-than-Ultraman buildings and an off-the rack gorilla suit from the South Korean equivalent of Spirit Halloween. He pounds on the buildings with his fists, breaking them into near-weightless Styrofoam bits, and with each strike we hear the same sound clip of a piece of newspaper being scrunched up directly into a microphone. This sound will be used approximately seven hundred times during the course of the film, each and every time the Ape hits, kicks smashes or stomps, and I'm put in mind of the original Mortal Kombat from the early 90's when there was only one sound file for strikes that you'd hear again and again until either you or your opponent was dead.

Finish Him!

The Ape finds a pile of fuel barrels and tosses them around so we can have a few nifty low-rent explosions, including one he throws directly at the camera along a wobbly string to startle any bored patrons who paid an extra two bucks to watch this movie in 3-D.

Then we cut to the Korean Airlines counter at the Seoul Airport where a smarmy, creeper-looking occidental sidles up to ask a pretty counter gal if a woman named Marilyn Baker is on a particular plane that's just landed.

Lean in a little closer. She doesn't look nearly uncomfortable enough to me.

This is Tom Rose, a newspaper reporter and our ineffectual hero for the evening. Tom is played by Rod Arrants, a middlingly successful television actor known primarily for recurring roles on several daytime soap operas. He plays Tom as a stalky, aggressively horny ex-boyfriend type who's always looking for a little grope-and-poke action. His personal mantra is "Anytime, anyplace, pull down your panties and sit on my face," and whether in the back of a taxicab or on a movie set in front of the director and crew, or out on a South Asian mountainside fleeing for dear life from a giant mutant gorilla he's rip-roaring-randy and ready to go for some handsy, slobbery, not necessarily consensual naked fun.

Since his perpetual, undisciplined erection is his most distinguishing feature, I'm going to call him Hard-On Harry for the remainder of the review.

So Hard-On Harry oozes out onto the tarmac where a small group of South Korean journalists are swarming around a big-time American movie star who's just arrived in Seoul to appear in her first international film production. This is the Marilyn Baker about whom Hard-On Harry inquired at the counter, but in terms of the plot she's Ann Darrow from the original King Kong, as played by the legendary pre-code scream queen Fay Wray.

I'll bet her eyes are pinned behind those tea shades.

Fay Wray is played by Joanna Kerns, billed here by her birth name Joanna DeVarona. Kerns would later find fame on the long-running American sitcom Growing Pains (1985-92), during the filming of which she and her castmates were forced to endure the backstage Evangelical ramblings of the insufferable Kirk Cameron for seven agonizing seasons.

While the Korean journalists interview her and she shovels them some perky boilerplate bullshit about how humbled she is by a reception of six or seven people showing up to stick phallic microphones all up in her pie-hole, Hard-On Harry watches hungrily from about five yards away, licking his lips like he's at a southern barbecue and just spotted himself a big plate of chicken and ribs.

Fay notices him and stops mid-sentence, clearly startled by his presence, but quickly regains her composure and tells the other reporters that she'll provide more complete interviews once on the set of her film. As the journalists disperse she heads over to confront Hard-On, who explains that he got his editor to assign him to her Korean movie shoot so he could "be near the woman [he] loves" and also constantly, shamelessly pressure her to have sex with him.

Although Fay seems happy to see him, we learn that she was kind of looking forward to this trip so she could have time alone to sort out some ambivalent feelings regarding their relationship. When the two share a cab together to her hotel we see why. Hard-On gropes and grasps and licks and kisses and slaps his mouth all over her like she's his first home-cooked dinner after a year in prison.

"Your name must be Kim-Chee, baby, 'cause you're spicy and savory and you're making at least part of me bloat."

Hard-On Harry ultimately fails to cajole his way up to Fay Wray's hotel room to make an all-you-can-eat buffet out of her, though not for lack of trying. It seems she's been on a plane for seventeen hours and is expected on-set to begin shooting her movie later that morning, but she promises they'll have dinner together that evening, after which a kielbasa will most definitely be hidden repeatedly in a soft, yielding bun, because women in the 70's loved pushy, arrogant sleaze-balls with zero respect for their frequently-stated personal boundaries. This is a proven fact. Burt Reynolds wrote a book about it.

I can't tell which one is the rug.

Meanwhile, in a village somewhere in the hilly wilderness of rural South Korea a farmer with a curiously bladeless roto-tiller discovers some huge simian footprints in his field. He looks up to see our titular Ape gazing around, scanning the horizon and wondering if there's anyplace on the Korean peninsula a thirty-six foot gorilla might find a MacDonald's for some coffee and breakfast.

"Ape want hash brown and Egg McMuffin!"

