Country: Hong Kong / Germany Director: Ernst Hofbauer, Chih-Hung Kuei Starring: Hua Yueh, Hui-Ling Liu, Sonja Jeannine, Diane Drube, Gillian Bray, Tamara Elliot, Deborah Ralls, Hsieh Wang Music: Fu-ling Wang Original Title: Yang chi AKA: Enter the Seven Virgins, Virgins of the Seven Seas, Karate, Küsse, blonde Katzen
Do you like Shaw Brothers swordplay movies? Do you like German nudie movies from the early 1970s? Have you ever wondered what type of film you’d get if you crossed those two styles of film? Well wonder no more, because The Bod Squad is just such a picture.
The plot is wafer thin. As the movie starts, seven women – and as it matters to the plot – five of them being virgins (the two oldest girls have already been deflowered) have been captured by pirates. They were traveling on a ship from England to Australia, because Australia has a shortage of attractive women, and the seven beauties on the boat were to address this imbalance. I can assure you, I am not making this up – that was the reason stated for their journey. I can also assure you Australia does not have a shortage of attractive women – but I digress.
The women are brought to a coastal village where the pirates live when they are not pirating, pillaging, and raping. At this point, you’re probably wondering if the pirates are such rapists, why haven’t they raped their prisoners? Believe me, they want to. And a few even attempt it, only to be cut down by their superiors. You see, the head pirate wants to sell the ‘pure’ girls for a healthy profit. But first they must be cleaned up, which means gratuitous scenes of the girls bathing and being washed. Then they are to be trained in the art of making love – the various techniques, and positions required to please a man. And they are taught to dance.
But unbeknown to the pirates, the girls are also taught Kung-Fu, which of course is a pretty handy skill to have when you are being held prisoner by a band of ruffians. Despite the films story-line, this film is pretty much played as a comedy (at least towards the end), where the scantily-clad girls start to kick the bad guys asses.
In some ways, The Bod Squad could be considered a cinematic template or antecedent for last years Suckerpunch, which has a remarkably similar story – although stylistically miles apart. Both are stories of women imprisoned, subjugated, and trained to be sexual playthings for men, but while the women are surviving the abuse, they are secretly plotting to escape. The big difference between the films being, The Bod Squad has no CGI, but more nudity and Kung Fu.Depending on your personal taste, take that as a plus or a minus.
Original Title: Qian mian mo nu Country: Hong Kong Director: Chang-hwa Jeong (as Cheng Chang Ho) Starring: Tina Chin Fei, Liang Chen, Pat Ting Hung, Carrie Ku Mei, Hsi Chang, Yu Chin Chang, Hsin, Yen Chao, Yi Ling Chen Music: Wang Foo Ling (plus John Barry and others – most likely without permission)
If you are a fan of Diabolik or Fantomas, then the Shaw Bros. Studios Temptress of a Thousand Faces is a film that you must track down. Unfortunately at the moment, that is a little tricky to do, because the Hong Kong VCD is now out of print (apparently there is also a French DVD but it doesn’t have subs). But do what you have to do to track this down – eBay / Grey market /whatever… believe me, you need this film in your life. This film is a riot of sixties style light, colour, action and movement.
While Temptress is not a spy exactly a spy film, anyone who loves space age underground lairs, villains in rubber masks, outrageous torture devices, beautiful women in mod fashions, car chases, armies of ninjas, will appreciate what is on display here.
Like so many of Shaw Bros. films from the period, Temptress opens with a stylised animated title sequence, then wasting no time, jumps straight into the action. The Hong Kong police arrive at a bank to find the vault door open and the guards trussed up inside. On on of the shelves is a business card announcing that the theft is the work of an arch villainess who calls herself the Temptress of a Thousand Faces. At this moment there is a musical sting lifted directly for the Goldfinger soundtrack.
