A Queen's Ransom [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (21st June 2024).
The Film

In the aftermath of the Indo-Chinese, the Royal Hong Kong Police have had their resources stretched with the influx of refugees from various Asian territories. With Queen Elizabeth II set to make a landmark visit to Hong Kong, British security forces alerts the police chief (The Frogmen's Ko Chun-Hsiung) of an IRA plot to assassinate the Queen during her visit with the help of the Chinese Red Army. The British security officer identifies the chief operatives Irishman George Morgan (On Her Majesty's Secret Service's George Lazenby), demolition expert Miyamoto (The Assassin's Chang Pei-Shan), Thai boxer Ram (Double Impact's Bolo Yeung Sze), Chinese sharpshooter Chen Lung (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin's Peter Chan Lung), Chinese Red Army operative Noda (Mission Thunderbolt's David Chung Gam-Gwai), Filipino diving champion Ah Shan, American mercenary Leroy, and Viet Cong guerilla Jimmy (Master of the Flying Guillotine's Jimmy Wang Yu) but the whereabouts of all of them are unknown. George's American lover known as Black Rose (A Woman for All Men's Judith Brown) has found them a swanky hideout not far from a farm where refugee Burmese princess Maria (Lady Whirlwind's Angela Mao) is hiding out with her bodyguards and a shipment of gold she hopes to liquidate in Hong Kong. When drunk Chen Lung has a bit of loose tongue, and that is how prostitute Jenny (Corpse Mania's Tanny Tien Ni) learns what could be a lucrative tip that she gives to the police.

While Jenny had hoped to make a fast buck, she instead ends up with an idealistic young cop Chiang (God of Gamblers' Charles Heung Wah-Keung) accompanying her everywhere she goes even as she tries to shake him off when Chen Lung approaches her to use seduce a government official for access to plans for the Harbour Tunnel. When Jenny delivers the plans only for the gang to discover they have been switched out, George makes an example out of one of the gang to discourage any loose lips. Owing no loyalty to anyone, Jimmy insists on a bigger share for his work planting the explosives and earns the resentment of the other gang members when George surprisingly relents. Jimmy may have signed his own death warrant when he is caught with Jenny. As the remaining members of the gang carry on with their plans for the Queen's arrival, the police race to thwart them, and one not-so-dead member of the gang may have plans of their own. Meanwhile, the behavior of the princess' bodyguards has aroused the interest of Ducky (Drunken Master's Dean Shek), nephew of the farm owner(Vengeance!'s Hao Li-Jen) and he starts romancing the princess; indeed, their first date just happens to be taking them into danger as they plan to see the Queen at all of the spots targeted for attack.

A bizarre concoction reuniting behind the scenes enemies Jimmy Wang Yu and George Lazenby from the Hong Kong/Australian martial arts/Ozploitation hybrid action film The Man from Hong Kong; the former competing with Jackie Chan to be the next Bruce Lee and the latter owing one more film in a Golden Harvest contract that started with what was intended to be the ultimate "Bruce vs. Bond" action flick "The Shrine of Ultimate Bliss" that ended up scaled down in cast and budget as Stoner. Depending on the Hong Kong or English export advertising, A Queen's Ransom is either an international terrorism film or a heist film (the tagline of the export posters give the game away long before the film does), it is either a George Lazenby vehicle or a Jimmy Wang Yu/Angela Mao one the former is third-billed in the Hong Kong version while the Mao despite having her own star vehicles distributed internationally along with additional fame from Enter the Dragon does not even rate a mention in the export credits but it is not really any of those things. It should be suspenseful but it's listless, it should be funny but it's grim, it should be exciting but it's leaden.

Lazenby, Jimmy Wang Yu seem to only convey slightly more character than others through sheer force of personality and ego while Brown chews scenery and bares her bosoms. Only Tanny Tien Ni actually seems to have been given something to work with in the script with a show-stopping monologue asking what do the Queen's subjects owe to her when she does not seem to owe anything to them while Shek only stands out through the novelty of playing a relatively "normal" and conventional character. Everyone else barely who was not introduced through the opening exposition barely warrants a name one character of seeming importance is introduced stumbling into a scene having been poisoned but the audience has no idea who he is and it is barely clarified afterward making it all the more puzzling that the police chief is given a visit from his wife apart from giving Helen Poon Bing-Seung (Dirty Ho) a cameo. The rest of the gang just hang around so it is not a shock when George announces that he has killed one of them for suspicion of betraying them, and the trajectory of the plot and its third act twist require Red Army operative to seem quite stupid and gullible throughout. Mao is given nothing to do but look good and only gets to show off some martial arts prowess near the end. While abrupt tonal shifts are expected in Hong Kong films, especially towards the tragic in what seems like light fare, the upped body count of the climax seems as random as the choice of who dies and who just gets arrested; as such, the deaths that should resonate fail to do so while one of the main villains gets the least satisfying fate. The Queen does make an appearance via footage from her 1975 visit and its festivities which pad the film, but one cannot help but wonder if the "Queen's ransom" was laundered behind the scenes.
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Video

