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  Stoner Didn't you used to be James Bond?
Year: 1974
Director: Huang Feng
Stars: Angela Mao, George Lazenby, Betty Ting Pei, Hwang In Shik, Joji Takagi, Sammo Hung, Gam Lau, Romanolee Rose, Samuel J. Peake, Yeung Wai, Suen Lam, Hung Sing-Chung
Genre: Action, Thriller, Martial Arts, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: International drugs kingpin Mr. Big (Hwang In Shik) and his criminal cohorts have created a hot new narcotic called “the Happy Pill.” More potent than LSD, more addictive than crack and it turns women into raging nymphomaniacs. How better to launch their designer drug than stage a satanic orgy at the psychedelic lair lurking beneath their space-age hideout. Here a black super-stud (Samuel J. Peake), bare-chested beneath a satin cape that leaves him looking like a cross between Blacula and Bernie Casey, bestows a happy pill upon delirious, naked Melanie (Romanolee Rose). Unfortunately, Melanie has a friend in hard-bitten Aussie cop Stoner (George Lazenby). The irony of an anti-narcotics cop called Stoner was clearly lost on the Chinese filmmakers. The nature of Stoner’s relationship with Melanie remains unclear, but her near-fatal overdose pisses him off enough that he beats Blacula to a bloody pulp. A clue, in the form of a Taoist script, leads Stoner to Hong Kong where he is trailed by Mr. Big’s glamorous girlfriend (Betty Ting Pei) and his top hit-man (Sammo Hung).

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong authorities get wind of Mr. Big’s drug operation and assign top lady cop Li Shao Hu (Angela Mao) to investigate, disguised as a humble seller of soft drinks. The reason behind Shao Hu’s choice of disguise remains unclear. Maybe she figured, hey, drug dealers get thirsty too. Or maybe she got the wrong idea after someone told her these guys were into coke. Anyway, Stoner is soon on a collision course with the kung fu kicking policewoman at the Taoist temple where Mr. Big peddles his happy pills.

One-shot James Bond George Lazenby spent the Seventies globe-hopping for work and scored a three picture deal with Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest on the basis of his friendship with Bruce Lee. Lee wanted both Lazenby and Japanese karate icon Sonny Chiba to co-star in a project called The Shrine of Ultimate Bliss, but sadly died just as his co-star arrived on the scene. Chiba stayed in Japan but Lazenby was stuck in Hong Kong, bound to his contract and a severe pay-cut. His first effort was Stoner, a funky but silly comic book cop thriller, notable for director Huang Feng’s eccentric depiction of how the drugs trade operates. When they’re not lounging around their sci-fi styled, revolving lair, Mr. Big and his cronies fake religious rituals where peasants bow before Buddha and get their dose of happy pills. Or stage lurid sex parties scored by bad sitar music where ladies in topless and backless dresses cater to the needs of sweaty Indian extras. And let’s not forget that satanic orgy complete with graven altars and torch-bearing goons. Blacula and the busty blonde get it on surrounded by chanting hippie hordes, amidst numerous thrusting close-ups and cutaways to a hippie chick sucking suggestively on an ice-lolly! You don’t see scenes like this in The French Connection (1971), that’s for sure.

The plot is more or less a reprise of Enter the Dragon (1973), minus the fight tournament angle, and arguably more a vehicle for Angela Mao than Lazenby. Mao had a solid working relationship with prolific actor-director Huang Feng. He directed her first movie The Angry River (1970) and throughout the Seventies helmed a string of Mao movies beloved by kung fu film fans to this day: Hapkido (1972), Lady Whirlwind (1971), When Tae Kwon Do Strikes (1973) and The Himalayan (1975) where she again starred opposite the great Sammo Hung. In Stoner, Angela gets top billing and handles most of the rigorous action scenes, the highlight of which is her amazing fight with Hapkido expert Hwang In Shik inside a burning building. A superbly directed sequence.

A whopping eighty minutes passes before Stoner and Li Shao Hu actually meet, in a woefully unconvincing day for night sequence that finds them groping in the dark, till Angela grabs George’s bum and he emits an oddly girlish scream. Thereafter the pair are caged together and Stoner is dosed with happy pills that turn him into a raging sex maniac out to play grab-ass with Angela. Needless to say, Miss Mao is unimpressed and bludgeons 007 unconscious, though he revives in time for the fight-filled finale. Quite why Li Shao Hu never reveals she is a cop, either to Stoner or his HKPD counterpart (Hung Sing-Chung) remains unclear.

Lazenby acquits himself well in the action scenes. He is obviously no martial artist, and scarcely a believable match for the young Sammo Hung, but is athletic and intimidating. It is nice to see that Stoner is not drawn as the clichéd ignorant westerner blundering into areas he does not understand. He proudly declares he majored in Chinese culture at university and speaks the language. Unfortunately, if amusingly, Lazenby’s English dialogue is at odds with the Chinese-to-English subtitles. In fact certain Chinese versions of the film went so far as to reduce his dialogue to three simple lines: “Hmm?” “Hmm!” and “Mmmm…”

The film isn’t an especially flattering portrait of the colony, with triad gangs, ten year old pickpockets and brazen harlots lurking around every corner, but that’s a given with a crime thriller. Stoner’s trawl through Hong Kong in all its sleazy, neon-lit, Seventies glory culminates in a heated encounter with Betty Ting Pei. A hidden camera captures their, ahem, backdoor shenanigans in the boudoir, but this is yet another plot point that remains unclear since it’s never mentioned again. Maybe Mr. Big was planning to blackmail Stoner. Or maybe Betty just wanted to add a former 007 to her list of celebrity sex partners. Betty Ting Pei was a sex film star at Shaw Brothers and other studios, but whose claim to infamy rests largely with being the woman in whose bed Bruce Lee was found dead. She later dished the dirt on their relationship in the Shaw Brothers sexploitation biopic Bruce Lee & I (1975), playing herself opposite a young Danny Lee, star of Super Infra-Man (1975) and John Woo’s The Killer (1989).

The soundtrack is a mind-boggling melange of atonal sci-fi bleeps, funky guitar for the sex scenes and a hilariously overwrought Chinese choir that follows Stoner wherever he goes. Indefensible but huge fun.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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