I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold

tn_cleojones2CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD is the second and unfortunately last Cleopatra Jones adventure. In the first one she was a glamorous globe-trotting secret agent who came back to the hood to clean up the streets. In this one she’s on a mission in Hong Kong, so it’s the type of shit she was used to dealing with before coming home. A typical couple days in the life of Cleopatra Jones.

mp_cleojones2Two undercover brothers (Albert Popwell from the DIRTY HARRY series and some other guy, both returning from part 1) have gone missing during a drug buy in China. They got caught in the middle of a turf war, so they’re in captivity now under the watchful eye of the Dragon Lady (Stella Stevens). She’s kind of a more serious and pouty version of the Mommy character Shelley Winters played in part 1 – an arrogant, dangerous and powerful foe. She owns an island casino staffed with whores first seen with her in a giant all-girl sensual massage party, but later revealed to be her adopted daughters. She’s also a hell of a brawler and swordswoman and often wears a black hat that makes her look like an evil Mary Poppins. Personally I liked Mommy better – she was funnier. But it was probaly wise not to just duplicate her in the sequel.

Cleo teams up with a local P.I. named Mi Ling who’s handy with poison darts and has vast resources including a shooting gallery, a team of motorcylists and a network of street-kid informants. Then they follow the trail right to the casino and take on the Dragon Lady.

Cleo’s fashion is even more crazy this time, more Grace Jones. She wears weird silver paint around her eyes, and Tamara Dobson herself gets the makeup credit (not sure if that means nobody else wanted to put their name on it). She looks hilarious walking around these neighborhoods because she’s black, American, a foot taller than everybody else, and rocking giant hats and colorful plaid. And I thought Seagal stood out in a crowd in BELLY OF THE BEAST. When Cleo goes to the casino she wears a cape and a rhinestone-covered swim cap type hat. An offscreen voice says, “I want to dress just like her!”

Her personality is funny too. Her boss is Normal Fell and whenever he asks her to do something she basically tells him to eat shit. Then she smiles like she’s just being cute with him, but still doesn’t do what he says. But she’s very friendly with Mi Ling, always calling her “girl” or “baby” or at the end “honey child.” When she’s getting beat up and Mi Ling (at that point a mere acquaintance) shows up to save her Cleo says, “Girl, when I looked up and saw you it was like money from home!” She also doesn’t mind playing second fiddle, like when she rides in a motorcycle sidecar with a machine gun filling every motherfucker she sees with a hundred bullets. Alot of lead characters gotta always be the one driving, Cleo doesn’t mind the sidecar.

That first fight was one of my favorites. Dobson (and stunt double)’s lanky frame makes for good visuals, and she moves fast and blunt. It’s a Run Run Shaw production and the only thing blaxploitation about it is the funky soundtrack by Dominic Frontiere. Otherwise it’s pretty much an Americanized martial arts movie like ENTER THE DRAGON. Actually it’s kind of like a less jokey RUSH HOUR.

One action scene is kind of frustrating – a guy on a motorcycle chasing a bad guy on foot. This bad guy’s not Jesse Owens or The Flash but somehow he gets away. Every time the motorcycle’s right on his ass the camera changes angles and he’s got a healthy lead again. It’s like reverse Jason Voorhees.

The Dragon Lady is kind of like a James Bond villain. She has a circle of swords that pop out of the ground so the guy she wants to dual can’t run away – it’s really more of an honor system though because he could just step between the swords. I’m not sure how she got to be in charge of these people – I guess we’ll just have to hold out for a prequel that explains everything. Whatever the deal is her people are fanatically dedicated. When her adopted daughter/whore helps they kill her with a chopstick through the tongue.

