Cleopatra Wong: So Bad it’s Good?
This 1978 James Bond-meets-Bruce Lee movie has corny dialogue and bizarre dubbing, but the visual collage of 1970’s Manila, Singapore and Hongkong make it worthwhile. For a while, at least.
This 1978 action film is James Bond meets Bruce Lee in the body of one of Charlie’s Angels (Singaporean version). It is an unsubtle amalgamation of the Hong Kong Martial Arts and the Superspy film genres, coupled with terribly corny dialogue, strange acting and bizarre dubbing; all of which make for some really awkward scenes that turn out to be hilarious.
In spite of the numerous absurdities, several aspects of the film are interesting. The movie begins with female superspy Cleo (short for Cleopatra) in bed with an unknown man. The sex scene was surprisingly explicit; much more so, in fact, then the supposedly progressive sex scenes from 1980 Hollywood film American Gigolo.
The plot itself was unexpected, in that it wasn’t completely ridiculous and actually made a little bit of sense. Cleopatra’s mission is to unravel an underground crime syndicate that isdistributing large quantities of high-quality fake currency notes in the ASEAN countries in the hope of destabilizing regional economies. Okay, not brilliant but it must have been a pretty exciting concept back in 1978.
The film also plays out as a visual collage of 1970’s Manila, Singapore and Hong Kong. For me, the picturesque scenes alone make the movie worth watching; old cars, old buildings and even those ancient cable cars at Sentosa!
However, the novelty and humour wear out about 45 minutes into the movie. As the superspy invasion of the enemy headquarters commences, the film turns into a clumsy, drawn-out version of Die-Hard or Rambo; unlimited bullets, innumerable enemies and invulnerable heroes. Every single tiny detail is excruciatingly played out and the monotonous gun fire induces sleep. Relief sets in when the film credits appear. If you’re going to see this movie, consider walking out midway instead of sitting through the agony of the last 45 minutes.
"They Call Her Cleopatra Wong" is being screened at Sinema Old School in December 2010.
Photos courtesy of Sinema Old School