The film then cuts to a Rolls Royce cruising through the traffic. Inside is Miss Jin, who happens to be one of Hong Kong’s most wealthy women. As she puffs on a cigarette in a long thin holder, she is poured a drink of brandy or cognac from the bar by her assistant – it’s the good life! They arrive at a Jewellers and proceed inside. An array of stunning jewelled necklaces and bracelets are paraded for Miss Jin to inspect. She chooses to purchase three of the most expensive pieces then signs a cheque for 576000 HK dollars and leaves with her boodle.
After the purchase, the salesman is gloating over the commission he has just made from the sale, but at that moment, the words on the cheque begin to disappear — like they were evaporating. Then in their place, new words begin to form on the cheque – it says: ‘greetings from the Temptress of a Thousand Faces’. It wasn’t Miss Jin at all who had attended the jewellery store. The real Miss Jin had died earlier in the morning. The impostor was the mysterious Temptress in a lifelike rubber mask.
Li Mao is a reporter for a newspaper that is in decline, but the editor and chief has noticed that sales pick up after the Temptress has committed a crime. The Temptress is news, and more importantly, she sells papers. Li Mao is assigned to do a story on the Temptress. But that’s not so easy. Nobody knows who the Temptress is, and even then, it is not likely that she’d be the type to give interviews.
To get around this small inconvenience, Li Mao decides to concoct her own fabricated story about the Temptress. She enlists the aid of the papers photographer, Yu-da to help her out with some photos. The photos are supposed to be the Temptress, but instead she plays the role herself, dressed in dark clothes and hidden behind a cape.
The story is published and the police aren’t too happy about it. They are sure that Li Mao has fabricated the story to increase the newspaper’s circulation. The officer assigned to bring down the Temptress is Ji Ying (Tina Chin Fei) also happens to be the girlfriend of Yu-da, the photographer (now there’s a nice little love triangle).
To alleviate the damage done by Li Mao’s newspaper article, Ji Ying goes on television and threatens to bring the Temptress to justice. After the television appearance, Ji Ying returns home, and then her phone rings. The caller claims to be the Temptress, and demands to see Ji Ying. Ji Ying passes the call off as a joke that she believes that Yu-da is playing on her, and hangs up. Then the door bell rings. She goes to the door and opens it. There is nobody there, but there is a boxed rose of the doorstep. She picks it up and opens the box, smelling the rose. She passes out (it is drugged) and wakes up in the wonderful subterranean secret lair of the Temptress – chained to a circular stone altar in a transparent negligee.
Many of the Shaw Bros. spy films were a little bit saucy – and while there is no actual nudity, this film has a leering quality that almost beggars disbelief. The film features an array of transparent gowns and candy coloured negligees. It also showcases plenty of upskirt and panty fetish photography — and with that, I’d like to welcome all the new readers to this site who have accidentally ended up here after googling ‘upskirt panty fetish’ – the screen caps above are just for you.
The Temptress’s underground lair is amazing. It is filled with outlandish torture chambers, trapdoors, cages that drop from the ceiling and most importantly a hot-tub. A hot-tub is so much more fun than a pool filled with piranhas. It is also bathed in that sixties style glow of red and green lights. The Temptress has no shortage of minions either. First there are a company of veiled handmaidens – who I am not sure if the are just for decoration or to provide some kind of security. Not that security is an issue, Temptress also has a small army of incompetent black clad masked ninjas, and a number of machine gun toting female guards.
Ji Ying is tortured for a while and warned not to meddle in the Temptress’ affairs again. Then strangely she is released. This is strange because the Temptress is not above a bit of cold blooded murder, and furthermore as some of the other plot contrivances are revealed later in the film (I won’t spoil them here), it just doesn’t make any sense. Oh well – it doesn’t really matter. It’s all grand entertainment. Just let it sweep over you. Once Ji Ying is free, she simply re-doubles her efforts to capture the Temptress. And the arch-villainess kindly provides plenty of opportunities for her to do so. Unfortunately for Ji Ying, most of these opportunities result in her being captured by the Temptress once more – but that is all part of the fun.
