Sometimes movies emerge into the world without any rational explanation or justification, and their very existence defines what the collective of moviegoers know to be absurdism. The thing with this is these movies often tend to present themselves as such, focusing on the non-normative in cinema or completely rejecting constructs to allow for their desired message to emerge. In other cases, the films simply manifest themselves because it is clear that nobody told the people involved not to do so and the result is one part baffling and another part profoundly transcendent. At least I keep telling myself that is what is going on with the wild film that is Stoner, also known as the The Shrine of Ultimate Bliss. I want to say that it is a film that is so terrible that it exists as being good, but it would be misguided to call it such, as it is rather clear that everyone knows what is going on and no sense of over-enthusiasm emerges. Indeed, if any such zealousness were to come forth on the set of this film it is quite likely that it was devoured by the gross mustache that George Lazenby rocks for most of the film. Stoner, bearing one of the worst conceived titles in the history of cinema, exists almost as two separate films that have a feeling of being paired together rather hap hazardously and even when the two protagonists meet up in the closing twenty minutes of the film it is rather hard to concede to it being anything but forced. Indeed, where other blaxploitation and kung-fu films of the era would work because of their navigation and reconsideration of race relations in the venue of film, Stoner fails simply because it suggests that a fish-out-of-water film can work with a character who is a white Australian male. It is no small bit of irony that it is George Lazenby who is cast in the role of Stoner, as he was himself James Bond, albeit for only one film, a white figure who moves through spaces he is deemed non-normative with the assumption that he is indeed still in a possession of power. Stoner extends this commentary by making it work within the context of a kung fu flick, where in a hulking white guy beats down a ton of Asian bodies in the name of a vague narcotics bust. It could have worked, were the film a little bit more self-aware about its absurdity, but Stoner fails by taking itself way to seriously, existing not as a accidental statement on a cultural issue turned into cinematic magic, as is the case with Reefer Madness, but one of a condemnation of a particular social pandemic that is so on-the-nose and poorly executed as to fall flatter than the obnoxiously awful Birdemic.
The bizarre world of Stoner focuses on the title character played by George Lazenby, an Australian narcotics officer who has been sent to China to explore the production and disbursement of a controversial drug known as "the happy pill." The name suggestive of an antidepressant, actually appears to have more in common with modern day Viagra and other performance enhancement drugs, although this particular version works for both men and women and seems more indicative of an aphrodisiac. Assumedly doing this task because the drug is highly addictive Stoner, moves about the streets of what is assumedly Hong Kong fighting of henchmen and mobsters who seem him as a threat, while moving through the various brothels and bars that have become the hotspots for the drug trafficking. Meanwhile the film also focuses on Li Shou-Hua (Angela Mao) a Taiwanese detective who has also been tasked with breaking up the drug cartel, although she, as opposed to Stoner, finds herself with more access to the inner circles of the trafficking, particularly sources directly tied to Chin (Joji Takagi) the drug kingpin and maniacal leader who is credited with creating the happy pill. The two separately navigate China, Stoner using brute force and a wicked mustache to get what he needs in various situations, while Li must be more crafty, relying on disguises as a salesgirl to infiltrate the inner circles of the mob. Eventually, both Stoner and Li get to Chin's headquarters, simultaneously, and instantly befriending one another when they realize they have both arrived to take down Chin. When they meet, however, Li is dressed in masculine clothing, therefore, Stoner assumes her to be a young man. Eventually, the two are capture and it is revealed that Li is indeed a girl, at which point Stoner takes a clear sexual interest in Li, an act that is further problematic when considering that Chin injects Stoner with the happy pill juice to drive him to be sexually rampant. Locking the two in a cell together, Li finds herself in a constant state of evasion from Stoner's unconscious, bumbling sexual advances. When he awakes the next day to discover that not only has Li blocked of his attacks, she has also freed them both from their restraints, the two take it upon themselves to duke it out with Chin and his men, ending his production of the drug, while also coming into a ton of money, an amount that is immediately decided should go towards fighting narcotics traffic in Hong Kong. Nothing is said about the future of either Stoner or Li, aside from showing a plane flying into the air, assumedly carrying Stoner back to Australia, whether Li joins him remains decidedly uncertain.
Transnationalism? The dangers of addiction? Passing as a different gender? These could be possible things to talk about with a film like Stoner, but I just cannot get over the idea that it is a film in which George Lazenby, who played James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, moves about Hong Kong as a huge white guy beating up guys and sleeping with women, much like his British cinematic counterpart. It is as good a time as any to mention that I am on the way to having an article published in a book regarding this very theme in James Bond films. I cannot give details at the moment, but it is nice to be able to make the connection to a non-Bond film that happens still to include a James Bond actor, particularly since I do not include On Her Majesty's Secret Service in my paper. Much as he does in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Lazenby, as Stoner, arrives in Hong Kong and assumedly takes control of the situation demanding what he needs and desires with little concern for others around him. Indeed, nobody seems to have asked the Australian to come, but it holds a sort of colonizing expectation that he can simply emerge and take what is his, doubly problematic given the relationship between Britain and China historically. What makes Stoner starkly different from its Bondian siblings though is that the character of Li is not the submissive Bond girl, but instead a bad ass woman all her own, one that can pass as a man or woman as she sees fit, while also avoiding the very intense advances of Stoner. In the Bond films he always gets the woman, even if she professes to be a lesbian, Bond finds a way to woo, often by force. Angela Mao, does not allow a character such as hers to be taken by force, her prowess and skill evading and denying the oppression that comes from the lurking colonial figure. True his wild chases are spurred by a heavy dose of drugs, but that does not mean they are any less problematic, particularly since the drugs were injected in him by another male figure. Interestingly, Li is the only character who does not consume the drug and rejects it, adding a layer of sexual politics that suggest the "happy pill" to be a fabrication intended to justify male sexual prowess and dominance. I know this is speaking in a lot of generalities, but I do not want to draw on anything that might show up in my publication. When it becomes available publicly I will certainly refer back to this post with a more drawn out discussion.
Key Scene: No scene, just Lazenby's mustache that inexplicably disappears by the film's third act.
I would avoid this film, there are much better Golden Harvest kung fu films to watch and in terms of George Lazenby, I would just check out his criminally underrated turn as Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.