When I was a kid, I loved giant monster movies. Of course, I might as well say: "As a kid, I was fond of oxygen," because I was a little boy in the early 1970's, and there was really no better time to be a monster-mad child. The Japanese rubber-suit genre had reached its peak only a few years before, in 1968, so that meant there was a huge back-log of classic monster mayhem just making its way onto American television. What's more, there were still original-series Godzilla movies that had yet to be made. Admittedly, these were movies like Godzilla on Monster Island and Godzilla vs. Megalon (which I hated)... but the point is, in the early 1970's the trove of tokusatsu treasures seemed inexhaustible.
As I've mentioned in other reviews, these were the days before the Internet... before affordable home video... before even cable television. If that seems like the Dark Ages, consider: my family didn't even have a color TV until about 1980. If we kids wanted to see a monster movie, we'd have to subject the weekly TV Guide to a scrutiny deeper than any scholarly monk ever gave to Holy Writ, looking for something — anything — that would satisfy us. Then, when we found something, we'd have to pray that it came on at a convenient time: not during school hours, for instance, and not at 3 in the morning. And of course, not during mealtimes, because it was forbidden to watch TV when the family got together to eat.
(Something tells me that younger readers are going to greet the last sentence of that paragraph with more blank incomprehension than the first. What can I say? I'm old.)
So in those days, we were captives of the TV schedule. If there were no monster movies in the current lineup, we were out of luck. But this was the 1970's, so there almost always were monster movies, usually on Saturdays; every few months, channel 7 in New York would have Monster Week on the 4:30 movie on weekdays 1
Oh, the 4:30 movie! School ended at three, so bless WABC for giving us time to get home and start our homework!; and there were usually isolated showings on other channels at some point. And then, sometimes, we'd just be aimlessly flipping the channels, and we'd come across something we'd missed somehow. It was a complicated and richly rewarding game.
Since these were the days before video and the Internet, we often had trouble getting information about monster flicks. How many Japanese monster films were there? What types of strange creatures had we yet to find out about? If we seemed to be hopelessly ignorant and out-of-touch, we also had an enormous journey of discovery in front of us. I'll never forget the first time I saw Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster: it was thrilling, since Ghidorah was so unexpectedly magnificent... a kaiju-crazy kid's dream come true. I was equally excited when, a few weeks later, I read that another Godzilla movie I'd never heard of before was about to be shown: Monster Zero. What kind of creature could that be? I was breathless with anticipation. Imagine my disappointment when Monster Zero turned out to be... King Ghidorah. It was one of my earliest experiences with adult-style irony.
Even when we didn't have monster movies to watch, we could sometimes fall back on the dubbed version of Japanese TV shows, which were also common on the airwaves at the time. One staple of my childhood was Johnny Sokko and his Giant Robot2
...which, these days, I usually refer to as "Johnny Psycho" — since it featured a paramilitary organization that gave a couple of ten-year-old kids high-powered firearms and sent them out, into live-fire situations, to shoot and kill enemy agents... Yeah, wholesome fun for the entire family.. My favorite TV show, though, was Space Giants, the imported version of the show Ambassador Magma. I enjoyed the series less for the monsters, though, than for the show's central theme: the friendship between an Earth child (called "Miko" in the dubbed version) and a robot boy from space (dubbed "Gam"). Gam was part of a loving robot family, led by the ancient patriarch Methusem, and with dad-robot Goldar and mom-robot Silvar. Even when they weren't saving the Earth from the evil alien Rodak and his monsters, they were the sort of idealized family unit that any young child would respond to. By the way, this isn't just adult-me looking back to rationalize my attachment to the show: when I was seven or eight, I saw the very last episode of Space Giants, in which Rodak was defeated and the space robots went back home to their galaxy. I was heartbroken. Up to that point, I had never realized that TV shows actually had "last episodes". Sure, I knew that programs could be cancelled, but I'd never considered that a series could actually come to a conclusion. I didn't care that the Earth had been saved from the alien menace. I didn't care that there would be no new rubber-suited threats to enjoy. I cared that two best friends would never see each other again. It took me a long time to come to terms with that.
Years later — many, many long years later — I've revisited some of the favorites of my childhood. Many of them have been incredibly disappointing. The old Toho monster flicks have withstood the test of time (and my ever-decreasing tolerance for stupidity) surprisingly well, but others — I'm looking at you, Monster from a Prehistoric Planet — have become an ordeal to sit through. Perhaps the biggest disappointment after all these years has been Space Giants: now I've seen some of the original Japanese versions, and they're not very good... but the American versions are completely incoherent, even by tokusatsu standards.
Some of you may have noticed that I haven't mentioned the exemplar of regularly-available rubber-suit nonsense on American TV in the early 70's: Ultraman. This may come as a surprise, but I really wasn't a fan. That's possibly because, unlike Johnny Sokko or Space Giants, Ultraman's regular cast was made up only of adults; I'm not really sure. But I have vivid memories of flipping through the channels on a summer's afternoon, and coming across a giant monster I'd never seen before — remember, there were still lots and lots of monsters I'd never seen before — and then suddenly discovering that it was merely an Ultraman episode. Rats.