If this synopsis is sounding a little familiar to you, then you may have seen the first film in André Hunebelle’s French Fantomas series, which featured Jean Marais as a villain who was able to change identity with a series of lifelike rubber face masks. Temptress, is what would be politely called a ‘re-imagining’ of that film (that’s so much nicer than ‘ripoff’). But there are differences. The main change is that Temptress has a female in the role of the villain, whereas the French original had a male. Temptress also focuses on the police officer as the villain’s main protagonist, whereas in the French film, it was the reporter, and his falsified newspaper story that incurred the ire of the villain. The other major difference is the ending. Fantomas ends with an inspired (if somewhat slapstick) chase sequence where where Fantomas uses a train, a car, a motorbike, a boat, and a submarine to make his escape. Temptress reverts to a more familiar Bondian setpiece, in her spectacular underground lair – I guess Shaw Bros. figured that they had gone to the trouble and expense of creating the sets; why not use them?
What makes Temptress such a fascinating film is that the two main protagonists are women. Apart from the perv factor, when you think about it, it is quite unique. I am not talking about femme fatales or henchmen (or henchwomen as the case may be), but the main characters – hero and villain are both women. Okay maybe Modesty Blaise had a female hero, but her main villain was Gabriel (Dirk Bogarde), a man. Even the Sumuru pictures, which featured a strong female villain, had a male for the hero (George Nader in Million Eyes and Richard Whyler in Seven Secrets). So to see a film, at the height of the male dominated spy craze, where the two leads are women is quite groundbreaking (maybe there’s some Women’s Prison films out there that may prove me wrong – but women’s prison films aren’t generally geared up to be main stream entertainment). I guess though, the underlying question with Temptress is simply if the film became a showcase for the female leads because the film-makers had to twist the original Fantomas story enough so it wouldn’t look like outright plagiarism. Or where they deliberately pushing the gender stereotype boundary?
I think the answer lies in Shaw Bros. previously made Angel films , particularly the first film, Angel With Iron Fists, which featured Lily Ho as Agent 009. Angel was a strong female heroine and in Iron Fists she goes up against the villainous Mrs Jin – co-incidentally played by Tina Chin Fei. But whereas Ji Ying pretty much goes it alone, Angel had the manly assistance of Tang Ching to help her out – during both of her missions. I almost see the Angel films as a test run for Temptress – a test run that wasn’t quite prepared to go all the way.
Credited as Cheng Chang Ho, Temptress was directed by Chang-hwa Jeong, who is probably best known for directing King Boxer, aka Five Fingers of Death. But prior to Temptress he earned his espionage credentials directing Special Agent X-7 in 1967 (Yan die shen long) – a film that to my knowledge still remains curiously M.I.A. – IMDb lists it as a production of the Kam Hoi Film Company and intimates that there was some South Korean funding too, but I can find no information to verify this. The flyer below would indicate that the film was a Shaw Bros. production – but for all I know, it may have just been a distribution deal.
Temptress of a Thousand Faces, while being derivative of Fantomas, and borrowing heavily from other spymania films (there’s a car with revolving number plates, for example) is a quite a good film, possibly eclipsing some of the lessor films it was trying to imitate. The film is lightning paced with plenty of fights, car chases and a mod pop-art sensibility that make it perfect entertainment for those with a penchant for sixties spy cinema.
Now here’s where it gets a little weird – and most of this is sheer guesswork I my behalf. But to preface my thoughts, here’s a ramble I posted (slightly edited) on the Eurospy Forum some months ago:
Here we go again. I am on one of my investigative quests and am casting out my long tendril like feelers for information.
Before I go any further – credit where credit is due. Most of the information I am about to recite (or link to) has been discovered by Todd at the blog Die Danger Die Die Kill and Todd cites Dave at Soft film for providing some leads.