It all comes to a head at the end and there’s a huge shootout and martial arts fight all through the casino, destroying everything. Cleo and Dragon lady fight each other smashing vases and doors, rolling and jumping and flipping and swordfighting. Mi Ling blows up a side of the casino with a bomb she calls her “Dragon Reducer.” Their friends drive their motorcycles all through the casino. One of them jumps his bike off a balcony, jumps off of it and holds onto a hanging light as the bike lands on a roulette table and blows up, then he swings around and drops and fights some guys. None of this stuff would’ve happened if they made the movie in the U.S., so three cheers for Run Run Shaw.

It’s really a shame that this was the end of the series. If it was one of a whole bunch of Cleopatra Jones adventures in different parts of the world it would be much cooler. “Oh yeah, is that the one where she’s in China?” She’s like James Bond, but taller and with more makeup. But I guess these types of movies were losing their popularity around that time and this one didn’t do so hot.

Shit, I never thought about this before, but what if it was Cleopatra Jones and the Temple of Doom? I think she could’ve handled those monkey brain eaters and would’ve figured out a way to ditch the whiny blond lady. I’d hate to see Cleopatra recast, but if the Indiana Jones series ever makes it into the ’70s I think it should be INDIANA JONES AND CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE BLOOD CULT OF FIRE ISLAND or some shit like that.

Anyway, I like the first one better, it’s a more unique take on the blaxploitation and spy genres than this is on the martial arts and spy genres, and it’s got more funny little jokes thanks to the script by the Mack himself, Max Julien. Still, CASINO OF GOLD is an enjoyable movie especially when the action goes ape shit at the end.

(note: there’s no region 1 DVD yet but they got  bare bones one in Europe or you can find an old VHS tape)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, July 31st, 2009 at 9:22 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

24 Responses to “Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold”

  1. Vern where do you find these movies? Is there some backroom in a store that carries VHS’s of crazy old movies?

  2. Seattle still has a few independent video stores, including one that I think is supposed to have the biggest collection in the world. Unfortunately I’m starting to think that Netflix and downloading might be the comets that kill these dinosaurs. But hopefully they can figure out how to survive the way record stores have. If not you might see me just reviewing whatever’s on cable like I used to do in the old days.

  3. See in my hometown we used to have a nice little family run video store that my family has been going to since I was born, and used to have very cheap, nice quality DVDs and VHS’s and that’s where I would get my movies (it’s where I bought Videodrome, Brother for 5 bucks each). It just closed down a couple months ago, while I was at school so it broke my heart.

  4. caruso_stalker217

    August 1st, 2009 at 1:17 am

    No CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, but there is a porno called CAROLINA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF POON.

  5. Not sure about the Netflix and downloading thing. The downside of all the Netflixes in the world is, that you have to wait at least one day till you got the next DVD in your mailbox and (if it’s like the thing that we got here in Germany, you sometimes have to wait almost a year until they send you the #1 movie in your queue! You get every other movie, but not the one that you wanna see the most.). Which is more annoying than just going to your local video store and rent the movie you wanna see NOW. I pretty much use it only for “casual renting”. Which means that I put all these older movies, that my local video store doesn’t have but I always wanted to see on my queue and then I see what they are sending me. (I also use it to rent TV shows, but they can’t manage to send me a whole season in a row. Last week I finally got Disc 1.3 of “Deadwood”. Pretty much one year after I got the first two discs! Not to mention that in the weeks before I got the first discs of “Supernatural” and “My Name Is Earl”, but haven’t revceived any of the other DVDs yet!) When I wanna watch a new release, I rent it in the old fashioned way. Going down the street to my local video store.
    And about the Downloading thing. Well, I think it might end up as nothing more than a toy for technology geeks. Most people prefer to hold something in their hands, when they buy or rent a movie and don’t have to burn it on DVD and print a cover first. I can understand that downloading became huge in the music business, since music is something that is mostly used on portable devices anyway, but although Apple and oll the other companies try to convince us from the opposite, most people prefer to watch movies on a big screen, at home on their couch and not on their MP3 player in the subway.