Now it's time to meet some more human protagonists we will neither care about nor remember when A*P*E is behind us. We cut to a well-appointed home somewhere in Seoul where a woman and her two giggling children are just sitting down to breakfast. The phone rings and an actress who plainly does not speak English picks it up and struggles to say her few meager lines. It's for her husband, one Captain Kim, who is apparently some sort of police liaison between civilian and military forces. I don't really understand how these things work in South Korea and I can't be arsed to find out, but he later demonstrates some degree of authority over both.

He looks like a bulldog licking piss off a nettle.

At least this actor can speak discernable English, albiet in a halting, learned-by-rote fashion. When he hangs up he sits down at the table with his family and informs his wife about the farmer having seen some kind of monster in the previous scene. He dismisses it as the ravings of a bucolic inebriate, but his kids hear the word "monster" and their curiosity is immediately piqued. He assures them it's nothing but drunken bunk, and if they don't shut up and eat their breakfast he's the one who's going to become a monster.

This is orders of magnitude more convincing than the actual monster.

At first I feared these two brats were going to become a pair of intolerable Kaiju Kennys, but aside from a bit of silliness later on they're barely in the film at all. I think we all dodged a bullet there.

Two Kennys is two too many.

Next we get a reminder that the "police action" that was the Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a definitive peace treaty and that U.S. troops have been posted there ever since as a deterrent against any North Korean hostilities. We follow an Army green but otherwise unmarked American jeep down past a fenced-in area containing what looks like military barracks, and because every now and then the filmmakers remembered they were filming in 3-D, the nameless dingus of a soldier drives the jeep into a big square ceiling joist that's wedged in the crotch of a tree. Those lucky several dozens of patrons who actually paid to see this in the theater were doubtless knocked right out of their seats by this stunning effect. I just want to know why he drove directly towards the tree when he was the only driver on the road.

I don't think your insurance is gonna cover this one, pal.

The poor sap gets out of the jeep to have a look at the damage and just then notices he's in the middle of a disaster zone. Model houses are crushed and burning, model vehicles are overturned, and tiny trees made of garden wire and Spanish moss are snapped in half like matchsticks.

I believe some of the models actually are made of matchsticks.

Surely this is no phantom made manifest by demon drink, but a bona fide 1/18 scale calamity. The Soldier says "Oh, shit" with all the shock and urgency of a garden slug on thorazine. Then he scurries off someplace to call his C.O.

I've pointed out in previous reviews a peculiar phenomenon in a certain class of terrible films where one character seems plucked right out of a 1930's or 40's comedy short subject, overenunciating, over-emoting, pulling faces and generally being unfunny, badly dated and completely out-of-place. In A*P*E our U.S. Army commander Colonel Davis is that man.

The role was originally meant to have been played straight, but when it became clear to the producers that no one was going to take anything about this film seriously they encouraged actor Alex Nicol to yuck it up and overplay it, and boy-howdy, does he ever. There's absolutely nothing regulation military about this Colonel. His voice, his language, his posture and personality is that of an arrogant, uncouth and undisciplined blowhard bully. He hovers awkwardly in some hellish, humorless nether-realm between Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-85) with a dash of Edgar Kennedy's lemonade salesman from Duck Soup (1933) thrown in for flavor, yet he somehow strips everything funny or appealing about those characters completely away. It's a sad showing for Nicol, who had a decent career in feature films and television as both an actor and director but in his later years was none-too-picky about what he appeared in so long as there was a paycheck attached.

He certainly gave them his whole $125 worth here.

So the Colonel hollers and sneers and browbeats the Soldier on the other end of the line, then barks at his own assistant who's hovering around his desk with a packet of papers for him to sign. He dismisses the significance of the crushed and burned buildings and giant footprints out of hand, but when asked how he thinks everything got crushed, burned and footprinted he comes up empty. As he fumbles and stutters for a reasonable-sounding response that might get him out of having to get off his lazy ass and do his freaking job already, his gaze happens upon that morning's newspaper with its article about Fay Wray's movie shoot. Grasping for a lifeline he decides that all the alleged mayhem must be nothing but a studio publicity stunt. Nevermind that she's not making a monster movie, as we later shall see. If Colonel Blowhard says it's a publicity stunt then it's a goddamn publicity stunt, goddamnit!

I can't help but notice that the American characters here aren't exactly coming off as paragons of humanity. They're either shallow media personalities like Fay, smarmy horndogs like Hard-On Harry, luckless buffoons like the clumsy Jeep Soldier, Mate and Seaman, or volatile, inept blatherskites like the Colonel. They're all Yankee Doodle dickheads of various flavors, adhering faithfully to stereotypes of Americans abroad. It would have been helpful in getting the audience on the movie's side to have at least one decent, likeable character to root for. There is Captain Kim, of course, who's nominally portrayed as an honorable family man, but the actor is so wooden and the character so bland you'd just as soon he ended up ground into paste under the giant simian's foot with all the model cars and buildings.

Anyway, let's leave Colonel Blowhard and go to "Family Land."

Looks more like "Tetanus Land" to me.