It’s best I start at the beginning and the Eurospy film – Sergio Sollima’s Passport to Hell. I am presuming that most of you have seen (or will see) this film. Passport to Hell is a good film, and of the hundreds of Eurospy films that were made in the sixties, it is possibly one of the best, buoyed by the sincerity of Giorgio Ardisson’s performance and a script that refuses to collapse into goofy genre conventions.
Now about 18 months ago, on Die Danger Die Die Kill, Todd reviewed a Shaw Bros. Hong Kong film called The Black Falcon. What Todd discovered, which nobody had mentioned before, was that The Black Falcon was essentially a remake of Passport to Hell. Well, that put The Black Falcon on my radar, and I figured in time I would pick up a copy and compare it for myself. It took me a while, but I finally obtained a copy of The Black Falcon.
Now Todd reviewed a VCD version of the film, whereas, the only copy I could get was on DVD. With the DVD I got a few extra features that Todd wasn’t privy to. One of these was a photo gallery. In the gallery there are two shots that are the same, but featuring different actors. The text explained that one was the Hong Kong version of the film; the other, filmed simultaneously with a different cast, was an ‘international’ version.
So that had me thinking that there were ‘two’ remakes of Passport to Hell. Of course I have searched for the second ‘International’ remake, but so far without any luck.
Then a couple of weeks ago, on Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill, Todd posted a review of Gerak Kilat, which featured a swinging sixties spy named Jefri Zain. You can read Todd’s review here.
It appears the Gerak Kilat was made by Shaw Bros. Malay studio in Singapore. And it was the first of 3 (possibly more?) Jefri Zain films. In Todd’s review he said that other films in the series were filmed in Hong Kong, simultaneously with other Shaw films. That made me think that possibly the ‘International’ Passport to Hell film I was seeking, may have been in fact a Malay film.
This was borne out by a follow-up post Todd made concerning the two sequels to Gerak Kilat. You can read the post here (with screencaps). Here it is revealed that the first sequel Bayangan Ajal is a version of Lo Wei’s Summon to Death. The next sequel,, Jurang Baraya is a version of Angel Strikes Back.
And to take things further, Angel With The Iron Fists was versioned as, Nora Zain: Woman Agent 001 which featured Nora Zain (most likely Jefri Zain’s secret agent sister).
So that’s the tale of the tape so far. Now what I am looking for is a bit more information on this. And here are a few of my assertions which I have no proof for at all – guesses at this stage which need some confirmation (or denial). Firstly, as 3 of Lo Wei’s spy films at Shaws were made into Malay versions, I am guessing it wouldn’t be too weird for The Golden Buddha to have also had simultaneous versions made (it too could be a Jefri Zain film?) In fact practically any Shaw Bros spy film could have a Malay cousin out there.
Another of the Hong Kong Shaws Bros films that is of interest to me (I haven’t seen it yet), is The Temptress of a Thousand Faces, which from the reviews that I have read, would appear to be a remake of Andre Hunebelle’s first Fantomas film, but with a female lead character. This too, may have been a prime candidate for a Malay version – so I am possibly looking for two remakes of Fantomas. (Actually I am looking for 4 Fantomas films – must track down Turkish Fantomas in Iron Claw the Pirate and Bollywood Fantomas in Saazish but that is another story)..
So there it is. If you have any comments, information or thoughts…?
As you read, at the time of writing I had not seen Temptress of a Thousand Faces. Now that I have, the question still remains – was a Malay version filmed at the same time? It would make sense. After all, the sets are pretty impressive, and it would make good economic sense to use them again (and again). I am sure, Shaw Bros. would like to get double the bang for their buck.
So if you’re a fan of Asian spy cinema and know of any alternate versions to this film (or in fact any of the Shaw Bros. spy films), feel free to drop my a line.
