The Golden Buddha (1966)

Original Title: Jin Pur Sa
Country: Hong Kong
Director: Wei Lo
Starring: Paul Chang, Jeanette Lin Tsui, Fanny Fan, Lo Wei, Wu Ma
Music: Wang Chu-Jen (with some snatches from John Barry’s Thunderball score)

A belated happy New Year to everyone, and I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable Christmas. I am still on holidays – playing a bit of golf and sunning myself on a rock. Without the aid of my own computer my time on the net has been very limited – hence the lack of posts and follow up to any comments. But I’ll kick into gear soon. In the meantime, here’s The Golden Buddha.

The Golden Buddha is an extremely enjoyable Bond imitation film from the Shaw Brothers Studios in Hong Kong. The spy films produced by Shaw Brothers benefit greatly from the amount of money poured into set design and location shooting. There’s no denying that these films look fabulous.

The film opens at Hong Kong airport and a gentleman named Paul is heading off to Singapore on a business trip. Boarding the plane after Paul is a fellow named Chung Cheung. Chung’s black briefcase is not allowed on the overhead shelves, so the sexy stew takes it away and places it towards the back of the plane with the other cases. The camera lingers long enough for us to see an identical case has already been stowed. Now prizes for guessing who this case belongs to. Then Chung takes his seat, and wouldn’t you know it, he is seated next to his old pal, Paul. Chung is off to Bangkok on urgent family business. His brother sent him a letter saying that there was an emergency and he should fly over straight away.

The planes first stop is in Bangkok, so Chung gets off and as he leaves he inadvertently takes Paul’s suitcase rather than his own. But as luck would have it, due to inclement weather in Singapore, the next leg of the plane flight is delayed. The passengers are forced to stay in Bangkok for the evening.

Paul checks into a hotel for the evening and opens up his case only to find that it is not his case at all. Inside he finds a small wooden box containing an even smaller golden Buddha statuette. From a letter inside, Paul realises that it is Chung’s case. Paul catches a taxi to the address on the letter to exchange the case only to find Chung dead with a bloody great knife in his chest.

Not wanting to get involved Paul returns to his hotel only to find two thugs waiting for him in his room – no doubt they tracked him from the information in the case that Chung had?) What the thugs didn’t count on was the fact that Paul is a pretty fearsome fighter and handles himself quite admirably. Finally on the verge of defeat, the thugs decide to leg it, and use a smoke bomb as a diversion as they make their retreat.

Later Paul goes through Chung’s case more thoroughly and reads the letter that was sent to Chung by his brother. It says they have clues to a fabulous buried treasure, and that the location can be found by reading the engravings on three separate golden Buddhas. It appears that each member of the Chung family have a Buddha. The other two siblings are his sister Mei-nan and his older brother Tai.

Next Paul examines the Buddha statuette for the secret engraving. After fiddling for a bit, he discovers that the statuette has a false base and on the inside there is an inscription. He immediately does a brass rubbing onto a piece of paper and then scratches away the inscription on the Buddha. So the message is not lost, Paul then heads to a tattoo parlour and has the message inked onto the calf of his leg.

Now Paul’s motives are not mercenary. He is not after the treasure at all. His course of action is entirely motivated by the death of his friend. His mission happens to be to find Chung’s siblings and to hand on Chung’s piece of the puzzle. Paul’s first port of call is to see Tai.

Paul arrives just in time as Tai is being menaced by the operatives of an evil organisation called The Skeleton Gang. Once again Paul’s martial art skills come to the fore and be beats off the aggressors. Afterwards he explains the details of Chung’s death and how he is the keeper of his legacy. Tai is saddened to hear of his brother’s demise, and now fears for his sister’s life. As Tai is being watched, Paul is sent to retrieve Mei-nan.

Unfortunately Paul has to fight The Skeleton Gang every step of the way, which isn’t quite the burden you expect it to be when you realise that one of The Skeleton Gang’s main operatives is the delightfully wicked Fanny Fan.

As I mentioned at the top, one of the pleasing aspects of this production is the location shooting and the set design. Firstly, the locations. Much of the film is shot in Thailand, including Bangkok International Airport, and they also make use of the ancient ruins of the Ayutthaya.

As for the set design, The Skeleton Gang’s underwater headquarters is quite amazing. I am quite sure Bond designer Ken Adam would be pleased with the imagination on display here (although I do remember something similar in the Bob Hope, Bing Crosby vehicle, Road To Hong Kong!).

The film-makers have also sampled quite a lot of John Barry’s music from the early Bond films. To purists, this may seem like sacrilege, but if you can forgive this, it just adds to the enjoyment of this time capsule from the past. It’s colourful, it’s loud and it’s sixties kitsch with an Asian flavour base. What more could you want?

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