So we get a few establishing shots of a rather bare-bones (at least by decadent American standards) theme park called Family Land, which is still operating as a popular tourist attraction today. It's connected to the Uchi Park zoo in Gwangju, straddling Jeonnam and Jeonbuk provinces near the southernmost tip of the South Korean mainland, if you must know.

The park is closed and empty, but in the distance we hear the shrill, irksome shouts of a bunch of bratty, hyperactive children who are running down a wooded lane towards one of its gates. You've doubtless seen a gaggle of geese and a murder of crows...

...here's an insufferability of Kennys.

One of them climbs the gate and opens it from the inside so the others can get in, and I can't help but notice there's a large padlock hanging there unlatched by some careless park attendant. These kids were running confidently towards this particular gate, however, and the Kenny who climbed it didn't even stop to examine the thing when he jumped over. How did he know it would be unlocked? Was it left that way for him on purpose? Was it an inside job by a Kenny relative who works there? Much like Charles Ives I am asking questions which shall remain unanswered.

These shameless pre-teen hooligans head straight for a playground area and all hell breaks loose, with Kennys and Kennettes swinging on swings, see-sawing on see-saws and whirling on that spinning iron-barred centrifugal deathtrap thing they had back when we were kids but don't put in playgrounds anymore because too many of our playmates got thrown off of it and suffered traumatic brain injuries. Also a Kenny is running upright down the slide, possibly to protect his delicate Kenny thighs from burns and chafing.

Sit down and take it like a man, Kenny.

Finally an adult shows up to corral and berate them for being such an entitled bunch of troublesome little guttersnipes. As she gives them a good finger-wagging the Kenny who opened the gate sneaks around the slide to try to get away with one more walk-down, but as he reaches the ladder he catches sight of the Ape watching them from a hill above the park, wondering what ill-advised life-choices led him to this time and place in his life and his current emotional nadir of hopelessness and despair.

"Ape feel existential angst, crippling sense of ennui."

The Adult grabs the nearest Kenny and runs, and the whole whining, unendurable lot of them takes off out of the park like a bunch of skittering cockroaches.

Now Colonel Blowhard has Captain Kim on the line, who's apparently been up his ass all morning complaining about all the monster reports that have been coming in. Blowhard still refuses to believe anything out of the ordinary is happening despite Kim's assurance that his sources are completely reliable.

As they're talking a second Phone rings. Blowhard tells Kim to hold on and sets the receiver down on the desk. It seems the American authorities have been getting calls from panicked citizens, too, but Blowhard asks pointedly if any of "our people" have seen anything, with the implication that all these simple, backwards native Koreans are far too frivolous and naive to be believable witnesses. When he learns that none of the first hand accounts are from American soldiers his bias is confirmed and he definitively declares that it's all complete nonsense.

Just before hanging up he tells the person on the other end that if they actually do run into the thing, they should "ask him if his name is King Kong."

Up your nose with a rubber hose, De Laurentis!"

Now we see the Ape stumbling around aimlessly, plainly bored and looking for something to stomp or smash. He happens to spot a big snake coiled in a tree and decides to go fuck with it. He pulls it out of the tree and throws it towards the camera in another lame attempt to exploit the 3-D, but he misses and it hits the tripod, causing the camera to lurch out of alignment. Either nobody noticed what had happened until the film was printed and it was too late to reshoot or they all noticed immediately but nobody cared. I'm thinking it's probably option "b."

You'd think this Ape vs. Serpent setup might finally lead to something exciting but the snake just slithers away harmlessly across a rock, wondering what happened to the tree it was just in and leaving the audience wondering why any of this even happened.

Back in Blowhard's office more calls are coming in, and it's getting harder for him to justify his inaction. He asks if the caller is sure it isn't some kind of gag, saying "I've seen these peoples's parades! They're great with masks and costumes!"

Setting aside for the moment the offensiveness of Blowhard's cultural insensitivity, I happen to be watching some of these peoples' masks and costumes in this very movie myself right now and I am not impressed. The person calling informs a crestfallen Blowhard, however that some of the witnesses are Americans and what they're seeing is definitely real.

And now we're suddenly in the middle of a kung-fu movie.

A kung-fu movie with garden shears!

We cut to a dusty hillside where a stocky kung-fu guy with a buzz-cut and mustache is attacked by the Garden Shear Guy and some spear-wielding henchmen, and we get a lot of 3-D kicking, punching and pointing things directly at the camera. A panoramic shot reveals this to be a location movie set with some racks of weapons and flaming braziers set up as props and a small crew filming the action.

As they film, the Ape appears over the crest of the hill. Most of the cast and crew take off running but the actors dressed as henchmen grab some bows from the weapons racks and fire flaming arrows at the Ape, which travel towards the camera on visible strings.

