|The Plot: Cleopatra Wong is an agent with Interpol on vacation in Manilla. She is called into action though when a criminal organization has made big moves back in her home country of Singapore and are planning to spread counterfeit bills all over the market. Cleopatra goes undercover with many of these fake bills which she attempts to spend – only to be caught by the local authorities. She is bailed out immediately and sought by this criminal organization. When she actually manages to put an end to this racket with relative ease, Interpol sets their aim a little higher and decides to follow this case up the ladder, all the way to Hong Kong. With the information and the contacts, Cleopatra sets off to put an end to these counterfeiters once and for all! This case will take her on a quest for Strawberry jam and Catholic monasteries.|
I think the best way to describe Cleopatra Wong is that it’s essentially the Filipino answer for not only James Bond, but also their answer for the Blaxploitation genre. In particular the female empowerment flicks such as Foxy Brown or Cleopatra Jones, which this movie gets its title from. It takes these two very different worlds, then mixes them in the world of Kung Fu. So you’ve got this very wild mix of styles that actually mesh together better than you might at first imagine. The James Bond and spy movie influences all come in the form of plot, with Cleopatra’s job as well as her regular nightly rendezvous with any given man she pleases. There are also some very James Bond style gadgets that come up during the last quarter of the movie, including her tricked out motorbike with machine guns attached, but there’s not really any kind of direct correlation between the movies really. There’s also that Blaxploitation vibe to the movie, where it’s so heavily rooted inside of the times. Where the fashion is so evident and on display and the girl power can make your head explode. So it’s easy to see where the movie gets its title and it’s nice that the movie at least packs a similar edge that movies like Friday Foster had.
I know my genre film fan friends though and if they’re interested in one thing about a movie named Cleopatra Wong that has all the things I’ve described so far, they want to know how ridiculous does this flick get. With a really fun grindhouse movie, especially one made in the Philippines or any other country capitalizing on a foreign fad, there’s bound to be some pretty crazy stuff thrown at the audience. Cleopatra Wong is no exception. There are a lot of strange moments throughout, plot lines that don’t tie to anything, scenes spliced together where characters jump in & out of frame and weird non-sequitur bits of dialogue of course. Cleopatra isn’t the “craziest” movie ever made or anything even close, but it does pack some pretty unintentional hilarious moments. The fight sequence in Cleopatra’s hotel room is really one of the best examples of b-movie greatness present in Cleopatra Wong. I liked it so much I even used it for the video opening to our VCinema movie gatherings in fact. The fighting is just so ridiculous and over the top that it’s really easy to appreciate. The choreography is outlandish enough, but the way that Cleopatra’s opponents react to her punches and grappling really sells how crazy it is. It’s essentially the same as in every fight sequence throughout the movie, but the ratty little gentleman that Cleopatra fights during this bit is really great in his role. Before even being hit with a strike, half the time he’s emoting his heart out.
The oddities that Cleopatra Wong presents are numerous though. There’s a sequence with her having to fight three very chubby, sweaty half naked men who have the appearance of pro-wrestlers from the 1980’s. Cleopatra dispatches of them relatively quick, fighting their grappling style with her control of the martial arts. Not to spoil the magic of the scene, but it concludes with her being surrounded by dozens of men in Karate Gi outfits before doing a quick twelve foot hop in the air that lands her over the fence. Towards the end, where the movie really becomes action oriented, we get nurses armed to the teeth, priests using foul language, a quad barreled shotgun, men in drag dressed as nuns and as much martial arts mayhem as you can possibly shake a stick at. Speaking of those tranny nuns, you’d think if you were trying to put on the illusion of being a nun you would actually shave your illustrious beard off. I guess that’s just part of the magical world that this movie takes place in.
Aside from all the crazy exploitation stuff and wackiness, I have to say I really liked Merrie Lee in her role as the titular Cleopatra Wong. Apparently getting her start as a secretary who was asked to step in for the role, she really equits herself well. Going into this I was actually expecting her to come across as very wooden or dull, but believe it or not she’s pretty lively in this role. She really sells the fact that she’s a cool and collected agent, or simply that she’s really cool herself. She’s probably the best thing about the entire cast, doing really well in her role while everyone around her is showing very little chemistry or charisma. That’s all to be expected of course. If I think there’s a real detriment to the film, it’s the pacing issues I mentioned before. For the first thirty minutes of the movie you’re entirely focused on the actions going on in Singapore and the villains we have there, however the focus then changes up on us around the halfway mark and instead the movie shifts gears and moves to Hong Kong and focuses on the story going on there. It takes us in a really episodic direction that really should have been avoided. I think creating two very different sets of enemies and dividing the movie up in half really blows out a lot of the steam that should have been held for the epic final showdown. A sequence that I really have to give credit to, as the action is done really well. There’s a lot of Sam Peckinpah style violence where we get slow motion and squibs going off in rampant order. Even though I had started to feel a little drawn out of the movie at this point, the massive gun battles and explosions brought me back in a big way.