Earlier this year a rumour circulated around the net that Shaw Bros/Celestial Pictures were going to release a whole swag of previously unreleased films on DVD. Among them were a few spy films, Operation Lipstick, Dark Rendezvous, Kiss & Kill, and The Brain Stealers. Unfortunately the rumour appears to be a hoax. But Todd at Die Danger Die Die Kill has uncovered The Brain Stealers. The title alone makes you want to see it, doesn’t it?
Original Title: Te jing 009 Country: Hong Kong Director: Yang Shu-hsi (Kô Nakahira) Starring: Margaret Tu Chuan, Tang Ching, Shen Yi, Chang Pei-shan Music: Eddie Wang
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.
Original Title: Tie Guan Yin AKA: Iron Goddess Country: Hong Kong Director: Lo Wei Starring: Lily Ho, Fanny Fan, Lo Wei, Tang Ching, Tina Chin Fei Music: Eddie Wang and Fu-ling Wang
If you love stylish ’60s spy visuals, beautiful women, mod fashions, spectacular underground lairs, and goofy gadgets, then most probably, you’ll love Angel with the Iron Fists from Shaw Brothers Studios. However if you want a plot that goes somewhere and realistic fight scenes, then this film may be a bit of a let down for you.
The story is about a evil criminal organisation called the ‘Dark Angels’ and it seems that they have a vast criminal network that spreads all across the world — but their headquarters are in Hong Kong. The Dark Angels seem to have a hand in all sorts of nefarious activities from diamond smuggling to drug trafficking, with a little bit of murder thrown into the mix. As the story develops there is a vague plot thread about the creation of a new ‘super-drug’ that gives the user energy and more importantly, keeps you looking young, with which they plan to control the drug market.
As the story opens, Agent 166 has infiltrated the Dark Angels and has important information to relate to HQ. Agent 166 is walking down a deserted street at night — he is nervous and edgy. Behind him, he hears footsteps and he begins to quicken his pace until he breaks into a sprint. The pursuer gives chase. Agent 166 makes it to a phone booth and proceeds to make a call. Then four cars pull up beside the booth and a gang of men from the Dark Angels pour out. With their pistols they pepper the phone booth with shots. Agent 166 dies and the gang collect a briefcase with information from beside his dead body.
After a sprightly animated title sequence which would be at home at the begining of a Spaghetti Western, the film returns at Hong Kong airport. The authorities are awaiting the new agent flying in from London, who will take over from Agent 166. But the good guys aren’t the only ones watching the arrivals. Members of the Dark Angels have the airport staked out too.
The agent arrives. He is tall good looking with dark glasses and carrying a suitcase. Yep, he looks like a spy all right. The authorities greet him and whisk him away — followed discretely by the Dark Angels of course. But this agent is just a decoy. The real agent is Ai Si (Lily Ho), Agent 009 and she arrives in Hong Kong unobserved. She catches a taxi — acompanied by music from Goldfinger — to her hotel.
Ai Si, or ‘Angel’ as I like to call her, is posing as the rich mistress to a gangster who is behind bars. She starts her investigation at the ‘Flying Horse Night Club’ where she meets her contact, Agent 403. 403’s cover is as an annoying drunk and he tries to hit onto Angel. Between loud drunken outbursts, 403 points Angel in the direction of two people in the club that evening. One is the star performer, Miss Dolly (played by the wicked Fanny Fan) and the other is a chap named Cheng Tiehu (Tang Ching). Both Dolly and Cheng are Dark Angel operatives, and once they believe that Angel is loaded with cash they set about swindling her out of her money. They do this for two reasons — firstly they are an evil organisation and they swindle people out of their money — and secondly, because they want Angel to join the gang. In her, they see a beautiful and able bodied gang member, little do they know that she is working undercover to bring them down.
The head of the Dark Angels is Mrs Jin (Tina Chin Fei) who apart from being evil, gets to wear a clinging white leather trouser suit through the film — but the highlight of her apparel is a set of gold, knee length boots — and as is befitting a spy film, these boots are also equipped with twin knives which she can kick underperforming underlings (think ‘high-fashion’ Rosa Klebb). Not to be out done, throughout the film, actress Lily Ho gets to display a wild selection of sixties fashions.
