The Super Rider movies were, as far as I know, the first inkling Western fans had that there were Chinese/Japanese hybrid superhero movies. I credit Damon Foster with bringing them to light, though a picture from FRANKENSTEIN'S KUNG-FU MONSTER had turned up sans explanation in an issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS in the 1970s. The Super Riders are by far the most famous of these anomalies, and are also the ones we know the most about. However, that doesn't meant they aren't still filled with mystery.
When I started my discussion of these movies a few weeks ago, I was hashing over some of my findings and conclusions with Igadevil. He finally threw up his hands in frustration and declared that it was all entirely too confusing. I fear this entry will do nothing to change his mind, despite the fact that I've had to rethink some of the ideas that set me on this path in the first place.
First, let's get one thing straight. There are THREE Super Riders films, not just two. Unfortunately, it appears the one based on FIVE RIDERS VS. KING DARK has not resurfaced. This is the movie referred to as KARATEKAS DEL ESPACIO in some Spanish language lobby cards. It has an entry on the Chinese language Wikipedia, but no entry on the HKMDB. I get the feeling it hasn't been seen in any form since the 1970s.
Here are the three Super Riders entries from the Chinese Wikipedia, in order of their supposed release date. Original running times and primary English titles are also supplied.
閃電騎士V3 - THE SUPER RIDER V3, November 11, 1975 (91 min.)
閃電五騎士 - THE FIVE OF SUPER RIDER, January 23, 1976 (97 min.)
閃電騎士大戰地獄軍團 - THE SUPER RIDER aka SUPERRIDERS AGAINST THE DEVILS, SUPER RIDERS WITH THE DEVIL, July 17, 1976 (98 min.)
So, did you notice the real oddity there? No, I don't mean the FIVE RIDERS movie bearing the unwieldy title THE FIVE OF SUPER RIDER (though that is admittedly pretty great). I mean the bizarre chronology of these movies. If the Chinese Wikipedia is to be believed (and it specifically points this out), the V3 came FIRST, then the 5 Riders movie, and the story of Super Riders 1 and 2 comes LAST!
I am of two minds on this revelation. On the one hand, I suppose it's possible that someone screwed up the dates on Wikipedia and the order really should be the same as the Japanese counterparts. On the other hand, this is just so bizarre that it has the ring of truth to it. I mean, would they really call attention to this anomaly if they didn't have a basis in fact for it?
Only why? My best guess would be that Kamen Rider V3 was the one who got over big in other parts of Asia. That might make him a good candidate for remake treatment as "Super Rider V3" (worth noting that 閃電騎士 literally translates as "Lightning Knight"). Since the original and its follow-up were apparently successful, all that was left as far as theatrical 35mm Rider movies after them were the first two. That could explain why the third/first film comes several months after the others - it was a "prequel" that wasn't part of the original plan at all.
This does go a long way in explaining the differing marketing approaches to the two Super Rider films in Germany. SUPER RIDER V3 came out as FRANKENSTEINS KUNG-FU MONSTER, cashing in on both the German penchant for including Frankenstein in titles randomly and the kung-fu movie craze. SUPER RIDERS WITH THE DEVIL came out as KRIEG DER INFRAS and was implied as a follow-up to INFRA-MAN (which was INVASION AUS DEM INNEREN DER ERDE in Germany). Now I get it. The V3 movie was FIRST, and the Super Riders came out after INFRA-MAN. That also might explain how THE FIVE OF SUPER RIDER seemingly fell through the cracks there, as it is unknown to German fans, too.
The Super Riders movies are a product of the Tong Hsing Film Co, Ltd. 東星電影事業股份有限公司, which Google tells me means "East Star Film Company." As I noted previously, this name is suspiciously similar to the name of the allegedly Hong Kong-based production company responsible for MARS MEN. There doesn't seem to be much data on this company, since it is only listed for the single SUPER RIDERS WITH THE DEVIL movie on the HKMDB. I guess that's not much of a surprise. What is a bit surprising is there is some question over whether these movies were authorized by Toei or not. Western fans had sort of taken it for granted that they were, based on their quality costumes alone. If it turns out these ARE unauthorized movies like the Chaiyo Rider flick (more on this too), they are far and away some of the best of their kind.
Speaking of the HKMDB, I'd be remiss if I didn't link the entries to the Super Rider movies there. Regrettably, as noted earlier, THE FIVE OF SUPER RIDER is M.I.A. However, both SUPER RIDER V3 and SUPERRIDERS AGAINST THE DEVILS are listed. It's cool to finally be able to put names to some of the people we've been just referring to as "that guy" for years.
Man Kong-Lung is Super Rider 1
Li Yi-Min is Super Rider 2
Woo Gwan is Super Rider V3
Sung Ling-Yuk is Super Rider 4 (female Riderman)
Seung Fung is the "Chinese Tobei Tachibana"
Koo Kwan is the "Chinese Dr. Shinugami"
So while there are still mysteries aplenty, it's nice to have some solid grounding with these films. They are real, the people in them have names, and they have release dates. My only problem is that learning all of this has completely shot my little theory about HANUMAN AND THE FIVE KAMEN RIDERS totally to pieces!
In Thailand, หนุมานพบ 5 ไอ้มดแดง (literally, "Hanuman and the 5 Ant Men") was the sequel to Chaiyo's Hanuman/Ultra Brothers movie. It was released on March 15, 1975. Take note of that date. It is TEN MONTHS prior to the Taiwan release of THE FIVE OF SUPER RIDER! There is no possible way for these movies to be connected, other than the fact that they are both based on the same Japanese film.
So if I'm so smart, NOW how do I explain how Chaiyo has never gotten their pants sued off for their movie? How are they able to keep it available? Well, my somewhat feeble idea is that perhaps they legitimately purchased the Thai release rights to the first available Kamen Rider movie (which happened to be FIVE RIDERS VS. KING DARK) and then built their movie around it in much the same way American distributors handled Toho's films like GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE, TIDAL WAVE, etc. This makes a certain degree of sense, and depending on the contract, they might be able to retain the rights. I'm not sure if FIVE RIDERS VS. KING DARK has gotten a legit release or not in Thailand in recent years.
This is all, of course, pure speculation on my part. Maybe I'm wrong and the explanation is as simple as everyone has always postulated. How Chaiyo obtained a print of FIVE RIDERS VS. KING DARK if that's really what happened is anyone's guess. But hey, anything's possible!
Speaking of anything being possible, get a load of this:
That? Ladies and gentleman, that is a THAI POSTER for THE FIVE OF SUPER RIDER. Igadevil found it the night we were discussing this matter. That's right, apparently the Taiwanese version of FIVE RIDERS VS. KING DARK also found its way into Thailand. And no, I have no idea.
Here's a trailer for KRIEG DER INFRAS with English subtitles. If you look carefully, you can even see some of the original English subtitles from the Chinese print. Sorry this one is so small, but I'd recommend making it full-screen if you want to read the new subtitles.