Still, when the original Ultraman series became available on budget DVD a few years ago, I snapped it up (and the reason I was able to get it on budget DVD is an important part of the story I'm building up to). Unlike Space Giants, my rediscovery of the original Ultraman after all this time has been an amazingly rewarding experience. Damn, that show was dark. As a child, I had no idea how thoroughly messed-up it was. Most of the monsters in that series were innocent victims of circumstance. They ended up being destroyed (and sometimes horribly maimed in the process) simply because they were inconvenient to humankind. And some of the monsters, in addition to being pathetic, were also weird to the point of psychedelia: one, for instance, was a child's drawing that came to life when exposed to cosmic rays; another was the corpse of a giant creature that fell from the Monsters' Graveyard in the sky, and only wanted to get back to space so it could continue being dead.
I should probably mention that my newfound appreciation for Ultraman did not inspire me to go on tracking down all the miscellaneous sequels and side projects that made the "Ultra" series the record-holder for the TV show with the most spin-offs. I've seen a small handful of the late-90's/early-00's movies and episodes, and it struck me while watching them that the Ultra universe had become too complicated — and, frankly, hermetic — for me to really appreciate. But I was interested in learning more about the original Ultraman show, and that's how I ended up finding out how my shockingly affordable DVD set came about.
That's how I found out about Sompote Sands and Chaiyo.
In 2006, just after the DVDs of the original series started appearing in the United States, Tsuburaya Productions filed another in a long-running series of lawsuits against the Thai company Chaiyo Productions for copyright infringement.
Chaiyo's founder and creative director, Sompote Saengduenchai, better known outside Thailand as Sompote Sands, had lived in Japan, and had worked with Tsuburaya Eiji and his company on several productions around the time the original Ultraman was being created. When Sands went back to Thailand, he carried with him enough goodwill from the Tsuburaya organization that they were willing to collaborate with him on a couple of Thai-specific tokusatsu projects. Sands had already tried to adapt what he'd learned about Japanese monsters in the 1973 film Tah Tien, based on Thai mythology, which featured a climactic battle between two gigantic temple guardian spirits. However, the giant warriors in Tah Tien were stiff and immobile compared to the rubber-suit creatures of the Japanese industry, and the miniature effects were so far below the Tsuburaya standard that they might as well have been the products of a kid in his back yard with a Super-8 camera. A year after Sands made Tah Tien, Tsuburaya Productions worked directly with Sands to make two more rubber-suit films, this time tying them into their own intellectual property: Hanuman and the Seven Ultramen, and Yak Wat Jaeng vs. Jumborg Ace. Both films united Tsuburaya's trademarked characters with Thai myth: in the former, the Ultra family teamed up with an avatar of the Hindu monkey-god Hanuman, who is brought to life by the Ultra Mother from the body of a savagely murdered boy; in the latter, Tsuburaya's Ultra-cousin Jumborg Ace fights an alien invasion alongside one of the guardian giants from Tah Tien.
Shortly thereafter, Sands got in trouble for making a sequel to Hanuman and the Seven Ultramen, this time using characters from Toei's Kamen Rider series. Tsuburaya Productions had no connection with Toei's show, and Chaiyo still less, so Toei and Tsuburaya were not amused. This was just the beginning for Sands: years later, he claimed that all rights to the Ultra series outside Japan had been granted to him by the now-deceased son of Tsuburaya Eiji. To back up his claim, Sands produced some rather shaky documentation. The litigation went on for years, until finally Sands won a limited victory that gave him certain rights over distribution of the first several shows in the series, including the related series Jumborg Ace.
But Sands and Chaiyo took a more liberal view of the verdict than Tsuburaya Productions was prepared to accept, and soon antagonisms flared again. After the 2006 lawsuit, the courts got so fed up with the whole process that they ordered each side to dress up in rubber monster costumes, and wrestle among the buildings of a miniature city to determine the verdict.
OK, I made that last bit up. But wouldn't it have been great if they had?
Sands eventually won a surprising amount of his case, but the result of the ongoing fight has been a lot of hurt feelings and general disgust among Ultraman fans. The whole regrettable controversy has been written about enough elsewhere; I'm not going to spend any more time on it. Instead, I want to go back to a slightly better time for both companies, when it seemed possible they could work together to bring the Ultra series to a specifically Thai audience.
While I'm on the subject, I also don't want to talk very much about Sompote Sands's other enduring legacy: the series of movies he made after his tokusatsu movies... films so specifically rooted in Thai mythology, history and cultural attitudes that they are incomprehensible to outsiders. Magic Lizard, for instance. I might have plenty to say about these other films later on, but for now I have to approach them in the knowledge that I do not have a strong basis for criticizing them. I am not a member of the audience those films were made for. Some of their imagery, from animal cruelty... to explicit poop jokes... to the inclusion, in a movie intended for family viewing, of nudity and grotesque violence... may seem extreme or even intolerable to Western viewers. But they weren't intended for Western viewers, and Thai general audiences found them perfectly acceptable. Also, to be honest, I really don't want to watch Magic Lizard again. Please don't make me watch Magic Lizard again. No. For now, I will confine myself to a Sompote Sands movie assembled from elements that are very familiar to me — that are part of my cultural heritage — that is, giant Japanese monsters on TV.
