It is 1975 and the aftermath of war brings Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees into Hong Kong, complicating matters for the HKPD who are busy preparing for a state visit from Queen Elizabeth II. When local bar girl Jenny (Tanny Tien Ni) overhears a Filipino client’s drunken ramble about a plot to assassinate the Queen, she contacts the cops. Chain-smoking police chief Gao (Ko Chun-Hung) assigns Detective Chiang (Charles Heung Wah-Keung) to shadow Jenny and uncovers a cadre of international terrorists led by I.R.A rogue George Morgan (George Lazenby) and his sultry girlfriend, Black Rose (Judith Brown). Morgan assembles a crack team including a Filipino sharpshooter, an African-American mercenary, modern day samurai Miyamoto (Cheung Pooi-San), psychotic muscleman Ram (Bolo Yeung) and the wild card, Jimmy (Jimmy Wang Yu) a Vietnamese scuba diver who’s a kung fu killer and a wizard with the ladies.
Meanwhile, a Cambodian princess (Angela Mao) arrives in town with members of the democratic resistance and strikes up a friendship with Chinese coolie Ducky (Dean Shek). Despite friction caused by uncovering a traitor in their midst and Jimmy secretly shagging Black Rose on the side, George edges ever closer to realising his plan to blow up the regatta gala attended by her majesty and Prince Philip, while the cops struggle to uncover his whereabouts. However, when Jenny discovers a familial connection to one of the terrorists, she inadvertently sets in motion a series of shock twists and double-crosses that lead to a violent showdown.
Following Stoner (1974) and The Man from Hong Kong (1975), Queen’s Ransom was the third Golden Harvest production to star one-shot James Bond, George Lazenby and reunited him his co-stars Angela Mao and Jimmy Wang Yu. A major international venture from the venerable Hong Kong studio, the film was unavailable on home video formats for a number of years with only tantalizing scraps of plot information available from cult film magazines inevitably including a host of errors. Now it’s finally available on region 3 DVD and proves a fascinating HK slant on the Seventies vogue for terrorist conspiracy thrillers (think Black Sunday (1977)), if not a wholly successful one.
Utilizing documentary footage of Vietnamese refugees and of Queen Elizabeth’s real-life visit to Hong Kong, writer-director Ting Shan-Si attempts a socially-conscious action movie wherein the HK authorities struggle to cope with hordes of bedraggled Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees crowding the shantytowns while inevitably, the triads get involved. Angela Mao utters nary a line of dialogue, but although her lightning fists and feet do the talking in some snappy action scenes, her sappy subplot does not adequately articulate the plight of Cambodian democrats in exile. Interestingly, it is Jenny who voices the concerns of ordinary Cantonese citizens when she and love interest Detective Chiang debate in front of a crowd of onlookers why poverty-stricken, crime-ridden street folks should give a hoot about the British queen. As in Die Hard (1988), the terrorist plot is just a scam masking the gang’s true criminal intent, while there is an almost allegorical aspect in how Caucasian master schemer George gets all the decent or conflicted Asian characters killed then almost gets away. Although the chaotic, three-way shootout between the gang, the Cambodians and the British army yields some visceral thrills - with plenty of martial arts mayhem from Jimmy Wang Yu and Angela Mao - Lazenby’s final confrontation with Chief Gao is disappointingly low-key and fails to satisfy.
Lazenby appears uncomfortable while top superstar Wang Yu is wasted scowling on the sidelines in some very loud outfits or copulating in artful silhouette with Judith Brown. Although the mid-film twist beefs up his story thread he drifts in and out of the plot, presumably off to direct and star in his classic Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976). Top acting honours go to Tanny Tien Ni as the vivacious, mercenary but vulnerable Jenny and Ko Chun-Hung as the harassed-but-ice-cool top cop who naturally has a wife (Helen Poon) who frets he’s spending too much time on the case.
Co-star Judith Brown had roles in exploitation movies like The Big Doll House (1971), Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off (1973) and the disco musical Thank God It’s Friday (1978). Today she works as an on-set tutor to some of Hollywood’s biggest child stars under the name Judith M. Brown. Her famous students would certainly be shocked seeing teacher partake in some steamy sex scenes with Wang Yu and Lazenby (er, separately of course), including one unintentionally hilarious moment when George gabs on the phone while in mid-coitus. A scene that anticipates Lazenby’s later roles in tacky sexploitation movies.
Ting Shan-Si was a prolific and ambitious Taiwanese filmmaker, strangely unheralded today. Although a handful of his martial arts movies reached American drive-ins, he dabbled successfully in many genres including comedy (My Wacky, Wacky World (1975)), horror (Blood Reincarnation (1974)), and fantasy epic (The Magic Sword (1993)). His best film was the sprawling Shaw Brothers historical epic, The Battle for the Republic of China (1981) while decades later he directed Jimmy Wang Yu’s last major film, the martial arts fantasy adventure The Beheaded (1994). Ting handles some suspenseful scenes but the film plods along with too many subplots diluting the tension. It’s a lavish production, fascinating for Hong Kong film fans and bolstered by Chou Fu Liang’s pulse-pounding score, though he borrows themes from Westworld (1973), Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Bread’s soft-rock ballad “I Want to Make It With You” and orchestrations by Henri Mancini! Joy Sales’ DVD includes the original theatrical trailer (“It’s a king-sized film about a plot against the Queen!”).