A Queen's Ransom was produced in two versions, the longer Hong Kong version and the English export version which made trims for pacing, imposing a countdown onscreen at various points in the film, as well as trimming one of Brown's love scenes and completely removing the one with Lazenby and including an alternate take in which he answers the phone fully dressed rather than in the midst of coitus. The cuts may have been for the best, as the first love scene is rather discreet in both versions but the Lazenby/Brown scene is overlong and just embarrassing for all involved. The export version was not released in the U.K. until 1978 by Cathay Films and in the United States until 1981 through World Northal. The film received a tape release in the U.K. through Rank but did not have a stateside home video release until Shout! Factory's 2014 three-disc/six-film Angela Mao Ying Collection in a PAL-converted transfer of the longer Hong Kong cut struck for the Hong Kong Joy Sales release.

In 2021, WGF in Germany put out an English-friendly DVD with both cuts of the film as part of their Asia Line, but Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen dual-territory Blu-ray is probably the more accessible, being Region A/B-coded and featuring brand new 2K restorations of the the Hong Kong version (97:35) and the export version (91:47), both of which look quite colorful and slick in close-ups and bright day exteriors with nice wardrobe and hair textures (including a startling view practically up Jimmy Wang Yu's shorts while he is sitting above Lazenby on a staircase during a conversation). Some night exteriors are grainier as expected, as are the opticals and the stock footage (although the sequences of the Queen's visit were grabbed in 35mm and look considerably better than the usual news reportage). This may be as pristine as the film can look given the circumstances, and even that is better than it may deserve given the overall feeling of a lost opportunity presented by the squandered scenario and cast.
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Audio

The Hong Kong version comes with post-dubbed Mandarin and English LPCM 2.0 mono options we do not know if the latter was created for the Hong Kong version in more permissive territories, as an option for English-speaking Hong Kong residents given the subject and lead, or if it was synchronized to the longer cut when Fortune Star struck the DVD master while the English version only includes the English LPCM 2.0 mono option. Both language tracks are post-dubbed so dialogue is always clear, foley effects are not as outlandish as one would expect from a Hong Kong film, the overall sound design is spare, and the quality of the library music tracks is subject to the sources which for once do not appear to have been ripped from popular Hollywood films. The Hong Kong version also includes optional English subtitles which identify Mao as Burmese while the English dub refers to her as Cambodian.
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Extras

The Hong Kong version is accompanied by an audio commentary by East Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) and filmmaker Michael Worth who discuss the film as an odd "all star" vehicle including casting Shek as a "normal" character the tension between Jimmy Wang Yu and George Lazenby, Mandarin as the film's official language during a period in which Hong Kong was switching over to Cantonese dubbing due to the success of a couple films like The Private Eyes and The House of 72 Tenants, the lesser known Taiwanese director Ting Shan-Hsi who was better known as a screenwriter with works like Come Drink with Me, as well as the use of the same stock footage from the opening sequence to parodic effect in Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars. They also suggest that the film was indicative of Jimmy Wang Yu's career slump, his motivations for making the film as a potential "international" project, and why he walked out on his Golden Harvest contract to make films in Taiwan.

The export version is accompanied by an audio commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema who note that the film was part of Golden Harvest's attempt to find footing in the action genre again after the death of Bruce Lee and before the popularity of Jackie Chan, as well as noting that they were successful and prolific in other genres at the time. They also discuss what brought Lazenby to Hong Kong and his three-film contract with Golden Harvest along with some of the "highlights" of Lazenby's later career the cool setup and suggest that some of the disappointment about it came from it being patterned after American movies rather than martial arts action films but also lament about "what could have been."
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"Fighting George: Training with Michael Worth" (15:43) is an interview with martial artist and actor Michael Worth in which he reveals that he was asked to train Lazenby for an action film role and got to ask him about Bruce Lee. Of the training, he observes that Lazenby's skills were obviously honed from street-fighting rather than formal training.

The disc closes with the Hong Kong theatrical trailer (4:48).

Packaging

The disc comes with a reversible sleeve featuring original poster artwork while the first pressing of 2,000 copies includes a limited edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling and a collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by James Oliver which was not provided for review.
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Overall

A Hong Kong hybrid international terrorism/heist film involving Queen Elizabeth, the "Master of the Flying Guillotine", and a one-off James Bond should be exciting and fun, but A Queen's Ransom is just a lot of wasted potential.

 


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