Jumborg Ace was a 50-episode TV series that Tsuburaya Productions brought out in 1973, at the same time as Ultraman Taro. The central character was an air deliveryman named Naoki who is accidentally caught up in an alien invasion. When his brother, a pilot in the Earth's defense forces, is killed by a rampaging monster, Naoki attempts to sacrifice himself by ramming his tiny Cessna into the beast. Impressed by his selflessness, the Ultra Ambassador Emerald brings Naoki back to life, and allows him to bond with his aircraft to become the giant robot Jumborg Ace. Jumborg Ace seems to have been one of the templates for the Jaegers in Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim: unlike Ultraman, a cyborg who had some kind of symbiotic relationship with his human host, Jumborg Ace is manipulated by Naoki in a control room in the robot's head, where his movements govern the robot's actions.
The alien invasion in the TV series is spearheaded by an alien general from the planet Groth. His name is Antigone (cf. The Seven Ultra Brothers Against Thebes, by Sompote's cousin, Sophocles Sands). Antigone sends a horde of extremely bizarre kaiju to devastate the Earth — well, Japan, anyway — but is consistently defeated by Jumborg Ace and the human defense forces. When Antigone is finally killed, he's replaced by a series of even more formidable Groth warlords: his brothers Madgone and Satangone, and his insane sister Demongone. These villains send out a monster army to conquer the world, many of whose names involve the words "King" or "Kong": Stone King, TerroKing, King Jaiguras, King Beetle... and my favorites: King Deadgone3
That's like English "dead-gone", not "dead-go-né", as the Groth warlords' names might suggest., Death Kong King, and (best of all) Dump Kong, a killer dumptruck with a steering wheel on its head.
Midway through the series, when it seems as though the Groth invaders are too strong even for Jumborg Ace, Naoki inherits a new power: the ability to turn into the even stronger Jumborg Nine. With Jumborg Nine the fight begins in earnest (which makes him Earnest Borg Nine, I suppose). Eventually Naoki and his robot alter egos manage to defeat menaces that include a fake Jumborg Ace and a horned super-robot called Jumkiller; Jumborg Nine manages to defeat Demongone with her own weapon, and the world is saved once again.
Sands's plan to make a Thai Jumborg Ace movie followed in 1974, immediately after the Japanese series aired. The basic idea that Tsuburaya Productions and Chaiyo came up with was to edit the series down into clips, and unite the clips with a new plot involving a Thai version of the defense forces. Then new footage would be shot using some of the original series's monster suits, but this time involving the rival spirit guardians from Tah Tien: Yak Wat Pho and Yak Wat Jaeng.
The idea of using clips from a series to make up a new theatrical movie was by no means a new one. American cinema had done this successfully with Flash Gordon and other classic serials from before the age of television. The Japanese superhero series Super Giant got cut up and shuffled into a series of American movies, including The Evil Brain from Outer Space... none of which made the slightest bit of sense; still, their weirdness factor and their utter incoherence made them popular on US TV's creature features. On the other hand, Johnny Sokko's entire 26-episode run was condensed into a single film, Voyage Into Space, without doing too much damage to the plot. Hell, another TV show from 1973 (one far less deserving than Jumborg Ace), the American Bob Denver vehicle Dusty's Trail, would also end up shortly afterwards recut into a feature film... though I think I'd rather watch Magic Lizard again than suffer through The Wackiest Wagon Train in the West.
So there was plenty of precedent, good and bad, for assembling a new film from pieces of an existing product. Yet in spite of what you'd think would be the positive influence of a company as experienced and professional as Tsuburaya Productions, Yak Wat Jaeng vs. Jumborg Ace turned out to be much closer to Evil Brain from Outer Space than Voyage Into Space in sense and coherence. Actually, Yak Wat Jaeng vs. Jumborg Ace makes Evil Brain... feel like Tarkovsky, both in terms of pacing and intellectual heft. Perhaps the creation of the relatively straightforward (though still mind-numbingly strange) Hanuman and the Seven Ultramen taxed the Japanese group to the point where they just let Sands do whatever he wanted with the second film; I don't know. I do know that Yak Wat Jaeng..., unlike Hanuman..., was not released in Japan.
What we get is this:
The Thai version of the Japanese earth defense force is concerned by strange radiation they've found emanating from an ancient temple (we can tell they're scientists because they're dressed in spangly jumpsuits, and they're carrying instruments with dials and gauges on them — sort-of the portable version of the handy cone-shaped flask). Before they can do anything about it, though, the evil alien Antigone arrives on Earth with his monster army, and...
OH-GOOD-GRAVY-IT'S-A-MONTAGE-OF-PRACTICALLY-EVERY-MONSTER-THAT-EVER-APPEARED-ON-JUMBORG-ACE-PRESENTED-RAPID-FIRE-WITHOUT-A-BREAK! AAAIGH! AAAIIIGH! — including, for about five seconds, some glorious footage of Dump Kong himself — AAAAIIIIGGHH! AAAAIIIIIGGHHHH!
(Enjoy it while you can, and don't blink, because most of these monsters will never be seen again in the movie.)
While worldwide havoc is breaking loose, the Thai science patrol is spending an awful lot of time discussing a two-foot doll of the statue Yak Wat Jaeng — a "yak" is a term for a sort of nature spirit, and "wat" means temple, so "Yak Wat Jaeng" means the protector spirit of the Jaeng Temple — or, more exactly, Temple Arun, to use the current name for one of Bangkok's holiest sites. There are actually two Yak outside Wat Arun, one white and one green. This film's Yak is the green one, a version of the Demon King Thotsakan, who also pops up as one of the heroes of the 2012 Thai animated movie, Yak: The Giant King. Why the Thai scientists are playing with toys while the world is under attack, I don't know, and will probably never find out until somebody subtitles this movie (I'm not holding my breath). It seems to have something to do with the fact that two of the science patrol's key members are the Odious Comic Relief from Hanuman and the Seven Ultramen, Thailand's own versions of Martin and Lewis — or, more accurately, their version of Italy's Franco and Ciccio.
