Director: Ma Chi Ho
Writer: Gan Yamazaki
Producer: Kenzo Asada, Run Run Shaw
Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Ryoriko Asaoka, Wong Hap, Cheung Pooi Saan, Yuen Sam, Jo Shishido, Takashina Kaku, Chan Sing, Gam Tin Chue
Running Time: 97 min.
By Matthew Le-feuvre
When Sean Connery announced of his unexpected departure from the James Bond franchise in early ’67, and that You Only Live Twice would be his final entry, disbelief shook the film world. Financiers, investors and fans of Ian Fleming’s popular literary creation fretted, pondered, and even obsessed what direction Britain’s superspy was to recommence from. Understandable, Connery – at this point – had become totally disenchanted with not only the legalities of his contract, but furthermore his artistic constrictions as an actor; despite the fact (away from Bond) he’d sucessfully garnered lead roles in Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Marnie (1964) and the brutal stockade drama The Hill (1965).
Although former model/TV advert star, George Lazenby, had been furtively engaged too replace, even supersede, Connery before eventually sucumbing to the igmony of Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s alleged “black listing” tactics, numerous powerful studios – including the Shaw Brothers – regarded Connery’s temporary absence (he subsequently returned to the role in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever and unofficially in 1983 for Never Say Never Again) as as an opportunity to muscle in on the proceedings with their own variations, interpretations and debatable cash-ins: The Man From Uncle (1964-68) and Our Man Flint/In Like Flint (1965/67). Surprisingly, even Connery’s own younger sibling, Neil, starred in Operation Kid Brother (1968), a forgettable slice of hokum, which included the exploitation of the original Bond-essemble (Lois Maxwell, Bernard Lee, etc.) to audaciously re-casting Anthony Dawson and Adolpho Celi in similar antagonist roles as presented under Terence Young’s direction for Dr No (1962) and Thunderball (1965) respectively.
While George Lazenby was being conditioned, groomed and moulded into 007, albeit one-time only; fresh from his groundbreaking performance as the mono-limbed Feng, Jimmy Wang Yu briefly traded in his half-sword for gadgetry of an alternative kind as the modern world of espionage is transported from the gritty industrialism of Japan to the obstreperous back streets, and costal ports of both Hong Kong and Macao. However budget-wise Asiapol fails dramatically from the outset to capture or take advantage of the exotic splendors on offer, unlike its international counterpart You Only Live Twice (also ’67).
Clocking in at just 92 minutes, Asiapol explosively begins with top agent, Chen Ming Xuan (Wang Yu) trailing a gold smuggling organization – headed by a shady character singularly known as ‘George’ – who he suspects are concealing their loads in transport trucks. In a dizzy sequence virtually lifted from the finale of From Russia With Love (1963), a helicopter aerial attack leaves Ming Xuan’s partner, Chen Loong-Seng, fatally wounded while Ming himself narrowly escapes a falling barrage of hand grenades. From there on the potentiality of much eye-brow raising is sadly dampened by obvious femme-fatales, protracted foot pursuits, as well as an obligatory-wining air hostess with a secret – all await Ming as he meanders from one encounter to another avoiding incendiary golf balls (of all things!), a novelty in-car bomb made all too apparent by a “tick-tock” acoustics and an enigmatic assassin named Lai Yu-Tien (Wang Hsia), whose actions appear contradictory on both sides.
It goes without saying that despite these standard plot elements or budgetary reasons for downplaying travelogue landscapes/production values. Rough fistfights are few and far between Ming’s less-than-tense confrontation with nemesis ‘George’ – revealing a trite, almost immature confessional; and a strained ‘would-be’ relationship with Monneypenny-type contact, Miss Sachiko (Ryoriko Asaoka), is repeatedly marred by stale dialogue in addition too tiresome interactions devised in (either) a telephone box, melancholic bars or claustrophobic hotel rooms: yet, all are favourable for expeditious departures.
Verdict: Not in the usual Wang Yu cannon, having begun his career mostly in traditional features. However, over the years Asiapol has been critically deemed as one of the Shaws’ more obscure co-productions (in association with Nikkatsu Films, Japan), eventhough genre-wise, they’d previously bank rolled independent spy thrillers: Operation Macao (1966) and the rather libel James Bond Chinese Style (1967) with varying degrees of commerciality. As for this picture, structurally, Asiapol is (A): disappointingly episodic; (B): convoluted script-wise to being (C): utterly banal. Indeed a little humour would’ve sufficed! Nevertheless, whether or not (?) Wang Yu was conciously aware of these shortcomings, unarguably he returned on better form – not just in physical terms – for Golden Harvest’s vastly superior The Man From Hong Kong (1974).
Matthew Le-feuvre’s Rating: 5/10