Needless to say the Ape doesn't care for this treatment, but we never get to see what he does in retaliation because once again, as soon as the movie drifts somewhere within a hundred or so miles of the general vicinity of something maybe possibly a teeny little bit exciting...they cut away, this time to Captain Kim's office where he's puffing on a cigarette and briefing Colonel Blowhard and his Aide about how bad things are getting out there with all these violent Ape encounters we've only gotten to see in disjointed bits and pieces. Interestingly there is a military uniform hanging on a coat stand behind Kim's desk, but later Blowhard announces that he speaks for the police, so I still don't know what the hell kind of setup they have over there...and no, I still can't be arsed to find out.

Captain Kim tells Blowhard and Aide that the press is in the next room and getting anxious. Blowhard bums a cigarette off Kim, explaining that he hasn't had one in years. He takes a few deep drags, looking mighty satisfied with the rich carcinogenic flavor and sudden rush of sweet, calming nicotine to his brain. He asks Kim what brand they are. The Aide reminds him that the Press is still waiting and he snaps back "The hell with the press! I'm gonna smoke this goddamned cigarette!" Goddamnit.

He seems like a guy who'd paste naked pictures of himself inside his own gym locker.

Now, because A*P*E is not so much a traditional, linear narrative as a series of impressionistic sketches exploring the metaphysical and philosophical musings of a giant gorilla on an East Asian vision quest, we cut to a guy with a hang glider jumping off the side of a mountain.

This is how they visit their relatives who live in the DPRK.

Three other hang-gliding enthusiasts are standing in a field waiting for the first to come down. They all point at something in the distance, and we cut to a shot of a Holstein cow grazing in a field of grass. Then we see the Ape lope along towards a little wind-up toy cow with a twitchy tail and step gingerly over it. He stops and notices the hang glider in the air and gently bounces the dangling pilot on the palm of his hand for a moment like a child playing with a butterfly, then he watches gleefully as the terrified fellow drifts away down the slope of the hill.

It gave him such a fright his jumpsuit turned white.

The Ape now does a happy little dance to a jaunty little waltz. No, really. All of the music has the low-fi, generic vibe of library stock music, but it was actually written for the film and recorded by the Seoul Symphony Orchestra. It's only three or four basic themes played over and over, but I'm still mildly impressed they managed to commission and record original music with such a paltry budget.

So the Ape does his little dance and claps his big meaty hands together, and the poor sap on the hang glider drifts away, and suddenly we're on the steps of some large official building where Capt. Kim and Colonel Blowhard are taking questions from the assembled press corps, including Hard-On Harry. The reporters mainly roll over and accept Blowhard's platitudes that everything is under control, but Hard-On challenges his narrative, pushing back hard against his sanguine summation of events.

Blowhard won't take that kind of lip from some stupid reporter, though, so he pushes back pretty darn hard himself, and they end up having an awkward, posturing, testosterone-fueled stand-off right there at the base of the steps.

"Just drop your trousers, grab a tape measure and we'll settle this once and for all!"

Colonel Blowhard disperses the press and heads off to do his job for a change, and Hard-On steps up to Captain Kim. It seems they know each other from an assignment Hard-On did in South Korea some years before, and when Kim tells him they're taking a convoy of jeeps on a reconnaissance mission later to locate the Ape, Hard-On manages to get himself invited along. In the meantime, he says, he will visit the movie studio and "warn" Fay Wray, which I'm assuming is a euphemism for something that doesn't involve clothing.

Elsewhere, on a dingy-looking prison set, Fay and company are about to rehearse a rape scene for her movie. Why a rape scene? Hell if I know. It's a pointless, utterly tasteless bit of unpleasantness in which Fay gets called a "slut," a "bitch" and a "whore" while being roughly manhandled and abused by her unnamed co-star, who I'm gonna call...Biff Beefcake.

Maybe they thought this scene was edgy, but like Hard-On Harry's lascivious glares and slobbery PDA's it serves absolutely no function beyond needlessly aging out the undiscerning grade-school demographic who'd likely have been the only audience for the fatuous nonsense in the rest of the movie.

"How about a little T&A for the kids, Biff?"

There is a nice little nose-thumbing at De Laurentis here, though, where the actors refer to their sleazy director as "Dino," but otherwise it's a baffling and off-putting sequence that makes me wonder if the entire project might have been some sort of tax write-off for the American father-and-son producing team of Paul and Reuben Leder. They also co-wrote it, with Paul sitting in the director's chair, so any and everything that's wrong with it can be laid directly at their feet...and it's quite a pile of wrong.

When Dino calls for a ten-minute break Fay notices that Hard-On is there, and as they wander off through the fake prison arm-in-arm he tells her she should go back to Seoul until the Ape situation blows over. He says she's "taking a chance being out here on location," which is odd because he explicitly told Captain Kim he was going "to the studio" to speak with Fay, and we just saw him drive up in a cab in the middle of a major metropolitan area and walk right past a sign that said "International Movie Company, Ltd." I guess it's hard to figure out who your audience should be if you can't even figure out where your movie takes place.