  6. I agree, that’s how I feel about it, but from what I understand the video stores are having a hard time. The one two punch of the bad economy and changing renting habits is picking them off one by one. It’s kind of like the way the big book store chains put the small ones out of business – these little stores have to compete with a nationwide business that can get their movies cheaper because they buy them by the thousand.

    But hopefully they can survive because I need the Casino of Gold and it’s only on VHS.

  7. Well, as far as I can see it’s not THAT bad here in Germany. I’m still scared that my favourite video store runs out of business one day, everytime I see that they have a full shelf of the just on DVD relased blockbuster of the year, but only a few of them are rented on a saturday evening. And I don’t think that you are able to rent a VHS anywhere in this country these days, but it seems like apart from that, everything is still okay over here. Let’s be optimistic.
    (I have also noticed that more and more video stores are suddenly run by a company named “Empire”, but apart from the name, nothing has seemed to change.)

  8. Sorry to be a downer guys but I can’t see physical video stores lasting another ten years. Convenience always wins out in the end and people aren’t gonna get off the couch unless they have to. Online streaming services are slowly creeping their way into peoples living rooms in the form of video game consoles and netflix streaming enabled blu-ray players. Pretty soon new TV’s are gonna have that shit built in from the get go and renting a movie is gonna be no more complicated than switching channels.

    I don’t doubt people like ourselves are still gonna want to rent movies the old fashioned way in the future but there ain’t gonna be enough of us to keep these places in business. I hear even big chains like Blockbuster are in pretty deep shit at the moment. Hopefully someone out there is taking all the old VHS stuff that never made it onto DVD and archiving it all onto some kind of digital medium, it’s the only way it’s gonna survive.

  9. The independant video renter I go to says his business is doing just fine. But I live in Canada and the economy here isn’t doing as badly as most other places. He says people come to his place to see something different and that most of his patrons are guys like me who might go in looking for one thing they read about, but if it’s not there they will browse around and find something else.

    I like that experience. I can’t count the number of great flicks I’ve seen just because the box jumped out at me.

    I’m also fortunate enough to live in a city with one these “grindhouse” cinemas that is run by a dude with an epic knowledge of B-movies and so I get to see lots of stuff on the big screen that isn’t even available on home video, or at least DVD.

    I really wanted to see Cleo 2. I’m surprised they did put it on one of those multi-feature bargain DVDs with the first Cleo. I got this one that was a two DVD set of 4 Stallone movies for like $7.00 (great deal) and another one that was all three Shaft movies, but they were fullscreen (unfortunately).

  10. One_Guy_From_Andromeda

    August 1st, 2009 at 10:29 am

    I haven’t rented a movie in years. For me the opposite of what you guys say is true. I never find any rare movies i heard or read about in the homogenized video stores that are around but “illegal downloads” have NEVER let me down. In all those years there may have been 2 movies max i couldn’t find on some file sharing networks. Once the movie is digital and out there there is no reason in my opinion to give some guy with an outdated business model cash so you can return the DVD to him a day later. The future is convenient and full of choice buddies. Get on the train!

  11. Well, ILLEGAL downloading is a whole different topic. Because a.) as you have pointed out you can find there stuff that you probably won’t find anywhere else and b.) if we have learned anything in 2009, it’s that you can make still a gazillion Dollars with your movie, although a pretty much finished workprint has been leaked online, a whole month before the official release date. So who knows if illegal downloads hurt anybody and are responsible for the ending of video stores?
    Got no idea what it means for LEGAL downloads. At one hand you can say that the people, who have the technology and bandwith to download and stream movies, are already doing this “for free”, so it probably won’t catch on. But on the other hand many of them can be convinced to go legal, if someone makes them the right offer.