Another highlight from the film is the villains secret lair. It features an endless amount of tunnels and odd shaped passage ways, and as you’d expect, sliding doors and coloured lights. The main chamber itself could have been ripped from Thunderball (that is if Thunderball had been decked out in gaudy colours). There are chairs for each of the top Dark Angels operatives, and when it is discovered that one of the operatives is quilty of embezzling funds, she is quickly dispatched in quite a gruesome fashion — and naturally , her chair (and remains of her body) dissappear beneath the floor.
The plot in Angel with the Iron Fists doesn’t really go anywhere. Sure, the Dark Angels are evil and need to be stopped, but they don’t really have a world changing evil plan. They are developing a drug, but that isn’t finished yet. Unlike a Bond film, there is no sense of jeopardy in the film. There is no threat of war, pending explosion or even a ‘beat the clock’ finale (despite the presence of some miniature time bombs). In the end, the story is more like a police or detective story than a spy film, only the sets, costumes and villains lair are on the scale of a big-budget spy film. But by the same token, I was very happy to let the visuals and the sounds — mostly stolen from John Barry’s Bond soundtracks — simply wash over me. I enjoyed the film, but also realise that it is not very good. But it must have been recieved well enough at the time because a follow-up was made called Angel Strikes Back, once again featuring Lily Ho as Agent 009. The sequel is possibly a bit tighter than this and is a better film. Still, if you watched everything else, why not give it a go!
It’s Sunday, so it’s time for another links post. Firstly, I’ll start at Jason Whiton’s Spy Vibe website which has a fantastic article called Set For Adventure, which is a beautifully written examination of the influence of spy film set design on popular culture.
And now, back to my regular fall back position. Yep another review from Todd, but this time he is not wearing his Die Danger Die Die Kill hat, nor is he peddling his wares at Teleport City – this time we head to the Lucha Diaries. I know, Asia-Pol is not a lucha film – but does that matter? All you need to know is that it is a spy film, and Todd is one of the handful of Westerners who has bothered to put pen to paper (or long spidery fingers to keyboard) and review this beast.
Original Title: Jin Pur Sa Country: Hong Kong Directed by Wei Lo Paul Chang, Jeanette Lin Tsui, Fanny Fan, Lo Wei, Wu Ma Music by Wang Chu-Jen (with some snatches from John Barry’s Thunderball score)
A belated happy New Year to everyone, and I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable Christmas. I am still on holidays – playing a bit of golf and sunning myself on a rock. Without the aid of my own computer my time on the net has been very limited – hence the lack of posts and follow up to any comments. But I’ll kick into gear soon. In the meantime, here’s The Golden Buddha.
The Golden Buddha is an extremely enjoyable Bond imitation film from the Shaw Brothers Studios in Hong Kong. The spy films produced by Shaw Brothers benefit greatly from the amount of money poured into set design and location shooting. There’s no denying that these films look fabulous.
The film opens at Hong Kong airport and a gentleman named Paul is heading off to Singapore on a business trip. Boarding the plane after Paul is a fellow named Chung Cheung. Chung’s black briefcase is not allowed on the overhead shelves, so the sexy stew takes it away and places it towards the back of the plane with the other cases. The camera lingers long enough for us to see an identical case has already been stowed. Now prizes for guessing who this case belongs to. Then Chung takes his seat, and wouldn’t you know it, he is seated next to his old pal, Paul. Chung is off to Bangkok on urgent family business. His brother sent him a letter saying that there was an emergency and he should fly over straight away.
The planes first stop is in Bangkok, so Chung gets off and as he leaves he inadvertently takes Paul’s suitcase rather than his own. But as luck would have it, due to inclement weather in Singapore, the next leg of the plane flight is delayed. The passengers are forced to stay in Bangkok for the evening.