Hard-On warns Fay that this Ape has been wreaking havoc all over the place, killing people and wrecking everything in its path, that she's not safe out here in the country that through some kind of Dr. Who-style anomaly is also somehow right in the middle of the city he wants her to flee to.

All this talk about giant gorillas and wanton destruction makes Hard-On feel frisky, so he guides her into one of the fake cells to feel her up and aggressively swap some spit with her. She tells him it's neither the time nor the place for it, but he presses on and jokingly claims he's just trying to protect her "from the rapist out there..." Apparently by forcing her to perform some non-consensual sexual congress in here.

There's a word for guys who do that, buddy...and you just used it.

They have a little lover's tiff, not because his penis is always hanging out of his trousers and she's constantly tripping over it, but because Hard-On makes a joke out of everything to the point where Fay can't be sure if he really loves her. Hard-On pretends to be sensitive for a moment and explains that he's only deflecting because he fears she's going to become such a big star he won't be good enough for her anymore. I could credibly argue that he's not good enough for her now, but regardless his baldly disingenuous display of mock vulnerability provides the epiphany Fay needs to fully commit to building a life with him.

Who could resist a man in a denim leisure suit and turtleneck?

After some more slurpy face-sucking and vigourous tonsil-tickling Fay gets called back to rehearsal and Tom heads out to meet up with Captain Kim.

We cut back to Colonel Blowhard's office where he's just gotten word that another village has been destroyed. He orders his Aide to have all American civilians in the endangered areas evacuated to Seoul. He doesn't mention the equally imperiled native South Koreans because they're foreigners to him and therefore not really people. Nonetheless we get a montage of villagers running in a wild panic down country lanes and through gaunt, spare woodlands as a loudspeaker announcement orders them to "evacuate the villages in an orderly fashion."

The Ape shows up at a sad-sack smattering of bare white houses, steps down from the hills and starts stomping on them. This is intercut with more glimpses of frantic citizens fleeing past cinderblock houses and a bunch of villagers climbing aboard a flatbed truck and piling into some waiting busses.

These scenes highlight just how paltry a budget they had to work with, as the same thirty people run past the camera over and over again, and the same five second sound clip of a shouting crowd plays in a loop. The scanty model work is absurdly mismatched to the live action footage, which despite repeated references to the Ape being out in the provinces amongst small rural villages was obviously filmed just on the outskirts of Seoul, a city of almost ten million people.

They'd have had him take a leak on them but they couldn't afford the water bill.

Now we join Captain Kim and Hard-On Harry putzing along a rural road in a couple of black jeeps, stopping every now and again to lift their binoculars and scan the horizon for some Ape-sign. You'd expect with the scope of the destruction and the sheer size of the thing it wouldn't be so difficult to pinpoint its location. You'd also expect they'd have sent in some reconnaissance aircraft to cover a wider area right out of the gate rather than make a leisurely, rambling road trip out of it, but then it's not you who had to somehow cobble together an eighty-four-minute film out of fifteen shitty minutes' worth of story, is it?

As Kim and Hard-On scan the horizon a third jeep pulls up and a young officer steps out to report that there are big-ass footprints and downed trees up ahead, so they must be hot on the trail. As they drive off towards the mountains we cut to the Ape sitting with his legs crossed, idly twisting a pine branch between his fingers and trying to decide whether to order a pizza for lunch or hit the drive-through at Taco Bell.

"Taco Bell give Ape heartburn, but Ape think it worth it."

Something catches the Ape's eye, and following his gaze we see Fay and her movie crew, legitimately on location this time at some kind of historic structure that's doubtless a South Korean national cultural heritage site. I'm not going to look it up because I've invested too much time in this film already, but it's a gorgeous, sprawling palace that pairs nicely with the kung-fu period costumes we saw earlier. Unfortunately Fay and her costar are dressed like extras from Saturday Night Fever (1978).

"Watch the hair! I work on my hair a long time!"

None of this scans with the scene back in the fake prison set, of course, unless we assume that Hard-On meant to warn Fay about being on location at a later time, even though he repeatedly and explicitly spoke about them being on location in the present tense. It's more likely that things got edited out of order in the final cut, possibly to work around connecting footage they either couldn't use or never shot...or maybe the filmmakers were just completely inept at constructing a coherent narrative. Can't it be both? I really think it's both.

So Fay and Biff Beefcake, are now performing for the camera the rape scene they were rehearsing earlier, which now that they're outside in a big, open area involves a violent, grasping assault followed by Fay breaking away and fleeing across the palace grounds. Biff pursues her through the expansive courtyard gardens, across a decorative bridge and down a long flight of stone steps to an open lane, and all the while she screams and cries and pleads for help. Meanwhile the Ape watches enraptured from his seat on the hill above the palace.

