Thursday, November 11, 2010

THE ONE-ARMED EXECUTIONER / THEY CALL HER... CLEOPATRA WONG

The late Filipino filmmaker Bobby A. Suarez was known for cranking out extremely commercial, action-packed flicks for the 70s and 80s drive-in and grindhouse circuits. Dark Sky Films has just paired up two of Suarez' best-known exploitation classics, THE ONE-ARMED EXECUTIONER (1983) and  THEY CALL HER... CLEOPATRA WONG (1978), for one terrific double feature DVD.

THE ONE-ARMED EXECUTIONER stars Franco Guerrero as Interpol agent Ramon, who has just returned home to Manila after a Honeymoon in the States with his pretty blonde bride. Of course, during his very first case back on the job, he runs afoul of a ruthless drug dealer named Edwards (Nigel Hogge) who sends his thugs to Ramon's home, where they brutalize and kill his wife in front of him before chopping off his left arm with a samurai sword. After wallowing in a self-pitying alcoholic haze, laying cheap hookers and sleeping in the gutter for a while (and really, who could blame him?), Ramon finally sobers up and undergoes some martial arts training, before making a one-man, one-armed assault on the crooks who killed his woman.

EXECUTIONER is an extremely entertaining low budget revenge flick, perfectly structured and executed (pun intended) with a certain amount of sleazy style. Suarez knows how to plot an exploitation film, that's for sure; there are explosions, gunfights, streetfights, swordfights, kung fu, and a climactic helicopter/speedboat chase! A highlight is the "training sequence" wherein Ramon's old kung fu master teaches the ex-agent (sporting a yellow and black tracksuit ala Bruce Lee in GAME OF DEATH and Uma Thurman in KILL BILL) how to overcome his handicap, including some pretty nifty one-handed gun reloading tricks. The English dubbing's not too distracting, and the flick never really bogs down.

THEY CALL HER... CLEOPATRA WONG follows the adventures of the titular heroine (played by pretty Marrie Lee, who reprised the role in two additional films for Suarez), another badass Interpol agent, as she jets from Manila to Singapore and Hong Kong investigating - and ultimately shutting down - a ruthless Asian international counterfeiting ring.

Like EXECUTIONER, this film is loaded with exploitation elements (including some captive nuns) and furious action, with the then-teenage Lee performing a remarkable number of her own stunts. The gutsy young woman rides motorcycles, wields a wide array of formidable weaponry, and kicks copious amounts of ass, kung fu-style. Although not a trained martial artist, the Singapore actress is surprisingly convincing in the fight scenes. The pace is relentless, the tone amiably sleazy, and it's never less than entertaining.

Never before on DVD, Dark Sky films includes both films on one disc. ONE-ARMED EXECUTIONER is given a solid, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from a very decent source. There's a tiny bit of wear evident, but nothing distracting. On the other hand, CLEOPATRA WONG is presented in a 1.33:1 "full-frame" transfer (except for the opening credits), culled from a beta videotape master. Since the film was originally shot in 'scope, considerable picture information is lost on the sides, with action and actors completely cut out of many scenes. The image is soft with faded colors, but the print is uncut. English dubbed 2.0 mono tracks are provided for both films.According to Dark Sky, the best available source material was used. Evidently, the original negatives are long lost.

The studio has scrounged up some decent extras, though. ONE-ARMED EXECUTIONER is supported with a retrospective featurette that includes interviews with star Franco Guerrero and actor/film editor Joseph Zucchero, and a separate interview with supporting actor Nigel Fogge. There are also a handful of extended scenes, a still gallery and the U.S. trailer. For CLEOPATRA WONG, Dark Sky has provided an on-camera interview with Marrie Lee herself, and a 10-minute conversation with director Suerez, conducted before his death earlier this year.

For fans of 70s - early 80s international action flicks, this fantastic double-bill from the Philippines is hard to resist. The lack of a widescreen transfer on CLEO is disappointing, but it's great to have it on DVD at all. Recommended.


BUY: They Call Her Cleopatra & One Armed Executioner