J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Angela Mao Ying Collection: A Queen’s Ransom

In 1975, Hong Kong was a Crown Colony that wanted to stay that way. Therefore, do not expect them to have much sympathy for an Irish assassin. The HK police will do everything in their power to protect the Queen during her royal visit, but they are already stretched thin dealing with the massive influx of immigrants from Vietnam and Cambodia. There is also some business about a gold shipment in Ting Shang-hsi’s A Queen’s Ransom, which is included in The Angela Mao Ying Collection now available from Shout Factory.

Poor police chief Gao already has more than he can handle, but when Jenny the bargirl’s tip regarding a Filipino client pans out, he assigns Det. Chiang to watch over her. She is relentlessly cute, but also ethically flexible, so it is not just for her protection. It turns out her thuggish customer is part of a team recruited by IRA splinter-group leader George Morgan to assassinate the Queen during her state visit.

Meanwhile, in what seems like an entirely different film, a former Cambodian princess has arrived in a refugee camp, where she stoically accepts her fate. She hardly ever speaks, but she still has her dignity and martial arts skills. The latter will come as quite a surprise to Ducky, the working class HK laborer who befriends her.

Ransom was clearly conceived as a HK version of the 1970s Alistair MacLean film adaptations that usually featured dozens of tiny little boxes of cast photos running across the bottom of their one-sheets. True to form, Ting compulsively introduces new characters throughout the film. Yet, somehow he successfully ties up all his rangy subplots, but not exactly with an elegant knot a salty seafarer would admire.

Frankly, the first two acts are somewhat slow and the interconnectedness of many scenes is not readily apparent. However, it provides an intriguing time capsule of mid-1970s Hong Kong. As go-go as times then were, it probably still seems quaint to residents of today’s mega-mega HK. Ting also cleverly integrates archival footage of both the Queen and the real life refugee camps.

Just as notable is the assembled rogues’ gallery of evil, which one would not even see in American films of the era. In addition to his IRA roots, Morgan hires Jimmy, an HK expat who had become a specialist in guerilla warfare with the North Vietnamese. Like a good Viet Cong, he is only interested in money. Morgan also recruits an African American clearly inspired by the Black Panthers. To create sexual tension Judith Brown (a women-in-prison cult movie favorite) duly taunts him into some rough sex as Black Rose. However, the most ideologically driven members of the gang are unquestionably are the Japanese Red Army terrorists, who also turn out to be the dumbest.

At least Ransom finally delivers a showdown between George Lazenby and Angela Mao. Without question, it is the best choreographed fight of the film. Mao still brings all kinds of grace and presence as the Princess, but Ting criminally under-employs her. During Stoner, his previous Golden Harvest film, George Lazenby was clearly inspired to hold up his end by Mao and their fight choreographer-co-star Sammo Hung. In contrast, here he mostly just seems to be playing out the string as Morgan. Even legend-in-the-making Jimmy Wang Yu’s namesake seems a bit lost in the convoluted backstories and digressions. Still, there is no denying future HK horror maven (Tanny) Ni Tien lights up the screen as Jenny.

Ransom is an odd mishmash of elements, but it is likely to excite the curiosity of HK film fans. It is not a great showcase for Mao, but it is not a bad filler film to go along with more representative outings like the seriously cool Broken Oath, so it is sort of recommended as part of the value-packed Angela Mao Ying Collection, recently released by Shout Factory.

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