From the instant Dino yells "action" and Biff commences his attack, to the end of the take where Fay emerges exhausted and distraught onto the roadway, an exclusive "rape theme" plays. It's perky, upbeat, jaunty, whimsical and frolicsome.

Five words not normally associated with sexual assault.

If you close your eyes, ignore the shouts of "slut," "bitch" and "whore," and steadfastly pretend there isn't a terrified woman screaming desperately for help you might well imagine a happy couple skipping through a rolling meadow flying a kite together, or perhaps some kids in newsboy caps pedaling old-fashioned bicycles across the cobbled streets of a quaint New England village, heading for the penny candy shop for licorice shoestrings and chocolate drops. It may be the worst, most befuddling use of music I've ever encountered in a movie. The cognitive dissonance is off the scale, and it certainly ups the ante in the "what the fuck is wrong with the people who made this" game.

Fay and Biff are out of breath from their run, but manage to drag themselves back up to where Dino and his tiny crew are waiting. Dino tells them the take was great, but they're going to have to do it again because the cameraman "thought he saw something" in frame in the distance. I wonder what that could have been?

"Is me, Ape, wondering what the fuck wrong with people who made this."

After a brief check-in with Hard-On Harry, Captain Kim and their "convoy" of three black jeeps, during which Kim assures us with a pinky-promise and a cross-his-heart that they're really getting close to the Ape this time, we get another take of Fay's pesky rape scene, with the same series of actions, the same sequence of shots and the same hare-brained and deeply inappropriate music, except that this time Biff Beefcake runs out of steam and nearly collapses from exertion halfway across the bridge.

Too much horse, not enough horse head.

Fay, ever the trooper, makes it all the way out to the road again, where she runs right into the outstretched hand of the Ape, who lifts her up gently and scarpers off with her into the hills. Just as Dino sees what's happened the convoy shows up, and he runs frantically to tell them the big hirsute guy in the movie's title has his star. When Hard-On hears of this he instantly goes half-flaccid from the devastating realization that he'll never be able to compete in size with a thirty-six foot gorilla, but he soon re-engorges, confident in the knowledge that his head game is second to none.

Captain Kim calls in a report and is assured the Armed Forces will now take care of the problem. He tells them about the Ape having Fay, and we cut back to Colonel Blowhard on the phone again. As he finishes up his conversation on one line the Aide hands him another, saying it's the commander of the South Korean military. Bafflingly, Blowhard says "What do they want to talk to me for?" as if he's not the point man handling a national crisis involving a giant fucking gorilla that's been terrorizing the countryside.

The salient information we get from this conversation is that both the American and South Korean authorities have decided that since the Ape is owned by the Disney Corporation and promises vast commercial possibilities, he must be captured alive. This, of course displeases our Colonel...but then again, doesn't everything?

He seems like a guy who'd play porn backwards just so he can watch people get dressed and leave.

Now we see why the United States Army got a thank you in the credits for their cooperation in the making of the film, as a bunch of military helicopters swoop in for landings and pick up troops. Despite what we were just told about orders not to kill the monster, the troops are all heavily armed with semi-automatics and certainly ain't there to charm him into domesticity with their winning smiles and courteous manners.

The choppers are Hueys, by the way, which are the only helicopters I can identify on my own without any help from Nate.

Apocalypse Soon-ish.

The Ape, meanwhile, thinks he has a pretty good thing going with the hot chick in the red silk bathrobe, so he lopes off to find a quiet spot where they can talk and get to know each other. There are some seemingly endless shots of him cradling her gently as he takes in the lay of the land. She screams and cries for a bit, then suddenly goes quiet and relaxes in his hand, leers up at him like she's in an Emmanuel movie and seductively whispers "Be gentle with me big fella."

Then the Ape purrs.

Another thing I learned from Burt Reynolds is that the ladies like 'em hairy...and hung.

Their tender moment is interrupted by the sound of the helicopters approaching. Ape sets Fay down, and as he looks distractedly up towards the sky she cheeses it to a nearby cave. Unfortunately for her the choppers pass by without noticing him and it doesn't take him long to figure out where she's gone. We get another languid sequence of him reaching inside the cave, just barely missing her repeatedly with his oafish paw, and the ear-splitting clangor of her rasping screeches makes you wish he'd kinda-sorta accidentally crush her skull like a scotch egg under a bus tire just so she'd shut up.

Back on the road the three black jeeps roll up and stop again to watch the big guy through their binoculars. Hard-On Harry wants to be heroic and go after Fay, but Kim tells him there's nothing they can do until the reinforcements arrive. Just then a troop transport plane flies overhead and a bunch of South Korean paratroopers leap out and drift down to the hillside. The helicopters return, too and Ape must leave off with his attempted groping to deal with them.

The choppers fly above him and the beast swaps at them wildly. Hard-On wonders aloud what the hell they're waiting for to open fire, but Kim informs him the ground troops are going to attack with knock-out gas as soon as they get close enough. Why they're having ground troops perform this task instead of delivering the gas from the dozens of helicopters they've got in the air is an arcane mystery known only to God and Paul Leder. Sadly, God ain't tellin' and Paul is dead.

