Stoner | aka The Shrine of the Ultimate Bliss (1974) Review

"Stoner" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Stoner” Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: A Man Called Stoner
Director: Huang Feng
Writer: Huang Feng, Ni Kuang
Producer: Raymond Chow, Andre E. Morgan
Cast: George Lazenby, Angela Mao Ying, Betty Ting Pei, Sammo Hung, Joji Takagi, Wilson Tong, Yeung Wai, Nick Lam Wai Kei, Suen Lam, Wang In Sik, Samuel J. Peake, Chan Chuen, Cheung Chok Chow, Chin Lu, Feng Yi, Fong Yuen, Gam Kei Chu, Gam Tin Chue, Han Ying Chieh, Huang Feng
Running Time: 107 min.

By Jeff Bona

When a tough Australian cop named Stoner (George Lazenby) discovers that his sister has overdosed on a deadly new drug called “The Happy Pill” (an aphrodisiac/hallucenogen mixture), he travels to Hong Kong to track down its creators. Along the way, he meets up with a beautiful secret agent (Angela Mao) who’s on her own mission to investigate the same drug ring.

The two learn that the force behind the “The Happy Pill” is a SPECTRE-like organization that has enough power to distribute the drug all over the world. Now, it’s up to them to keep that from ever happening!

Rumor has it that Stoner (aka The Shrine of the Ultimate Bliss) was intended to be Bruce Lee’s next movie after Game of Death. The plan was to team Bruce with an all-star international cast including: one-time James Bond Australian actor George Lazenby (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service); Japanese action star Sonny Chiba (The Street Fighter); and well-known Shaw Brothers actress, Betty Ting Pei (The Fourteen Amazons). The film even had a working tagline ready: It’s Lee, It’s Lazenby, It’s Bruce vs. Bond. The film was on its way to be the most expensive Hong Kong/U.S. co-production ever made.

Unfortunately, after Bruce’s sudden death, all the big plans for Stoner were changed and Golden Harvest cut the film’s budget to shreds. What was leftover of the project went to director Huang Feng (When Taekwondo Strikes). George Lazenby and Betty Ting Pei were the only original members who were locked in. Angela Mao Ying (Invincible Eight) filled in for Bruce. Either Japanese actor Joji Takagi (Zatoichi in Desperation) or Korean hapkido master Hwang In-Shik (The Devil’s Treasure) most likely replaced Sonny Chiba. The rest is history…

Not sure how Stoner would have turned out if Bruce had lived to make it, but I’m pretty sure it would have been filmed with a more mainstream approach. As it stands, Stoner is as 1970’s exploitation as you can get: Orgies, nudity, drug use, pornstaches, sexual innuendos, funky music, psychedelic set design, white people who look like members of the Manson family (including Golden Harvest’ own Andre Morgan) and of course, a double dose of bell-bottom fury.

Say what you want about George Lazenby’s decision to give up his Bond career, but don’t underestimate how much of a badass he is. This guy can fight. I swear, the way Lazenby brawls on camera is far more intense and entertaining than what most kung fu films – especially of time – had to offer. It’s no wonder why Bruce Lee handpicked him to appear in Game of Death.

I haven’t seen a whole lot of Angela Mao’s films, but her appearance in Stoner marks the first time I realized how cute she is. Even though Lazenby has his share of heavy ass-kicking, it’s Angela who gets the main event with Hwang In-Shik. Angela’s brutal fight with Hwang ends with a series of flame-broiled explosions. At one point, you can clearly see her clothes on fire, which she puts out with her bare hands.

Sammo Hung fans will be pleased. He gets a lot of quality screen time. Not only does he play one of the main henchmen, but he also serves as film’s action choreographer. Also present is Wilson Tong and many other familiar faces in the Golden Harvest circuit: Feng Yi (Fist of Fury), Suen Lam (The New Fist of Fury) and Han Ying Chieh (The Big Boss).

Betty Ting Pei also stars as a seductive villainess. It’s hard to watch her and not think of what she’s mostly known for: the woman who last saw Bruce Lee alive – in her own bedroom of all places! It doesn’t help that there’s a scene where she lets an injured Lazenby rest on her bed as she “comforts” him. Somehow, I doubt this scene was a coincidence. The visuals – apartment, bedroom, a half dead man laying on a bed, etc. – can almost qualify as a reenactment of Bruce’s final hours. Stoner was made only months after Bruce’s demise, so the filmmakers were walking on “too soon” territory with this one.

Stoner is a film few people will love: James Bond/Lazenby admirers will be interested, but they’ll be disappointed when they find out their hero isn’t all clean cut and suave; kung fu film fans would rather see their usual Chinese lead, not some funny-looking white guy with a big ass mustache; people who love Angela Mao will get what they want, but they’ll only want more.

As for me? I loved every sleazy minute of it. It’s a one-of-a-kind oddity that I can’t recommend enough.

Jeff Bona‘s Rating: 8/10

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6 Responses to Stoner | aka The Shrine of the Ultimate Bliss (1974) Review

  1. ningen31 says:

    I haven’t seen it, and I unfortunately missed out when Tarantino screened it in L.A. to promote Grindhouse. But this slightly NSFW German-dubbed trailer makes me hope someone will bring out the R1 DVD already. You’d figure Lazenby’s name on this and Never Too Young to Die would guarantee a release, but…

  2. OpiumKungFuCracker says:

    That fool look like Bob Wall for a second there on that poster….

  3. T. J. Gushiniere says:

    Hello my friend. An old favorite of mine, good review on a rare oddity that I also like. 8/10 for me also. I’ ll be back in the saddle soon. Glad to see the new faces on COF.

  4. Phil says:

    About 15 or 16 years ago, some friends and I wrote a song about the awe-inspiring story of Stoner and it was released on a 7″ single by the Trans Ams called “Race with the Devil!”

    Here is a video:

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