Instead of King Kong’s, “Beauty killed the beast,” Ape gives us, “He’s just too big for a small world like ours.” As opposed to, “The airplanes got him,” it’s, “Let’s see him dance to his organ grinder now.”
What to say of Ape, one of cinema’s greatest camp disasters? Ape plants the Kong story in South Korea, skipping the island portion so a man in an ape suit – one visibly falling apart on camera – can wrestle a clearly dead shark and stomp on rudimentary miniatures. Crude isn’t a strong enough word.
The promotional art shows the creature grappling the shark while fending off a snake as a tanker capsizes from the weight of it all. In reality, the snake is grabbed from a tree and thrown at the camera partway through the film. The tiny tanker model explodes on a clearly miniature set while the squibs blow up out of sequence. Oops.
To an extent, Ape is self-aware, if not enough. The scruffy primate goes on the loose, flipping a middle finger to the military and in a bizarre interlude, claps happily in slow motion as a paraglider passed by. A kung fu movie-in-the-movie pauses filming so the stars can take up arms because that’s what martial artists do (?). They begin shooting fire arrows toward the camera (the arrows visibly on strings) which only seems to agitate the ape who sways his arms randomly.
The ape (or A*P*E* if going by the promotional acronym) falls for an American woman, poor Joanna Kerns caught with the shtick of impersonating Marilyn Monroe for her Hollywood role. If she’s not romancing the ape, she’s having her way with Rod Arrants, a relationship that exists solely for Arrants to save his lover from shoddily edited danger.
A co-production between American and South Korean producers, the film becomes a strange symbiosis of military powers. Opening credits take time to thank the US military for their cooperation. In the finale, a montage of South Korean troops (gleefully waving to the camera) march their tanks into battle, intercut with Vietnam-era US helicopters flying, it’s assumed, to the same location.
Ape then concludes with the monster throwing foam rocks at ground forces and fighting against a lone South Korean miniature tank, soon to be destroyed by a boulder which clearly misses its target.
That’s Ape – never quiet on target.
You’d expect the best for a South Korean King Kong knock-off – err, no. Ape comes to Blu-ray matching low expectations, often muddled by a noisy grain structure and so-so resolution. Bare minimum levels of fidelity squeeze out from the print, generally in passable condition with scratches and dirt. Stray hairs often litter the 2.35:1 frame’s bottom.
Opening scenes crush black levels, a problem which occasionally comes back into play and usually with a heavy grain spike in tandem. Pale, even flat color remains stable with the exception of certain primaries. Oversaturated reds, especially of Kerns’ limited wardrobe, lead to color bleeding.
Ape has the genuine aesthetic of a low grade ‘70s martial arts movie, a bit plain and unkempt, but appealing in its nostalgic veneer. No post-processing is applied.
Aggressive 3D effects better anything from the 2D side. Oddly natural, the dimensionality works in nearly every frame. Compositions consider the format at all times, shooting near trees to make sure branches pop from the frame and letting other trees slip into the backdrop. Foreground objects fill each frame with material, often creating depth from random objects, but it works.
As Ape lowers its standards, objects start poking at the camera, including a handful of hokey (but effective) shots of soldiers pointing rifles at viewers. A handful of rocks come hurtling at the camera, as do some arrows earlier. Stupid, but alluring for 3D fans.
If the 3D presentation has a battle, it’s with the print. Stray debris on the frame tends to sit tightly in the foreground. Smudges on the camera forever mar a few shots. That’s no fault of this transfer which preserves the film in a format that makes it worth watching.
Don’t blame the Blu-ray for the random skips in the soundtrack between edits. Those add to Ape’s “charm.” It’s also no fault of the disc that some dialog is lost, either overwhelmed by the score or crammed under background noise. Again, more “charm.” They’ll forever be a part of this one.
Regardless of the where the fault’s sources come from, it’s a rotten DTS-HD track. The score sounds like its melting as it plays. The low end is effectively lost, and the highs piercing with their screechy quality. Wobbly dialog fades in and out and scene to scene. The codec is irrelevant.
Kudos to former Fangoria editor Chris Alexander for taking breezy commentary duties on Ape. He’s briefly joined by historian Hillary Hess to discuss the 3D side of the film. It’s unexpected to see any extras alongside this one. Some trailers (include Ape’s hilarious bit of marketing) round out Kino’s presentation.
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