Just as the youngest member of the Thai science patrol shows up for duty — and he's very young; I think he's played by the same kid who played the murdered boy whose soul is transformed into the giant hero Hanuman in Hanuman and the Seven Ultramen — the movie cuts away to show us the arrival of still more alien menaces. It's Demongone, in spite of the fact that she didn't appear in the original series until after the deaths of Antigone, Madgone and Satangone. Of course, we already have one invading alien menace, so I'm not entirely sure why we should be having a second, especially since her arrival makes for a jarring interruption to the exposition. Yet arrive she does, with her robot sidekick Jumkiller, to shake her fists at the camera and promise still more Earth-conquering mayhem...
... whereupon we find ourselves back with the Thai scientists. The boy scientist is busy demonstrating something very sciency indeed: his hand-operated electric butt-zapping ray, which he's using on the Odious Comic Relief. This vitally important invention is so significant to the rest of the story that it is never, ever mentioned again.
With that vital bit of exposition out of the way, we're suddenly confronted with what should be the noble self-sacrifice of Naoki, as the heartbroken man seeks vengeance for his fallen brother by piloting his aircraft directly at the monster King Jaiguras. I say, should. However, since we haven't met the Japanese science patrol yet, and we haven't met Naoki yet, and we will never hear anything about Naoki's brother, all we really see is some idiot in a Cessna flying into the middle of a giant kaiju combat zone.
The way the shots have been edited, it simply looks as though the plane's pilot is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He doesn't seem to be trying to use his Cessna in a kamikaze-style attack... he just passes too close to the creature's fiery breath and ends up toasted (we then cut away to the face of an as-yet unnamed Japanese science patrol pilot, who cries: "Naoki!" for some reason, though as far as we know he's never seen him before...). Before the plane crashes, it's enveloped by a green fog; Naoki finds himself in another dimension, where the giant Ultra Ambassador explains he's been chosen to defend the Earth in the form of the heroic Jumborg Ace. ("Oh, look, it's Jumborg Ace!" say the Japanese pilots who've never seen him before...)
Now, in the TV series, this origin scene was followed by Naoki, the inexperienced Jumborg operator, transforming and going into battle against the creature who just tried to kill him: King Jaiguras. In this version, though, no sooner has Naoki changed into Jumborg Ace for the first time, when Antigone appears. "Aha!" he chortles, "You Earth people have got yourselves a Jumborg Ace, eh? Well... I've got one too!" (Or words to that effect.)
See, in Episode 29 of the original 50-episode series, Antigone's brother Madgone manages to take control of a backup Jumborg suit — one with a red crest on its head instead of a silver one — and makes it seem as though Jumborg Ace has turned evil. Mind you, this was more than halfway through the series. Audiences knew who and what Jumborg Ace was at this point, and could tell the difference between the real one and the impostor. The climactic battle between the two Jumborgs has been re-edited and inserted into this movie as Naoki's very first fight. Yes! Our initial glimpse of our hero has him locked in furious combat with a seemingly-identical robot. This is insane: can you imagine if our first good look at Godzilla in 1954 had shown him fighting the disguised version of Mechagodzilla?
We have no idea which robot to root for, but one of them eventually wins, and the movie keeps going... so I guess we can assume the real Jumborg Ace has triumphed. No sooner has the enemy robot gone up in flames, when we see Naoki driving a car through Tokyo (wait — what? How?). And looming over the city is none other than Demongone's henchman Jumkiller, whom we last saw normal human-size; he's somehow managed to grow to almost a hundred feet tall. Naoki screams as Jumkiller destroys his car...
This whole little sequence, complete with jump-cuts, takes place in the less-than-five seconds after the end of Jumborg Ace's first victory. Suddenly, we're back in the emerald fog, and the Ultra Ambassador is either upbraiding Naoki for once again wandering straight into harm's way, or is apologizing to him for sending him out without his full set of tools. This is the point at which Naoki learns how to turn the smoldering ruin of his Honda Z into the even-more-powerful Jumborg Nine. We have just elided 25 entire TV episodes in the space of four and three-quarters seconds.
This movie isn't giving us time to catch our breaths; but that's no reason I shouldn't take a little break to keep us from getting dizzy. I should probably mention a couple of things about the monster combat. First of all, the TV show Jumborg Ace had a true ear-worm of a theme that it used when the robot hero appeared on-screen:
Normally, you'd hear this at the beginning of the show, and then through the fight scenes that concluded each episode. Yak Wat Jaeng vs. Jumborg Ace, though, being the clip-show (or gonzo porn) version of the series, is made up almost entirely of "the good bits", with very few moments of human interaction in between. The result is that we get to hear that irritating tune over and over again. Except that the Thai language doesn't allow the same sort of consonant combinations that Japanese does: while Japanese can simulate the sound of the English "borg" (as in "cyborg") through the idiomatic syllabification "bo-ru-gu", which sounds nearly the same, those sounds are alien to Thai words. Thus Jumborg Ace becomes "Jumbo A" when spoken (or sung) in Thai, so the song now goes: "Jum! Jum! Jum! Jum! Jum-booooo! Jum-boooo! Jum-bo A!" And once the Thai superhero comes and joins the battle, he gets his own version: "Yak! Yak! Yak! Yak! Wat Jaeng...!"