Our horny hero asks to borrow a jeep so he can get close enough to rescue Fay while the Ape is busy with the attack, and Kim agrees, telling him that if he succeeds he should take her to his own house in Seoul where they hope she'll be safe from any further simian assaults.

Hard-On drives up close to the hillside and hops out to hoof-it the rest of the way up as the Helicopters commence a series of coordinated flyover maneuvers to keep the beast at bay. The ground troops arrive within throwing distance now, and they begin tossing gas grenades at the Ape's feet.

The Ape takes out a couple of choppers by swatting them down, and as one of these crashes into the hillside and explodes we get the number one money shot of the entire film, and possibly the only image most people who've seen it would remember.

There are three things that are always funny: rudely shaped vegetables, fart jokes and a guy in a gorilla suit flipping the bird.

Despite that there's knock-out gas everywhere and that Fay's cave is only perhaps twenty feet from where the Ape is wildly windmilling at the helicopters, Hard-On Harry manages to pop over the hill and rescue her without so much as a stumble or a yawn. As they hop in the jeep and head off towards the city we cut to Colonel Blowhard, on the phone yet again, relaying to some unseen military brass-hole the terrible news that the gas attack has failed.

He seems like a guy who would make his penis talk to his wife in the voice of an irascible Hungarian Jew. Oh, wait...that's me.

Colonel Blowhard helpfully recaps everything we've just seen for ourselves in the past ten minutes, from Fay's capture by the Ape at her film set, to the failed gas attack, to Hard-On's heroic rescue, rappelling down the cliff face to the cave using his cock as a fire pole, to their subsequent escape to Seoul. It seems the Ape has decided to follow them, and is therefore headed directly to the eleventh most densely populated city of the most densely populated continent on Earth--and if you needed any more proof that The Walt Disney Corporation owns practically everything, including every one of our sorry asses which they've deemed completely expendable--the Colonel is ordered, despite imminent and assured destruction and death, to make one more attempt to capture the thing rather than kill it.

Meanwhile Hard-On and Fay are driving over a bridge to the city and Fay confides that although she was terrified there was also something gentle, sweet and appealing in the big gorilla's eyes that made her feel for his plight. Hard-On doesn't like this kind of talk and dismisses it out of hand because first of all he's jealous, and second he knows Burt Reynolds would never approve of this frou-frou, touchy-feely shit she's shoveling.

They arrive at Kim's house to find his wife entertaining her pair of pre-teen Kenny-spawns with a big-eared, bobble-headed marionette. She just flops it up, down and around awkwardly with its head wobbling and its eyes fluttering, but for some reason the Kennys are enchanted and delighted, laughing maniacally at each clumsy jerk of its limbs.

Life before K-Pop really sucked.

Hard-On leaves Fay with Mrs. Kim and heads back to the scene of the action to cover the final showdown for his newspaper, and just before we jump to the next scene you can hear a snippet of a voice that seems to be the director yelling "Cut!"

I have honestly never seen that happen in any film before regardless of how amateur and cheaply made, so kudos to A*P*E for pushing that particular boundary for me.

Now, because the Leder family seems to have a soft spot for out-of-context sleaze, we cut to a portly, sweaty-looking American businessman stepping into a dingy hotel room with a shapely Korean prostitute. He gets a little aggressive, hoping for a little taste of her adenoids before their horizontal refreshment commences, but she pushes him away, complaining "Can't you even wait 'til I take my clothes off?" She takes off her scarf and coat to reveal a red silk robe nearly identical to the one Fay was wearing on-set. She turns to give him a mock-flirtatious stare, but soon she gasps in horror and points to the window...

"Peek-a-boo! Is me, Ape again!"

And that's the end of that.

Now we get another tiresome montage of people running around trying to evacuate, with more shots of the same people running past the camera again and again, more use of the same clip of crowd noise played in a loop and some of the worst overlay effects I've ever seen of the Ape approaching the edge of the city. There's also a shot of a bunch of people swarming a packed bus during which some poor befuddled local resident, clearly not involved in nor aware of a movie being made, pops her head out her front door utterly bemused by just what the hell is going on in front of her house.

"I guess they've started up the war again."

Captain Kim rolls into town and Hard-On meets him, letting him know Fay is safe with his family. Hard-On asks where the Ape is and Kim says gosh darn-it they just don't know! Despite having the entire might of both the South Korean and American forces, inclusive of troops, planes, helicopters and any number of other high-tech surveillance capabilities at their disposal, a giant gorilla making a bee-line for the city directly from where they last encountered him has somehow given them the slip.

