Cult film fans and drive-in aficionados owe a great debt to the Philippines. Without its exotic locations and inexpensive labor we might have never known what happens inside a women’s detainment camp or been able to bask in the majesty that is Pam Grier topless. Its well known that such cult classics as THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and THE BIG BIRD CAGE, as well as big budget blockbusters such as APOCALYPSE NOW used the Philippines as their backlot but the country’s regional filmmakers are unfortunately less recognized, despite many of their films being sold and marketed all over the world. When it comes to genre films, the three most noted Filipino directors are Eddie Romero (BEAST OF BLOOD, THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE) Cirio H. Santiago (VAMPIRE HOOKERS, WHEELS OF FIRE) and Bobby A. Suarez. Both Romero and Santiago have produced a number of enjoyable pictures (depending on your tastes), some of which were for Roger Corman, but Bobby’s films stand out from the pact for a number of reasons. They tend to feel more personal and energetic. There's a clear sense that everyone involved was trying to deliver the most entertaining picture that they possibly could. And they are positively packed with delirious set-ups, gadgets and characters, delivering the kind of energetic world weird cinema that I personally can’t get enough of.
Returning to Manila from his honeymoon in San Francisco, Ramon Ortega (Franco Guerrero, AMERICAN COMMANDOS) barely has time to put his suitcase down and settle into married life with his new gringo bride, Ann (Jody Kaye) before Interpol has him out in the field again. After one of Interpol’s informants turns up dead, Ortega is volunteered to break up the local crime syndicate suspected of the killing. Staking out a rural airstrip, Ortega and his men attempt to prevent what is supposed to be the ring's latest drug hand off but things get out of hand, leaving Ortega with no one to question and no clues except for a burnt diary. The diary however proves to be more useful than the boys at Interpol first realize as it, and its now dead handler, provide enough of a lead to attach the botched drop-off to local entrepreneur Edwards. Unaware that the diary has been destroyed, Ortega confronts Edwards claiming to have possession of an intact copy of the book, which if uncoded, would directly tie the businessman to his illegal activities. Enraged, Edwards orders his lead henchman Jason to retrieve the diary at all costs.
Breaking into Ortega’s home, Jason and his goons tie up Ann and threaten her with bodily harm if Ramon doesn’t give up the location of the diary. With nothing to give, Ortega pleads that Ann be let go. His pleas go ignored however as the sadistic Jason runs Ann through with a sword before chopping Ortega’s arm off and leaving them both for dead. With his wife murdered and his spirit broken, Ortega turns his back on the world in favor of drowning his sorrows in alcohol. After befriending a prostitute and losing all of his money to liquor and muggers, Ortega catches a break and is picked up by his old pal Wo Chen. Taken back to his friend's fighting school, Ramon, after sobering up, begins to train his good arm in the ways of Martial Arts. Refining his reflexes and learning several new ways to adapt and overcome his limitations, Ramon uses his new found set of skills to track down the men who killed his wife and bring down the drug ring run by Edwards.
Ask yourself, what would a movie have to have in order for it to delver on such a larger-than-life title as THE ONE-ARMED EXECUTIONER? There would need to be a lot of explosions, and not just little ones, airplanes and boats need to explode. There would have to be a scene where the protagonist, after losing his arm, retreats to the jungle where he is trained by a guru into becoming a one-armed killing machine. Crazy contraptions would have to be constructed in order to help him learn how to use a gun with only one hand and keep his balance in a fight. The lead would need to wear a yellow and black track suit, ala GAME OF DEATH and his girlfriend would have to delver all of her lines in a stilted, almost robotic manner. The dubbing would have to be good enough to follow but not so good that it loses its camp appeal and there would have to be scene in which a midget gets locked inside a phone booth and is pushed into the sea to his death. Alright, so that last one was awfully specific but I’m trying to prove a point here. ONE-ARMED EXECUTIONER is every bit as ludicrously brilliant as its title suggests. It’s fun, mindless entertainment that absolutely begs for repeating viewing.
Look out Cleopatra Jones. Watch Out Foxy Brown. There’s a new chick in town and she can do no Wong. Someone is passing bogus currency all over Asia and only Cleopatra Wong (Marrie Lee), an Interpol agent who is more than a little handy with a crossbow, has the cunning and the kicks to bring them down. Traveling to Singapore, Cleo is quickly able to identify the culprits’ local connection by passing off some fake bills of her own. After being sprung from jail, the local gang of lowlifes has Cleo brought before them, curious as to who would dare try to step in on their turf. Cleo makes quick work of the men, taking on three hefty wrestlers and leading the rest of the crew on a sky high chase over Singapore. Thanks to Cleo’s cunning detective work and fast feet, Interpol is able to track the flow of phony bills back to Hong Kong. It is there that Cleo discovers that the fake money is being transported inside jars of Strawberry jam. Like a Dateline reporter with a license to kill, Cleo dives further into her investigation by starting at the source, visiting local Strawberry farmers to inquire as to who their biggest buyer is. All signs point to a local abbey that, after careful examination, fly’s more than few red flags as the grounds of the church are patrolled by nuns with automatic guns and mustaches. Gathering up a small but cut-throat team of men, Cleo wastes no time in laying siege to the monastery, dead set on bringing down the counterfeit ring, freeing the captive nuns and showing the international league of counterfeiters that they messed with the Wong sister.