Next, there's something a little different about the fights themselves. While most of the action is edited directly from the Japanese TV show, there is a crucial difference in Sompote Sands's version. In the Japanese originals, the fights take place accompanied only by roars, grunts, explosions, and the sounds of buildings being reduced to rubble. In the Thai version, the monsters trash-talk each other. Constantly. They mutter, they giggle, they curse... and all the while, we keep hearing that constant refrain of "Jum! Jum! Jum! Jum...!", which is by no means confined to the background. Both these points help demonstrate why Yak Wat Jaeng vs. Jumborg Ace is as much an assault on the ears as it is a visual spectacle.
So, yeah: the Ultras have committed a serious oopsie by forgetting to tell Naoki about his Jumborg Nine alter-ego, which they've now corrected... just after Naoki's got himself blown up by a monster again. As Jumborg Nine, he's nearly able to overcome the giant Jumkiller, but at the crucial moment Jumkiller's prone body rises up in a cloud of green smoke and disappears. Jumborg Nine — no, wait: it's Jumborg Ace again! — suddenly finds himself face-to-face with the giant form of Antigone, as well as another monster referred to in the series as Deadfire (possibly, even probably, short for "Deadkong Fireking", if I know my Jumborg Ace naming conventions). Some time may pass between the disappearance of Jumkiller and the fight with Antigone; there is a Thai voice-over at this point, but I have no idea what he's saying.
Deadfire serves little purpose in the fight, except to get in the way and be comically blasted by his own ally, Antigone. In what's basically the climax of Episode 13, Jumborg Ace manages to julienne poor Deadfire, while Antigone ends up coughing up black blood after being impaled with Jumborg Ace's sword. Death makes Antigone even more talkative than usual. But even when he finally collapses, humanity's triumph is short-lived: Antigone's brother Madgone — in the dub, it sounds like his name is pronounced "Medagone", or even "Mechagone" — appears amid the wreckage, to taunt Jumborg Ace and swear his vengeance.
Now it's time for a little more original Thai footage. Back in the, umm, "Thaience patrol" lab, Thai Franco and Ciccio are busy working on something that's a little too much for them. Somehow, they've managed to bring to life another of Bangkok's temple guardians: Yak Wat Pho. Wat Pho sits across the river from Wat Arun, and according to Thai legend Yak Wat Pho and Yak Wat Jaeng don't like each other. It seems that Yak Wat Pho persuaded Yak Wat Jaeng to lend him some money, and when Yak Wat Jaeng asked him to pay it back, Yak Wat Pho pretended he had no idea what Yak Wat Jaeng was talking about. The argument escalated until the two of them started beating each other with their clubs. Being immortal, they didn't do very much damage to each other before the gods stepped in and sorted it all out... but they did manage to wreck the area between the temples and the river. The combat between the two spirits serves as the culmination of Sands's film Tah Tien ("The Flattened Dock"). Yak Wat Pho comes off rather badly in all this, possibly in part because he is a Chinese-style statue, while Yak Wat Jaeng takes the form of a traditional Thai demon. The home team always gets better press.
Somehow, the man-sized grey guardian statue has been brought to life. Just like in the legends, he's grumpy. We get little more than an impressive glimpse of him, with his glowing eyes and his deeply disgruntled moaning, before the action switches yet again.
The giant Jumkiller has just rematerialized in Japan, and he seems to be even stronger than ever. When the puny humans attack him, he strikes a defiant pose as though to suggest he's completely invulnerable. You will remember that the Ultras gave Naoki a free upgrade to help him fight Jumkiller: it hasn't even been five minutes since we saw that scene. So: does Naoki transform into Jumborg Nine to fight this new, improved Jumkiller? Of course not. These scenes are actually taken from the beginning of Episode 27: it isn't until later in that episode that the Ultras give Naoki the secret of Jumborg 9. Thus, in the movie version, it seems pretty careless of Naoki not to use his more powerful form... so we feel he has only himself to blame when Jumborg Ace gets his shiny metal ass handed to him. Jumkiller blasts Ace in the eye with his special nipple-missiles, and Ace is forced to retreat.
If things were still playing out in the order of the TV series, we'd see Naoki put aside his damaged plane/robot combination and end up in his car/robot combination. That would make sense. But since everything's been reversed in the movie, we can only watch in dismay as Jumborg Ace, still smarting from his smackdown by Jumkiller, goes almost immediately back into battle... this time against Madgone's Double Killer monsters, Killer Alpha (who is white) and Killer Beta (who is red). Jumborg Ace gets his ass handed to him again.
Clearly Ace needs some help. Unfortunately, it's going to be a while before he gets it. The Thaience Patrol is still busy investigating the strange radiation at the nearby wat, and following its traces they wind up in a secret underground passage beneath the temple. As they explore, they are extremely surprised to hear the roar of a monster echoing through the caverns... but they're not nearly as surprised as we are. That roar is the most recognizable monster voice in history: it's Godzilla!
(Pause for dramatic effect.)
