Generally my incursions into Shaw Brothers spy films have been enjoyable. Films like The Golden Buddha, Angel with the Iron Fists and Angel Strikes Back are flawed, but they are fast paced and filled with outrageous action and fights, beautiful girls, goofy gadgets, and eyepopping sets and fashion – what’s not to like. These films are very accessible to anyone who likes big scale Bondian action (providing you don’t mind subtitles). Then along comes Interpol 009, which is quite a bit different. I’ll be honest, it took me four sittings to get through this film, which on the surface may imply that it is a bad film – but I don’t think it is. It simply has a very different tone to the other Shaw Brothers spy films.
There are two reasons why this film is quite different. The first is that it is directed by Yang Shu-hsi (the other films I mentioned at the top were all directed by Lo Wei). Yang Shu-hsi is an adopted name for Japanese director Kô Nakahira who, before arriving in Hong Kong, did a stint at Japan’s hard-boiled Nikkatsu studios. So Nakahira’s directing style is quite different. He prefers location work to working on the Shaw Brothers studio lots. The second reason that Interpol 009 has a different feel to the other Shaw Brothers spy output/ Bond imitators – is that it is a remake of an earlier film made by Nakahira in Japan. Now I haven’t been able to find out which film this is a remake of, but three of the four films (including Interpol 009) that Nakahira directed in Hong Kong were remakes of his earlier work. So whereas The Golden Buddha, Angel with the Iron Fists, et al, where made deliberately to ride on the coat-tails of Bond, Interpol 009’s script is older and possibly predates Bondmania. The Bondian accoutrements have been added just to give the film a more contemporary feel. So at times, this film feels more like a detective story than a fully fledged spy film.
The film opens in Manilla and secret agent, Long Ping is meeting with an informant named Fang. As the two men exchange information they are set upon by a band of thugs. These thugs mean business and Ping and Fang end up floating face down in a lake with knives in their backs. When Interpol HQ in London hears about the demise of its agent, Chen Tianhong (agent 009) is called in to take over. Currently though, he is on a beach in France with two beautiful girls by his side. But duty calls and soon he is whisked away to Manilla. Here he meets with the Police chief who informs him that Long Ping was investigating the Fudu Trading Company. Fudu have been transporting restored cars from Hong Kong to Manilla, and everytime a shipment arrives, the city is swamped with counterfeit US bank notes.
Having gleaned all the information he can from Manilla, Agent 009 heads to the source, Hong Kong. Posing as a gambling, womanising cad, Agent 009 is soon on the trail of the bad guys. Well, to be honest it doesn’t take too much investigation. It just so happens that two of the chief suspects in the case, just happen to be on the same flight to Hong Kong. It’s just one of the many co-incidences that this film lays on. Then, as soon as 009 gets off the plane he is followed by the bad guys from the airport. They sure make it easy.
As I mentioned earlier, this film is not like a Bond film. It doesn’t have an evil mastermind or a spectacular underground lair for our villains to operate out of. If the Fudu Trading Company has a head guy, who is the uber villain, then we don’t even meet him over the course of the film — and equally if a head man exists, then he is not caught at the end of the film either. Essentially Agent 009 goes after the small fish, but the weird thing is that by the forty-five minute mark of this film, Chen Tianhong and the Hong Kong police have enough evidence to put the bad guys away — but instead chose to watch them a little longer, hoping to catch the main players, which they never really do.
What Interpol 009 has got going for it is Tang Ching as Chen Tianhong, Agent 009. Ching, who had served as second banana to Lily Ho in the Angel with the Iron Fists, gets to carry the show here, and he does a great job as the hard-drinking, womanising gambler. Ching would also turn up in the Angel strikes back, once again teaming with Lily Ho – and if to cement this pair’s cinematic relationship, Lily Ho has a nifty cameo at the end of this film.
Interpol 009 is quite okay as a spy film, but it’s detective story origins do slow the story down. Rather than outrageous confrontations between good and evil, such as fights and car chases, which are the hallmark of a spy film, this film has a lot of characters just sneaking around. First the bad guys follow Chen. Then he follows them. Thankfully towards the end, the confrontation we have been waiting for, finally happens, and the last twenty or so minutes of this film are pretty good, and would appease most spy film aficionados.