When two top Hong Kong spies are murdered, Interpol sends for their secret weapon: Agent 009. Chan Tianhong (Tang Ching) is first seen on a sun-kissed beach making out with two bikini babes - one blonde, one Chinese. Take that Mr. Connery! It seems that counterfeit bills are being smuggled into Hong Kong, hidden in a shipment of imported cars by the Fudo Trading Company and Northwest Transportation. 009 goes undercover at Club Fantasia, where the nameless lady boss (Margaret Tu Chuan) liaises with local triads, and attempts to flush out the counterfeiters. He seduces cabaret singer Ping-Ping (Shen Yi), who has a scam going on with her shady foreign boyfriend, but both are swiftly bumped off by a sharp-suited assassin (Chan Pei-shan). It’s all to do with something called the Jockey Plan. Not that we ever learn precisely what that is as Chan beds his sultry foe, trades bullets with bad guys, and wields high-tech gadgets with aplomb.
This Shaw Bros. spy thriller was once known as James Bond, Chinese Style but fails to live up to its snazzy, animated credits and Wu-chu Jen’s exciting music. A confusing plot meanders along with little in the way of compelling action. While credited to one Yang Su-Shi, the film was actually directed by Koh Nakahira, one of several Japanese directors recruited by Shaw Bros. for their skill at musicals and spy movies. With anti-Japanese sentiment still fresh following World War Two, many adopted Chinese pseudonyms. Nakahira was actually far better at melodrama, as with his biggest hits Trapeze Girl (1967) and Summer Heat (1968), although he delivered an effective, Hitchcockian thriller in Diary of A Ladykiller (1969). Shortly after that, Nakahira returned to Japan where he passed away in 1978, aged just 52.
009 proves a rather smug, charmless hero, lacking the panache of other would-be James Bonds. Many of his chat-up lines like “It’s not your turn…yet” and “You’re more desperate than me” wouldn’t pass muster at a disco dive, let alone a stylish international casino. Ching did everything from martial arts epics (Vengeance is a Golden Blade (1969)) to softcore (The Stud and the Nympho (1980)), but his suave good looks made him a regular in sixties spy movies. He is decked out with some nifty gadgets including an iron glove, the requisite trick car, a wristwatch with hidden camera, chewing gum that turns solid to double as a makeshift skeleton key, and grappling hook shoes.
Unlike James Bond, 009 is saddled with a comedy sidekick. A dim-witted petty criminal who tags along, eager to use Chen’s talents at the gambling table. He suffers from a pathological fear of women and winds up cowering in a closet while Chen has sex with Margaret Tu Chuan’s femme fatale. Typical of the lazy script is how her character is never given a name. Margaret Tu Chuan, whose real name was Peng Xiaoping, was a big musical star in movies like How to Marry a Millionaire (1960) and Madame White Snake (1962). Her untamed nature and voluptuous figure earned her the nickname of ‘Wild Girl’, but by the late sixties her personal and professional lives were in disarray and she tragically committed suicide in 1969.
Interpol’s best sequence arrives late in the day: a tense escape from a bomb-laden mansion, where Chen’s sidekick finally proves his worth by making use of some handy chemicals. Nakahira stages sporadic shootouts in a messy and frantic fashion, with one memorable scene involving 009 swinging from a chandelier, virtually a sitting target while bullets miss him by a mile. Don’t expect to uncover the intricacies of the Jockey Plan either. I’ve watched this film several times and still haven’t a clue. The closing scene features a cameo from Lily Ho Li, whose own spy films are all much better than this one.