I'm sure you'll be disappointed, but unsurprised, to learn the monster doing the roaring is definitely not Godzilla. Even Sompote Sands's copyright infringements have their limits. Instead, we see a three-headed dragon. But if the involvement of Tsuburaya Productions has you thinking of King Ghidorah, you're in for some even-more-serious disappointment. In fact, if you're even thinking of the dragon from Loves of Hercules, you'd better lower you expectations immediately. This is all original Sands footage, and the monster here is much closer to Sands's own creations... like the Magic Lizard, or the giant frog from Tah Tien. It's fun, in a terrible sort of way, but it's not up to the standard of craftsmanship of your standard Tsuburaya monster.
The giant version of Jumkiller has just arrived to fight the beast — how deep are these caverns, anyway? And how did he get in from the opposite side? Oh, never mind... Jumkiller's aim is to destroy the protector beast and make off with the sacred gemstone hidden under the temple — which is the source of all that mysterious radiation! The scientists, in their fogged-up radiation suits, watch helplessly as the robot carries away the stone to Madgone. Atually, he doesn't just carry it -- in most of the Thai footage, Jumkiller's movements are more closely related to the light, acrobatic steps of Thai dance... which gives him the unfortunate appearance, in Western eyes, of capering.
Then, suddenly, something unbelievable happens: Thailand freezes! (In the TV series, this is the effect of the monster Freezer King. We see Freezer King's freeze ray in the movie, but the monster remains unseen.)
Thirty seconds later, Thailand thaws! And this brief interlude is never mentioned again. We now return you to your regular programming.
Now it's time for the absolute highlight of the picture: the giant version of Jumkiller goes on what can only be described as a psychotic rampage through Bangkok. It's insane. Jumkiller keeps up a constant stream of patter as he bashes buildings with his sword. He dances around like a drunk amid the explosions, and the slightly undercranked camera makes his capering — yes, his capering — seem even more bizarre than usual. At one point he uproots a tree and sends it flying; at another, he makes little "uh-oh!" noises as he sets fire to a monument. Several smaller building he simply kicks over, and since these are far less convincing than the remarkably detailed larger building, it looks as though he's playing with blocks. Much of this rampage and the subsequent fight are shot at a relatively low angle, and from a distance, giving the Bangkok sequence an oddly realistic feel.
Back in the lab, the boy-scientist has returned to find the Odious Comic Relief at their wits' end trying to contain Yak Wat Pho. They've got him caught in some sort of anti-gravity ray, so now not only is he groaning and thrashing, he's also floating in mid-air. Fortuately, the boy genius has some sort of brainstorm: leaping to the control panel, he not only restores Yak Wat Pho to his feet; he also manages to send him flying out the door to go do battle with Jumkiller.
Jumkiller is temporarily halted in his tracks by the now-huge Yak Wat Pho.
"Hey, you young whippersnapper! Stop destroying my city!" calls Yak Wat Pho.
"Oh, yeah?" replies Jumkiller; "Make me!"
So Yak Wat Pho wades into the fray. The Tsuburaya-ized version of his suit is an enormous improvement over the immobile puppet used in Tah Tien, and in fact if there is any good reason to watch this movie, it's this big, brief confrontation between the two second-tier giants. Yak Wat Pho wields an enormous iron mallet, with which he almost manages to pummel Jumkiller into submission. Alas, the tide of battle turns in the opposite direction, and Yak Wat Pho loses the fight.
But wait! What's this? Madgone's spaceship is emerging from the water... somewhere. When the defense forces go to follow it, we find out this is apparently some sort of distraction, because Demongone's ship also rises out of the water... somewhere.
But what's this?! It's the monster Deadfire again, laying waste to Japan! Deadfire, whom Jumborg Ace cut into pieces twenty minutes ago!
And apparently that is just a distraction, too, because Demongone's ship suddenly appears over Tokyo (and Deadfire is never seen again). Somehow pinpointing Naoki in the city of millions, Demongone beams down in her human form — dressed like a pint of Guinness, actually; a tall blonde in a black dress — and confronts him. Well, "confront"? Is that really the word I'm looking for? Say, rather, she taunts him for a while in classic supervillain style, and then transforms into her own 100-foot-tall robot form, with a ray-shooting eyeball in her belly-button. You know. As one does. And then she carries on in Jumkiller's tradition, cackling to herself as she pulverizes the local architecture with her gigantic mallet. Naoki is right there, and so is his car, yet he somehow manages not to transform into Jumborg Nine, leaving the job instead to the defense forces.
And the defense forces fail. Great going, Naoki.
... faces of...
Then, suddenly, without any explanation or transition, Demongone's on the moon(!), where she has installed a giant Death Ray Projector. This turns the moon into a sort-of 1974 prototype of the Death Star. The Japanese forces immediately fly up to the moon to fight her, but they're no match for Demongone and Jumkiller. Just when it looks as though the Earth's defenders are going to be stranded on the moon in a disabled spaceship, Jumborg Nine decides to hitch a ride on a passing moon rocket (the 8:10 from Penn Station). Once there, he gets into a vicious fight with Giant Demongone. In the meantime, the Thais have learned from their experience with Yak Wat Pho, who's off nursing his wounds (and his injured dignity), and have decided to use a Transformation Beam of some kind on their toy model of Yak Wat Jaeng. It works, and soon the Demon King is flying through the air on his way to the moon, to help save the Earth.
