They Call Her Cleopatra Wong

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“The biggest strawberry jam factory in this area is the Catholic monastery over the hill.”

Cleopatra-Wong-poster-1978-1“Cleopatra Wong is Asian Interpol’s answer to James Bond, Flint, Cleopatra Jones and Stacey.” Well, less an answer, more like a repetition of the question, since this is firmly in “cheap Asian knock-off” market, though has some charm in its first half. Wong (Lee) is an agent, assigned to investigate a flood of near-undetectable counterfeit money which is flooding the markets in Hong Kong, the Philippines and elsewhere in the far East. It’s happening in such volume, there’s potential to destabilize the entire economies of the affected countries. She takes down the Singapore branch of the operation, and then discovers the money is being transported in shipments of strawberry jam, emanating from a monastery north of Manilla. After finding them to be not exactly a social order, Wong takes pictures by flying over their compound, which shows that these nuns have some nasty habits – specifically, they’re brothers rather than sisters, and concealing automatic weapons under their vestments. Time for Cleo to assemble and lead a team of crack agent in a raid on the convent, take out the bad guys, rescue the real nuns and save the world for free-market capitalism.

First point. No, they’re not mispronouncing “Asian” throughout the film. They are actually saying “ASEAN countries,” with ASEAN being the Association of South-East Asian Nations, which is a bit like the EU for that part of the world. Never say this site is not educational. Now we’ve got that out of the way, what of the film? It’s very much a mixed bag. Lee makes a pretty and solid action heroine, especially considering she was only 18 at the time. She demonstrates martial-arts skills that are better than many films of its era (which would be 1978), and it’s largely free from the two most frequent flaws of the era in action heroine films. obvious body-doubling and undercranking. There are some cute moments, such as Wong getting her own back on her boss, after he has interrupted her lovemaking at four in the morning, by interrupting his love-making at four in the morning.

However, the plot is extremely basic, with aspects that are cringeworthily naive. For instance, Cleopatra’s way of infiltrating the Singapore gang involves spending their fake money until she gets caught – which surprisingly little time, given the “near-undetectable” thing mentioned earlier. When this make headlines news in the local paper (the local oligarchs must have paid for this encouraging depiction of low local crime rates), the real organizers of the fake money then bail her out and bring her back to their headquarters for interrogation. I dunno, maybe it was a simpler time for international supervillains. But the main problem is the horrendously over-extended attack on the convent, which is an apparently endless sequence of running, shooting and falling over. Part of the problem is that the heroine isn’t particularly heroic, becoming just one-fifth of the team, rather than standing out on her own terms, as was the basis for the first hour. While it does give us the iconic image below, which made the front cover of the iconic Mondo Macabro book, there is about 20 minutes of tedium to endure, until the final bit of sizzle, involving explosive-tipped arrows and a helicopter. This includes a long sequence, in which all five members climb up a wall, one by one, in what feels like real time. The lead character did appear in a couple more movies after her introduction here, and despite the failings of the finale here, I was entertained enough to add them to the “for future consideration” list.

Dir: Bobby A. Suarez (as “George Richardson”)
Star: Marrie Lee, Franco Guerrero, Dante Varonna, George Estregan

Cleopatra-Wong

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