  12. One_Guy_From_Andromeda

    August 1st, 2009 at 11:18 am

    I think the technology is just not there yet. In a few years when the deal will be “you pay 20 bucks a month and then you can watch any movie that was ever made anytime you want streaming in high def on your tv” i might consider giving people money for my entertainment again. But right now the free stuff is loads more convenient, same quality (i never even seen a real physical blueray, but the blueray rips i download look amazing) and i don’t even have to sit through commercials that tell me i will be anally raped for illegal downloading…

  13. I’m not one of these copyright zealots, but somebody’s gotta own movies and music for them to be self sustaining. I prefer the system where somebody paid money to make Cleopatra Jones 2 and gets money back to the one where everybody just thinks they’re entitled to get everything in the world for free. Eventually that approach is gonna eat itself because next time somebody wants to make a Cleopatra Jones movie there’s no financial way to support it.

  14. One_Guy_From_Andromeda

    August 1st, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    I don’t think anybody who did anything on Cleopatra Jones 2 would see a single cent if i rented it or not. And there obviously is not really a way to financially support a movie like this even nowadays (or ten years ago), else they would get made i think. When something genuinely interesting comes out i am the first person in line – new Wes Anderson movie, Black Dynamite, whatever. But not seeing a movie because no video store i know has it and downloading is illegal – no chance. Forking over cash to some slimeball who happens to own the copyright to some obscure 30s cartoon or the guys who thought it would be a good idea to make “Wolverine”? I’ll pass again.

  15. I used to have two great independent video rental places near my house. One folded a couple of years ago. The other had to become more like a Blockbuster to make ends meet, so instead of a shelf full of obscure/cult films there’s 200 copies of Meet the Fockers or whatever, plus more and more of his shelf space is being taken up by movies to sell. So now I’ve got a Netflix account even though I much prefer the tactile sensation and instant gratification of a rental store.

  16. My moral center on illegal downloading is that I’ll do it only for things which I would either never pay for or could never find. This way, I get to watch way more than I would otherwise, and give things a chance with I wouldn’t have. The upside to the makers of art is that if I uncover genuine gold, I’ll almost always pay for it legit if I can find it, and at least talk it up to everyone I can think of if I can’t. I always try to support artists and art which I think has merit financially, but if I had to pay for everything I would never be able to see the range of stuff which I do now, and hence would likely miss a lot of great and worthy art.

    This system, I feel like, works against supporting crap like Transformers but for smaller, better, and lesser-known movies, which I love to support. I should mention, I’m a musician and I very much feel this way about music downloading too — its the way I’ve discovered some of my favorite music, which I then end up buying a reccomending like crazy, and it’s the way a lot of folks discovered my music too, which I am very greatful for. I also spent the best years of my life working at an indie video store, which loving stocked as much obscure, great, weird old stuff as possible. It folded, but not because of illegal downloading… it was that too few people were interested in that kind of stuff. I think downloading is a great tool to get people interested in these movies again, and to level the playing field with the big wigs. A great indie video store is more than just a collection of movies, its a community of people who love film and love to discuss, reccomend, etc. Which is why any of them survive today, as far as I can see. Still, unfortunately, I think the convenience of legal downloading, once it really becomes viable, will inevitably kill ’em off, sad
    as that may be.

  17. One of the problems is that right now the only way to give a creator any money is to buy or rent a product, which people aren’t really inclined to do if they’re already downloaded it. In the future there will probably be sites where you can go and invest in creators to make sure they make more stuff that you like. But ya, it’ll be a choppy transition between a seller’s market to a buyer’s one.

  18. heimp — yeah, the catch to my theory is that someone has to buy something at some point. But I look at it this way– studios now look at theaters as basically a major part of their ad campaign for the DVDs, which is where they make their real money. I look at downloading the same way — if you find something you love that way, not only will you go out and buy the real deal, but you’ll talk it up to anyone who will listen and hopefully get them some business that way, too. That’s how I roll.