But Demongone is clever. She sneaks up behind Jumborg Ace on the surface of the moon, just as Yak Wat Jaeng is about to arrive. Then she furtively fires an energy blast at both of them, making Jumborg Ace think Yak Wat Jaeng did it, and Yak Wat Jaeng think Jumborg Ace did it (See? It's that kind of thinking that gets you a job as a conqueror of worlds). Soon the two heroes are squabbling with each other. Not only do they beat each other up, they come very close to squashing the stranded Earth spaceship ("Look, it's Yak Wat Jaeng!" say the Earth pilots, who've never seen him before...). It gets to the point where both giants fall off a moon-cliff (the moon having Earth-type gravity, and all). Jumborg Ace manages to grab hold of an outcropping at the last minute, and saves Yak Wat Jaeng with his free hand... but the pair are left dangling over a crater.
(By the way: did you notice in this last paragraph that Jumborg Nine has mysteriously turned back into Jumborg Ace? You did? Congratulations! You noticed more than the film-makers did...)
Now, I need to point out that most of the moon footage that doesn't involve Yak Wat Jaeng is taken from the very last episode of the Jumborg Ace series. In that episode, Jumborg Ace managed at last to break Demongone's space mirror; and just as the evil Groth warlord was about to kill him, Jumborg Ace anticipates Lucio Fulci by grabbing a shard of the broken mirror and plunging it into her belly button-eye — The End. In the movie version, things are a little more complicated. Jumkiller comes to gloat at the edge of the cliff, but as he stands there blowing raspberries, Jumborg Ace gives Yak Wat Jaeng a heave up over the edge, and soon Yak Wat Jaeng is beating the stuffing out of him. Once Jumborg Ace joins in, Jumkiller realizes he's outmatched, and goes screaming and begging for Demongone to save him.
Just as the Earth heroes are gaining the upper hand, Demongone and Jumkiller retreat to consider a new plan. And then, without any warning, we're back on Earth. Naoki is back on Earth, too, though we have no idea how he got there... he's struggling to get control of his "Jumborg Nine" Honda, because Demongone has kidnapped all his loved ones — whoever they are — AND CRUCIFIED THEM.
Naoki is overcome by Demongone's Groth henchmen and hung upside-down amid the crosses. The defense forces come to rescue everybody; but Demongone turns gigantic again, and just as she is gaining the upper hand...
WE'RE BACK ON THE GODDAMNED MOON AGAIN. What's going on? What happened to Naoki, dangling by his feet from a noose? What about all those innocent people tied to crosses? We never find out what's happened; instead, we cut to Demongone, on the moon, standing over the graves of her slain brothers: Antigone, Madgone/Medagone, and the aptly-named Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Picture-Gone (also known as Satangone). Yes, apparently Madgone is dead... we must have been informed of this during one of the Thai voice-overs, because we certainly didn't see it. That's not the only surprise we have in store: the aliens' graves are marked by crosses, believe it or not (This is the second set of crosses we've seen in the last few minutes, and this serves to remind us that the Tsuburayas were Catholics. In fact, in the original Jumborg Ace premiere, Naoki's brother's funeral was a Catholic service).
So now Yak Wat Jaeng and Jumborg Ace have to fly all the way back to the moon to continue the fight. Jumborg Ace once again inexplicably transforms back into Jumborg Nine for the battle... but that's not my main concern with all this. The first time he went to the moon, Jumborg Ace needed to be carried on a rocket. How is he now able to get back and forth on his own? And even that isn't the most mind-boggling aspect of the fight: just as Demongone seems to be gaining the upper hand yet again — upper hands being impossible to maintain in this ridiculous movie — Jumborg Ace manages to grab a piece of the shattered solar mirror death-ray projector and stab her in her eyeball-midriff. As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, this is taken directly from the last episode of the TV show.
Except... in the movie, the mirror has not yet been broken.
But hey: I don't want to make too much of this. I know the movie has glossed over a few significant points, but at least this means Demongone is dead, and the movie is finally over. Demongone delivers one last interminable speech before coughing up blood and dying, and the world is saved.
Well, all in all I guess that wasn't so bad. At a reasonably fast-paced hour and ten minutes, Yak Wat Jaeng vs. Jumborg Ace at least manages not to completely outstay its... wait, what?
Demongone is not dead?
She's come back to life in her masculinized Even More Giant Form?
There's still 20 more minutes of movie left?!
Since the original Japanese footage showed Jumborg Ace winning the battle, the Thai version needs to have an extended coda in which Yak Wat Jaeng is allowed to shine. So (Hanuman have mercy)... we're back on Earth again for some reason, in new footage shot especially for this movie. Jumborg Ace is getting beaten up by Demongone and two kaiju from the TV show: Red Killer (one of the Double Killer monsters we saw earlier) and Gaiagnes, a monster who hasn't appeared at all so far, even in brief glimpses. Jumborg Ace gets a trouncing, and must rely on Yak Wat Jaeng to save him. But three against one is rough odds even for a Demon King, and soon Jumborg Ace has to return the favor. The heroic Japanese defense forces try to intervene, but Demongone shoots down their ship4
In the series, I'm pretty sure the named characters managed to escape from the burning ship; but though we see them heading for the exits in this version, the ship explodes and we never hear anything about them again. As far as the movie will tell us, they're deadgone.. Yak Wat Jaeng shoots some sort of holy beam from his club, which makes the monsters explode... but Demongone dematerializes and retreats back to the moon.
Yes. BACK TO THE GODDAMNED MOON.
