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DVD Review: The One Armed Executioner/They Call Her…Cleopatra Wong

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It was the early ‘90s, and my (now deceased) best friend and I were pursuing the various oddities that lined the shelves in one of our local mom and pop video stores: a weekly ritual we partook in in order to relieve ourselves of the monotony our one-horse town so aptly provided us with. Suddenly, I heard him giggle from another section of the store. The giggling continued to grow louder as he jogged over to my location. He then presented me with a video cassette with a worn-out cover. “The One Armed Executioner?” I said, as I amused myself by examining the budget origins of the Paragon Video Productions sleeve the cassette was confined in.

The giggling soon became contagious. And it continued to do so as we retreated to the confines of my bedroom and proceeded to bear witness to what I now declare to be the absolute best mother-fucking Filipino exploitation action flick ever made.

Essentially, The One Armed Executioner is a revenge flick — and a hilariously poor one at that. Made in the Philippines in the early ‘80s by late B-Movie auteur Bobby A. Suarez, The One Armed Executioner tells the tale of Interpol agent Ramon Ortega (Franco Guerrero), whose attempt to a nail bigwig drug runner results in the loss of both his wife and his arm. After the required lengthy period of “wallowing in self-pity,” Ramon learns how to cope with his handicap by a martial arts master; and promptly plans to exact his revenge on the hoods that destroyed his life.

Incompetent? Very. But then, that’s what makes The One Armed Executioner such a treat. Between the bad acting, poor cinematography, atrocious editing, outrageous costumes and funky music (the ‘70s never really ended in the Philippines until the ‘90s from what I’ve read), there’s never a dull moment in this wacky exploitation flick. The script, co-penned by Suarez, delivers some truly inspired (if insipid) moments, from exploding balsa-wood planes to ridiculous training montages.

All this and “heinous” dialogue, too! What more could you ask for? Well, what if I said you can get a second, equally-unbelieveable Bobby A. Suarez action film for the price of one here? Yes, that’s right: it may have taken almost twenty years for the brave souls at Dark Sky Films to finally re-release The One Armed Executioner on DVD, and they’ve sweetened the deal by including Bobby’s 1978 policewoman epic, They Call Her…Cleopatra Wong, as a companion piece.

They Call Her…Cleopatra Wong also focuses on an Interpol agent. This time, though, it’s the badass, tough-as-nails girl cop named Cleopatra Wong (Marrie Lee — who actually reprised her role in two other Suarez films) who takes the lead. Darting across the metropolises of Southeast Asia, Cleo is hot on the trail of a ring of dangerous counterfeiters who are threatening to destroy the entire world’s economy with phony currency. A film aplenty with motorcycles chases, a convent full of captive nuns, and a lot of ass-kicking in general ensues — to wit actress Lee performs all of her own stunts. Why, we even get to see another stellar performance by Franco Guerrero, too!

Not only does my hat go off to Dark Sky Films for releasing both of these movies on DVD, but I’d even be tempted to remove other articles of clothing for them thanks to the fact that they included a few bonus materials for us fans. There’s a retrospective featurette about the making of The One Armed Executioner with cast/crew members Franco Guerrero and Joseph “Heinous” Zucchero; an interview with actor Nigel Fogge (who plays the film’s villain); a still gallery and the US trailer.

Now, despite the fact that it had been nearly twenty years since I last saw the film, I noticed that there was missing scene or two in The One Armed Executioner — which my current friends attributed to a faulty memory. Turns out I was right: Filipino censors had cut out two of the more “violent” scenes from the original negative, so they don’t appear in the main feature. Thankfully, the two missing scenes appear on the DVD (culled from the old Paragon Video transfer, no doubt), which allowed me to say “Boo-yah” to my colleagues (they were impressed — really, they were).

Additional indigenous special features are included for They Call Her…Cleopatra Wong in the way of an interview with Marrie Lee and a second conversation with the late Mr. Suarez (recorded shortly before his death in early 2010).

On the technical side of this release, The One Armed Executioner is treated to a nice 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, while They Call Her…Cleopatra Wong has been harvested from a full frame (1.33:1) Betacam master (the opening credits are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen). Both features are accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtracks and come with optional English subtitles.

If you’re in the market for some contemptibly-sleazy Filipino exploitation shoot ‘em up fun, your ship has just come crashing into the harbor: this is a fantastic release with two wonderfully-cheesy flicks and is available at a very modest price.

Enjoy!

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.