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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"They Call Her... Cleopatra Wong"

Ever since I saw the listing in late July, I'd had a hankering to watch "They Call Her... Cleopatra Wong". It was filmed in 1978 as Singapore's answer to the spate of kongfu flicks and popularity of James Bond movies. And it has achieved cult status all because a certain Quentin Tarantino was reportedly inspired by it.

Tonight's was the last of three screenings during Screen Singapore. I watched it with my parents at The Arts House. The lead actress, Doris Young a.k.a. Marrie Lee was there for a while and she talked a bit about the filming. Some interesting tidbits:
  • It was made for S$70,000.
  • It featured Caucasian cast and crew so as to make it more marketable.
  • In a scene with three wrestlers, one of them was supposed to run towards her and then get hit by her fist, but in one take, he ran towards her with his face already turned away.
  • While on location at a strawberry farm, the farm owner invited the cast and crew to sample his strawberry jam and wine, and within an hour, almost everyone was drunk!
  • Doris Young adopted the name "Marrie Lee" because the famous kongfu actor at that time was Bruce Lee.
And then the show started, and in spite of my constant mental reminder that this was made in 1978 for a couple of thousand dollars, I couldn't help but laugh at some of the antics. I wasn't laughing alone, though. Most of the audience laughed as well.

There was a kongfu fight practically every 15 minutes. In each fight, the thug would throw punches and kicks at Cleopatra Wong, and then she would take them out with a well-timed punch or (usually) kick. And when the camera panned out, all of her downed opponents would be lying flat on their backs with arms and legs outstretched.

The silliest parts also shouldn't have been silly, but unfortunately were. I'm referring to the gun fights. Somehow, some way, Cleopatra and her partners would be able to shoot and kill each and every thug without getting shot at -- in the open! Okay, one guy eventually bit the bullet, but I think his was the token death, otherwise it would really be beyond ridicule. So the good guys would sway their rifles side to side, finger constantly squeezed on the trigger, letting out uncountable number of bullets, and every thug would inevitably be shot dead by a few bullets each.

The most ridiculous death lasted half a minute... or maybe it was a whole minute? A thug was on a roof, about to kill Cleopatra and her partners. One of her partners saw him and shot him in the chest. The thug's face contorted in pain, he swayed from side to side, falling, not falling, falling again, and finally tumbling off the roof. Now you know why Quentin Tarantino's films are the way they are.

Even though the movie was written by an American, there were plot holes so big, Cleopatra Wong could ride her motorbike through. Like don't the villains know when a taxi follows them from the port to a woodmill far away from civilisation? Or that Cleopatra Wong's boss (played by local radio legend, Brian Richmond!) so easily suggested that she investigate in Hong Kong without any lead-up? (Maybe Hong Kong was known to be the counterfeit money capital back then, so it was a given.) How about villains who dressed up as nuns (no problem there) and carried rifles openly (problem! problem!)? Oh, and were male too.

And don't get me started on the dialogue! Bad lines, corniness. Add to that the amateurish delivery, which I suppose made the film even more an adult cartoon.

Now you know why I was laughing at this action/drama flick.

Would I watch it again? NOOO!!! Am I glad I watched it? YES! It is not only a classic because of the Tarantino link, it is also a reminder of the potential in Singapore's young film industry. And it is just waiting for a modern remake. Consider these: action flicks like the Bond and xXx movies are popular everywhere, terrorists are real in the region and just waiting to get their asses whupped, and Singapore has the technological know-how to pull off a good film complete with great sets and loud explosions, not to mention a revival in the film industry. The stars are aligned for Cleopatra Wong to make her dramatic return.

Just ditch the so-called American writer, producers and rest of the crew.

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1 comment:

basfilm said...

Dear Yuhui,

This is to respectfully thank you for your review for my father's film. Mr. Bobby A. Suarez was the one who directed the above mentioned movie. He only adapted an American name to have an appeal with the International Market. My Father started using his real name after he made the Cleo movie.

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