Kim assures Hard-On that if the creature hasn't already arrived in Seoul he'll be there soon, and sure enough we see the Samson-like simian himself loping about some fairly elaborate and decent-looking scale models of a city block. They're the most convincing miniatures in the film, almost as good as Toho/Godzilla cities from the outside, but as soon as the Ape starts smashing them you can see that they're made of cheap styrofoam panels with no detail beyond their facades.

Note the "Mrs. Leder's Dress Shop" sign at center.

So the Ape lumbers around the city, randomly punching holes in buildings and peering inside, apparently looking for Fay. This is intercut with Captain Kim on the phone pleading with Colonel Blowhard for authorization to use deadly force.

Meanwhile back at the Kim household Mom is still making the the doofy puppet dangle and dance to the raucous howls of her easily-amused children, with Fay now joining in the fun by placing biscuits in the thing's mouth for the children to grab. Fay hears the din of approaching destruction in the distance but Mom and the Kennys seem blissfully unaware of the danger it forebodes for their home and family.

"Hahaha! That 'Biscuit in the Mouth' bullshit never gets old!"

This goes on seemingly interminably, with the puppet jiggling, the kids laughing and the crashing about of the monster getting closer and closer, until finally the Ape reaches the Kim house, smashes in the roof and recaptures Fay.

Having retrieved the object of his bestial desire he plods off with her back towards the relative quiet and safety of the rural regions from whence he came.

Leave only footprints, take only memories.

Now that a significant section of Seoul has been reduced to rubble and thousands of its citizens have been crushed to death, the authorities relent and belatedly determine that public safety is more important than Disney's bottom line. They finally issue the order that the Ape is to be killed.

Troops are deployed, attack helicopters are dispatched and tanks roll across the dusty terrain towards the hill country in a dull and repetitive montage lasting a full three and a half minutes of screen time, with multiple shots repeated multiple times and the same half-dozen vehicles filmed repeatedly from different angles.

Apocalypse Any Minute Now, Probably Just After Tea Time

The attack commences, and as the poor Ape is sprayed with artillery fire he shields Fay with his body by holding her directly behind his ass, and I can't help thinking that if the Taco Bell he had for lunch starts working on him now she's a goner.

The ground troops surge up the hillside, pointing the muzzles of their rifles directly into the camera as they pass because somebody suddenly remembered again about the 3-D. The Ape seems to realize that this is a battle he can't possibly win. He gazes lovingly at Fay and gently sets her down so she can escape to safety.

"Ape only regret he never see your num-nums."

Hard-On arrives just as the assault goes full-bore, yet he valiantly dashes into the fray to retrieve his lady-love, whom he finds has managed to keep both her chastity and her num-nums intact.

The Ape meanwhile, is taking a vicious beating. He manages to take out a few tanks by throwing boulders at them, but the forces arrayed against him are too powerful to overcome. As Hard-On and Fay embrace one another amidst the smoke, chaos and noise the final push begins, with small-arms fire, heavy ground artillery and helicopter-mounted rocket launchers doing their worst against his powerful yet mortal flesh.

I don't think they're getting their deposit back on that suit.

Finally the Ape collapses in a massive heap of karo-syrup blood and polyester fur. Fay sheds a mournful tear, asking Hard-On Harry why such a noble creature should have to die so horribly, to which he replies "He was just too big for a small world like ours."

"Much like my penis! Can I get an 'amen?'"

The End

There's not much else left to say, really. It's not quite the worst kaiju movie I've ever seen, but it's definitely the cheapest. The bottom line is it's worth seeing at least once if you're a hard-core Cinematic Trash Enthusiast or a King Kong completist. It would probably be fun to watch with a group of like-minded, slightly inebriated friends, ideally as a double feature with the Shaw Brother's batshit take on the same material, The Mighty Peking Man (1977).

Let's all make it a date. You bring the booze, I'll bring the bananas.

Final Observations:

--The film's odd, asterisked title was meant to spoof the title of the 1970 Korean War film M*A*S*H and the hit television spinoff of the same name. A*P*E is meant as a loose acronym for "Attacking Primate MonstEr."

--In addition to the titles mentioned above A*P*E also appeared in various forms under the titles Super Ape, Attack of the Giant Horny Gorilla and Hideous Mutant.

--Scenes depicting Fay's film set feature one of the cameras used to film A*P*E, visibly fitted with a Space-Vision 3-D lens.

--Aside from the three American actors mentioned above the only other performer with a significant career outside of this film was Yeon-jeong Woo, who played Mrs. Kim. She had twenty-five other film credits in South Korea, including the drama I Will Stand Before You Again (1981) for which she won a Best Actress award from the Korean Film Critics Association.

--Both father Paul Leder and his son Reuben had relatively successful film careers, mostly in low-budget exploitation films and television production. Reuben's sister Mimi has had the most successful and mainstream career of the family, as a multiple Emmy-winning film and television producer and director of the films Deep Impact (1998) and the George Clooney/Nicole Kidman actioner The Peacemaker (1997).

As always, cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in September, 2021.

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