Paul checks into a hotel for the evening and opens up his case only to find that it is not his case at all. Inside he finds a small wooden box containing an even smaller golden Buddha statuette. From a letter inside, Paul realises that it is Chung’s case. Paul catches a taxi to the address on the letter to exchange the case only to find Chung dead with a bloody great knife in his chest.
Not wanting to get involved Paul returns to his hotel only to find two thugs waiting for him in his room – no doubt they tracked him from the information in the case that Chung had?) What the thugs didn’t count on was the fact that Paul is a pretty fearsome fighter and handles himself quite admirably. Finally on the verge of defeat, the thugs decide to leg it, and use a smoke bomb as a diversion as they make their retreat.
Later Paul goes through Chung’s case more thoroughly and reads the letter that was sent to Chung by his brother. It says they have clues to a fabulous buried treasure, and that the location can be found by reading the engravings on three separate golden Buddhas. It appears that each member of the Chung family have a Buddha. The other two siblings are his sister Mei-nan and his older brother Tai.
Next Paul examines the Buddha statuette for the secret engraving. After fiddling for a bit, he discovers that the statuette has a false base and on the inside there is an inscription. He immediately does a brass rubbing onto a piece of paper and then scratches away the inscription on the Buddha. So the message is not lost, Paul then heads to a tattoo parlour and has the message inked onto the calf of his leg.
Now Paul’s motives are not mercenary. He is not after the treasure at all. His course of action is entirely motivated by the death of his friend. His mission happens to be to find Chung’s siblings and to hand on Chung’s piece of the puzzle. Paul’s first port of call is to see Tai.
Paul arrives just in time as Tai is being menaced by the operatives of an evil organisation called The Skeleton Gang. Once again Paul’s martial art skills come to the fore and be beats off the aggressors. Afterwards he explains the details of Chung’s death and how he is the keeper of his legacy. Tai is saddened to hear of his brother’s demise, and now fears for his sister’s life. As Tai is being watched, Paul is sent to retrieve Mei-nan.
Unfortunately Paul has to fight The Skeleton Gang every step of the way, which isn’t quite the burden you expect it to be when you realise that one of The Skeleton Gang’s main operatives is the delightfully wicked Fanny Fan.
As I mentioned at the top, one of the pleasing aspects of this production is the location shooting and the set design. Firstly, the locations. Much of the film is shot in Thailand, including Bangkok International Airport, and they also make use of the ancient ruins of the Ayutthaya.
As for the set design, The Skeleton Gang’s underwater headquarters is quite amazing. I am quite sure Bond designer Ken Adam would be pleased with the imagination on display here (although I do remember something similar in the Bob Hope, Bing Crosby vehicle, Road To Hong Kong!).
The film-makers have also sampled quite a lot of John Barry’s music from the early Bond films. To purists, this may seem like sacrilege, but if you can forgive this, it just adds to the enjoyment of this time capsule from the past. It’s colourful, it’s loud and it’s sixties kitsch with an Asian flavour base. What more could you want?
Director: Lo Wei Starring: Lily Ho, Tang Ching, Shen Yi, Lo Wei Music: John Barry, Lalo Schifrin and others (most probably without permission)
If Westerners know the work of Lo Wei at all, it is usually for directing Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss and Fists Of Fury, but prior to this he directed two movies featuring Lilly Ho as Agent 009. The films are The Angel With Iron Fists, made in 1966, and this the follow-up, released two years later. Both films borrow heavily from the James Bond series, but as the star of the films is a woman, then there’s a bit of Modesty Blaise thrown into the mix as well.
A taxi pulls up at Hong Kong airport, and a man rushes into the terminal to catch his flight. Unbeknownst to him, three members of the cleverly titled ‘Bomb Gang’ are watching. One of the three produces a baggage tag with a small circular yellow label on it. He walks over and bumps into the new arrival, who drops his suitcase. The ‘bumper’ picks the suitcase up and discreetly attaches the new tag, then hands it back. The little yellow label is a time bomb, and once the plane is on its way, the bomb detonates. The plane erupts in a fireball.