Handpicked by Bobby at the tender age of 17, Marrie Lee beat out over 200 ladies for the role of Cleopatra. Marrie was born Doris Young but dubbed Marrie Lee by Bobby as means of capitalizing on the ever rising popularity of Bruce Lee. In fact, most of WONG’s attributes appear to be based on popular culture at the time, a testament to Bobby's keen eye which was clearly focused on the international market. A female James Bond with an affinity for dressing like Evel Knievel and kicking people in the gut, CLEOPATRA WONG is non-stop insanity from its funky opening credits to its very last frame. Filled with action, comedy (intentional and not), wrestling, motorcycles with rear mounted machine guns, a hall of villains (each dubbed with their own stereotypical ethnic accent) and an ending that features dozens of grown men dressed as nuns; you may have to pause the film a few times to simply catch your breath between the bouts of laughter and sheer awe. Marrie would play Cleopatra in two more pictures for Bobby and his BAS Film Productions Ltd, staring in both the sequel to BIONIC BOY, DYNAMITE JOHNSON with Master Johnson Yap and the DEVIL’S THREE with Franco Guerrero. THE DEVIL'S THREE I am particularly interested in seeing as the picture apparently features Franco in drag and fighting crime with an obese female psychic! Tell me there's a kung fu midget in their somewhere and I'll fly to the Philippines tomorrow to seek that one out!
ONE-ARMED EXECUTIONER was originally released in the U.S. on VHS through Paragon Video Productions in 1985 but appears here, as does WONG, on DVD for the first time. Featured on one disc, each film has its own sub menu, chapter selection screen and extras. EXECUTIONER is presented widescreen in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors look good, with decent black levels and while grain is present, its degree looks and feels appropriate. WONG on the other hand is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, having been taken from a betacam master. As WONG was originally shot in Scope, much of the film's action and actors are cut off in numerous scenes. The image is soft and the colors are rather weak but the print used is uncut. English speaking 2.0 mono tracks are on hand for both features with CLEO’s faring fair enough to understand but falling far short of outstanding. Both features come with optional English subtitles. It should be noted that the transfers provided for this release were taken from the best available sources, as, at least in the case of WONG, the film's 35mm negative has been missing for over two decades. So while WONG’s presentation is less than stellar, at least its fans finally have an official DVD release to call their own, and with a nice selection of extras!
Bonus features include REMEMBERING O.A.E., an eight-minute retrospect with Franco Guerrero and Joseph Zucchero, the film's editor. Joseph also plays Edwards' suggestive right hand man, delivering some of the picture's most hysterical lines. Both men recall working on the film with Bobby with an obvious fondness and respect, and often seem shocked as to what Bobby was able to pull off or talk them into. A CONVERSATION WITH NIGEL HOGGE is a six-minute interview with the actor who played Edwards. Taking place in one of Nigel’s pubs, Hogge take a few minutes to explain how a shortage of white actors at the time helped him get work on a number of local productions. Five minutes of extended scenes originally excised by Filipino censors from EXECUTIONER show a little more torture and a little more blood but not much else. Said scenes have been taken from a video source. THEY CALL HER MARRIE LEE is a nine-minute interview with Cleopatra herself. Marrie still can’t believe what Bobby was able to pull off with such a modest budget and is still humbled by her world renowned status as a cult film icon. A CONVERSATION WITH BOBBY A. SUAREZ is a 10-minute interview conducted by Andrew Leavold before the director's untimely death earlier this year. Bobby discusses several of his films in the interview, appearing genuinely appreciative of his successes, boasting of his movies' worldwide popularity. Original trailers and still galleries round out each feature's separate extras menu.
If you couldn’t stop laughing at Weng Weng’s secret agent antics in FOR YOUR HEIGHT ONLY or if you still drool over Mondo Macabro’s trailer reel hoping that one day SNAKE SISTERS will get released, then there’s no reason you should hesitate from picking this one up. It's a Hell of a lot of fun!
I would like to give a special thanks to Roberto S. Suarez II, son of Bobby A. Suarez and Andrew Leavold, whose passion for Filipino cinema knows no bounds, for responding so quickly and kindly to my inquiries about Bobby and his films, may he rest in peace. (Jason McElreath)
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