As a boy Kay (Stephan Yip) saw both his parents killed when their cruise ship was sunk by a gigantic alien robot with a harpoon arm. Now the super-cool, shaggy-haired, denim-clad hero pilots Mach Baron, his own awesome fire-engine red giant super-robot equipped with an incredible hi-tech arsenal of super-weaponry. Together with sagely and dapper mentor the Professor (Jamie Luk Kin-Ming) and stalwart jet squadron allies: Lee, pigtailed token girl Sue (Lin-Lin Li) and, er, Luggy (that's a name?), Kay defends planet Earth against an alien onslaught. Led by the ancient evil Noble Controller (Hiroshi Ikaida), who sports insane gravity-defying glam rock hair and creepy reptile eyes, the invaders pit their robot legions against the mechanical might of Mach Baron.
Much like the cut-and-paste treatment that eventually led to the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the Taiwanese Tie chao ren or Iron Super Man melds effects sequences lifted from Japanese tokusatsu creator Koichi Takano's 1974 show Super Robot Mach Baron with new footage directed by Kwok Ting-Hung with local stars like Stephan Yip (who went on to have a side-career directing trashy sex films), Maggie Li Lin-Ling, Jamie Luk Kin-Ming (future director of soft-core sci-fi opus Robotrix (1991)!) and even fabled schlock producer Godfrey Ho replacing the original cast. Hong Kong movie staple Paul Chun snags the most memorable role as Porky (?!) the wacky Inspector Clouseau-like comedy relief who actually proves quite resourceful. As well as possessing shrewd deductive reasoning he also rides a flying motorcycle and wields a neat line-in hi-tech super-weaponry. He bails Kay out of many an ambush by the alien henchmen who, for reasons unknown, dress like American football players. Just roll with it.
To confuse matters further the most widely available print is a Spanish dub re-titled Mazinger Z - El robot de las estrellas. Even though this movie features a robot unrelated to Go Nagai's seminal anime. There is also a German dub supposedly more jocular in tone than the original. Who says the Germans have no sense of humour? In Germany Iron Super Man has a cult following as a so-bad-its-good film and was featured on SchleFaz, the country's equivalent of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. However, one needs neither a snarky sense of humour nor a snide dismissal of Asian sci-fi to appreciate the original productions many charms.
Set to an unforgettable twangy guitar and funky brass soundtrack, Super Robot Mach Baron or Iron Super Man or whatever you want to call is paced, in the time-honoured Toei tokusatsu tradition, like a runaway freight train. It speeds by like a blur of comic book colours, eye-catching miniature effects and wild set-pieces showcasing Takano's ingenious array of eccentric mecha designs. Of course the plot functions on a strictly juvenile level, but the action is non-stop (with that weird streak of sadism strangely common in Japanese children’s fare in the Seventies) and super fun. With rocket punch hands, missile and flame-spewing mouth, rainbow beams and spastic stop-motion kung fu moves, Mach Baron is a sensorial overload for any child enchanted by Japanese tokusatsu fare. The set-pieces are expertly orchestrated by Takano who went on to deliver Born Free (1976) with its offbeat mix of animated humans and live action rubber dinosaurs and The Ultraman Story (1984). Here he utilizes crash zooms and rapid edits to enhance the comic book energy and brings the same level of invention to the production design. The good guys' awesome underwater base looks like it was designed by Ken Adam on a psychedelic bender after repeat viewings of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).
Along with that weird streak of sadism strangely common in Japanese children’s fare of the Seventies the film sports a cracked mysticism, occasionally achieving levels of surreal delirium unmatched outside Shaw Brothers' classic Super Infra-Man (1975) or Taiwan's own Kinko Films (e.g. Child of Peach (1987), Twelve Animals (1990)). It is worth watching just for the amazing surrealistic pseudo-religious sequence wherein a rival robot crucifies Mach Baron on a hilltop at sunset till he rises Christ-like from the dead. You just don't get that with Transformers.