Next, one of the gang walks into a jewellery store. He asks to see some samples. As the jeweller is distracted, the gang member attaches a little yellow label to one of the jewellery boxes. After he leaves the store, the bomb goes off and the store is reduced to rubble. These scenes are accompanied by music pilfered directly from The Liquidator (by Lalo Schifrin).
After a groovy animated title sequence, we join Agent 009 (Lily Ho) as she dances to the radio, poolside, clad in a metallic white bikini. Ai Si (or Angel as I will call her) is called into headquarters. It appears that the people killed by the ‘Bomb Gang’ were in fact secret agents, and it is Angel’s mission to carry on where they left off.
Her first port of call is a night club where a strong man is performing on stage. After the strong man has bent an iron bar, he calls for volunteers from the audience to step forward to attempt the same feat. One man, Deng Lei, accepts the challenge – but rather than accept a new iron bar to bend, he grabs the strongman’s already bent bar, and bents it back to straight. The performer is not happy about having been made a fool out of in front of an audience, and as Deng leaves the club, he places an explosive tarantula on the back of his jacket. Angel has been watching, and rushes out after Deng. She warns him, and he flicks off his jacket just before the arachnid explodes.
After the incident, Angel meets her Xiang Xiang outside the club. Actually Xiang Xiang is actually a go between. The actual agent that Angel wants to contact is a amn named Paul, Agent 309. Paul is rather reclusive and hard to track down. Maybe that’s why he has stayed alive so long. But now the ‘Bomb Gang’ are onto him and he is lying low.
Eventually Angel and Paul meet in a club. He hands over a coded piece of information, but before he can reveal the code, he is poisoned and dies. Angels investigations lead her to ‘The Specialist’ who is the leader of the ‘Bomb Gang’. Angel manages to plant a homing device on ‘The Specialist’ and follows in her car.
‘The Specialist’ is onto the tail, and leads Angel to a wooded park area outside of town. Angel gets out of her car and is knocked unconscious. Luckily for Angel, ever since she saved Deng Lei’s life (from the exploding tarantula), he has been following her around, looking to repay the favour. Here he gets his chance. He helps Angel stage her own death, and then he invites her back to his home for a cigarette and a drink – What a pleasant chap!
To continue her investigations Angel adopts a new identity. She cuts her hair and dons a set on glasses. Then she dresses as a man. Somehow this disguise seems to work and soon she is back on the trail of the ‘Bomb Gang’. Personally I don’t think the transition works – even loose fitting suits cannot hide Lily Ho’s natural curves.
I think the Shaw Brothers, Bond inspired spy films are fantastic. They are fast paced, candy coloured treats for the eyes, and every bit as enjoyable as their European counterparts. The girls, good and bad, get to wear some wild fashion, from transparent plastic tops, to gold catsuits – each piece is an engineering marvel. On a similar note, the sets featured in The Angel Strikes Again are mind blowing. The villain’s lair is gaudy and outrageous – just like it should be.
The music is always interesting too. Whereas Eurospy films had top composers like Ennio Morricone, Mario Nascimbene, Piero Picconi and many others to create their unique spy soundscapes, the Asian version wasn’t above a bit of unabashed thievery and took their musical cues from popular Western sources. I have already mentioned that fragments of The Liquidator run through the pre-title sequence. Through the rest of the film we have some healthy lifts from John Barry’s Goldfinger. There are even a few snatches from a Spaghetti Western – I’ve heard the tune before but cannot recall the film – but that’s hardly important. Aurally we are treated to a smorgasbord of sixties them music.
The Angel Strikes Back is good old fashioned fun, and I think a small step up on its predecessor, The Angel With Iron Fists.