    A Lot of the problem right now is with the insane price of theaters and the limited availability of a lot of DVD and older movies. It pretty much ensures that if you want to see a wide range of films, you’ll have to go outside your mainstream options. Once the future arrives and you can go direct from artist to your computamajig via the magic of technology, the middleman will be cut out and it’ll be anyone’s guess what will happen.

  19. Hm… back to the main post topic for a minute… {g}

    Here’s a fun thought. What if May Day from “View to a Kill” actually _was_ a disillusioned and bitter aging Cleopatra Jones? (Vern’s comparison to Grace Jones led me to think of that.)

    Granted, that might be rather like Jim Phelps deciding to kill off the team he’s shepherding and betray all other IMF members for a few million dollars in TOM CRUISE’S IMPOSSIBLE MISSION 1 FEATURING TOM CRUISE AS THE STAR AND PRODUCER AND MAIN CHARACTER OF THIS MOVIE AND ANY SEQUELS WE MANAGE TO SPIN OFF FROM THIS ATTEMPT.

    So, maybe not. But unlike the totally uncharacteristic portrayal of Phelps’ character, “Jones” has some redemption in the end.

    Dang, now I’m imagining a whole Darth Vaderish arc for Cleopatra Jones. Obviously, it’s too early in the morning here… {wry g}

  20. Vern – do you guys still have public libraries in the States? As a rule rather than an exception, I mean? Over here, the death of the rental market has been slowed somewhat by local libraries, which have added renting DVDs and CDs to lending out books for free. I live about 45 minutes outside of London, in a town with a fairly high South Asian population, and the library has a large Bollwood/Tollywood/Bengali/etc. section for both DVD and CD, as well as a large TV box set section and international arthouse section. Frankly, it’s a gold mine, and I’ve made the mistake often of buying a disc online or in store that I thought was a bargain, only to see it turn up for rental a week later. They now keep up to date with Blu-ray as well. You get items for a week, which is also a better deal than most ordinary rental places.

    Over the years, I’ve lived all around the U.K., and seen a lot of libraries expand into CDs and VHS, then DVD. It’s been decried by some as the death of reading, but frankly, it’s kept several alive when government funding and cheaper product online and in supermarkets has been threatening their survival. It’s also a decent addition to the revenue streams of labels, though not a massive one.

    I know the talk everywhere is of online for the future – but the UK broadband infrastructure is shoddy at best, non-existant in some parts, and will need a lot of work before people here actually WANT to opt for legal downloads as their first option.

  21. Hugh- well, we’ve got libraries over here, and seems like most of them have some DVD collections, but they’re pretty slim everywhere I’ve seen. Mostly around 100 “classics,” you know, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge Over the River Kwai, etc. Maybe “Alien” or a few recent prestige pics, but nothing that would make it easier to seek out most movies that are off the national radar. I live in Washington DC, so maybe elsewhere in the country it’s better. So, no free public movies or health care. But, our taxes are really low!

  22. In the past, I’ve contributed to Ransom models in support of a book being published. It’s no stretch to imagine an independent filmmaker adapting this same strategy to gather a budget for a film project. If the filmmaker can prove he/she has the chops, via previous efforts, shorts, or a trailer mock-up, I can imagine thousands of film buffs being eager to ‘invest’ in their next project. The artist could even post various synopsis in a number of genres and allow potential investors to vote for their favorite. They could post random web-isodes, similar to what Peter Jackson does, during production, allowing ‘investors’ to see their baby being born in stages.

    Any thoughts?

    Ha! I’m reminded of a scene from that Terry Gilliam doc where the film’s investors visited the set for a day (title?). It threw everyone off because they had to put 100% of their efforts into making it appear as though everything about that doomed production was going smoothly. It was as though the entire crew was putting on a play about making a movie with the investors the unknowing audience. Tragic but hilarious but also an eye opener.

  23. Hello there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate!
    He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  24. It’s interesting to read this thread eight years later and see everyone’s essentially accurate prediction of where video renting would be at by now.

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