Demongone's resolutely unbroken death-ray mirror continues to wreak havoc, as the two giant heroes redeem their frequent-flier miles for yet another trip to the lunar surface. Once they arrive, it's more of the same action, so let's just skip to the highlights: Yak Wat Jaeng absorbs the death ray's beam with his club, but when Jumkiller stalks up behind him, he suddenly stops and steps aside. Jumkiller is hit with the full force of the beam, and is incinerated. Demongone gets a similar blast from her own weapon and goes up in flames. Yak Wat Jaeng and Jumborg Ace congratulate each other and start flying back to Earth. And this incoherent mess of a movie is really, truly, finally over.
If there's one thing I've learned from nearly twenty years of writing this site, it's that the definition of a Bad Movie is a very ambiguous thing. I'm certainly not trying to suggest that Sompote Sands's movies are Bad Movies simply because they don't conform to the norms of American pop culture cinema. I understand that Thailand in the early 1970's was a much different place even from Thailand today, let alone from Japan, or from suburban America at any point in the late 20th century. If Sands's "family movies" had a lot of explicit feces-related humor, my question probably shouldn't be, "How could he do this?" so much as, "Why do I have a problem with it?" People in other parts of the world have a much more honest relationship with their waste, bodily or otherwise, than I do as a modern American. We produce a disproportionate amount of the world's garbage, but it never crosses most of our minds to wonder where it goes after we dispose of it; what actually becomes of some of our most toxic by-products ought to be much more offensive to us than the occasional scat joke. Then, too, if Hanuman and the Seven Ultramen gives us shockingly explicit violence toward children, in a movie intended to be seen by children... frankly, I need to remember: at the time, the Vietnam war was killing lots of actual children in unimaginably horrific ways right next door; and the Cambodian genocide, also right next door, would soon bring even more ghastly atrocities into the local consciousness. Also, putting aside the tone of the movies, the stories of Sands's films were in large part derived from the familiar folklore of his homeland. If those stories seem bizarre and incomprehensible to me, especially when they're forced into a modern setting, the problem is probably mostly mine for being ignorant of their source material.
But Yak Wat Jaeng vs. Jumborg Ace is a slightly different matter. It's actually the least idiosyncratic of Sands's productions. Nobody in this movie is getting shat-upon; nobody's getting peed-upon. Here we will find no children getting shot in the head, as in Hanuman and the Seven Ultramen; no villains being squashed to a bloody pulp in a divine fist, as in Hanuman and the 5 Kamen Riders; no naked Thai girls displaying their boobies, as in... well, just about all Sands's other films; no male characters inexplicably growing huge, naked, lactating boobies of their own, as in Phra Rot-mari, a.k.a. Nang Sipsong; no monsters having their flesh ripped off their bones for comic effect, as (once again) in Hanuman and the Seven Ultramen... in short, none of the imagery that normally passes from the water buffalo of Sands's imagination directly into the Magic Lizard of our minds5
Hi, Keith! In case you're wondering, I added this metaphor just for you.. This is an attempt by a Thai film-maker to recast material I'm very familiar with into a form that will fit his foreign culture.
I became acquainted with tokusatsu TV shows at an age when my own culture was still a mystery to me; it was, for me, a formative influence, and it's every bit as deeply ingrained in me as the Ramakien is to Sands. Yes, I know: that statement is just plain sad, putting Space Giants on a similar footing as another culture's great mystic-religious epic poem. But that doesn't mean the comparison doesn't hold, as far as influence is concerned... it just shows what a thoroughly trivial human being I am. But you've already gathered that, if you're reading this far.
Yak Wat Jaeng vs. Jumborg Ace may have been successful in Thailand, but I find it very difficult to believe it would not have been equally successful — maybe even more so — had it been less of a hack job. I can't believe that any audiences of any storytelling tradition would be happy with the protagonist dangling by his feet in one scene, and then freed & transported to the surface of the moon, without explanation, in the next. Rapid-fire action scenes edited together with a little voice-over may be very appealing for their sheer spectacle, but really: would it hurt their appeal if those rapid-fire action scenes were tied together in the service of a plot?
Yak Wat Jaeng is very appealing as an Ultra-type hero. There's something endearing about his self-important swagger, as he literally marches his way into battle. If anything, I find Yak Wat Pho even more appealing: his scenes in the lab give him a slightly sinister appearance, with his grey stone body and his glowing eyes. While I'm grateful that Yak Wat Jaeng... is free from some of the excesses that make Sands's other films so tough to watch, I do think these heroes deserved a better movie. Jumkiller's insane assault on Bangkok is also a fine piece of monster cinema... yet in the middle of this inspired luncay, Sands still manages to find the worst, least-convincing model at one point, and concentrates on that. There are so many obvious bad decisions on display in the movie that you have to cringe a little, realizing that the guy who made it fought for years to gain control of world-wide distribution of Tsuburaya Productions' entire Ultra series. Imagine: the whole series, filtered through that sensibility.
Actually, you don't have to stretch your imagination that far. As a cautionary tale, just consider how Yak Wat Jaeng vs. Jumborg Ace itself got repurposed. Several of the moon sequences, along with some brand-new footage featuring Jumkiller on Earth, wound up in Sands's Magic Lizard. Yes — Magic Lizard, the one movie so perfectly guaranteed to make Western audiences run screaming that it renders my well-intentioned attempts at cultural understanding moot. Please don't make me even think about Magic Lizard.
But the strangest turn to the whole concern