Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
Japan/USA, 1966. American International Pictures, Toho Company. Screenplay by Woody Allen, Frank Buxton, Louise Lasser, Julie Bennett, Len Maxwell, Mickey Rose, Bryna Wilson, Hideo Andô, Ben Shapiro. Cinematography by Kazuo Yamada. Produced by Reuben Bercovitch, Shin Morita, Tomoyuki Tanaka, Henry G. Saperstein. Music by The Lovin’ Spoonful. Film Editing by Richard Krown.
Producer Charles H. Joffe hired Woody Allen to take a Japanese action film and rewrite the soundtrack for comedic effect. The original footage is from a series of “International Secret Police” films that were basically ripoffs of James Bond adventures, with scenes taken from “Key of Keys” and “A Barrel Of Gunpowder”, but with the English-speaking voices taking over the soundtrack. A plot about a spy asked to steal money from anti-government villains is now someone trying to steal the perfect egg salad recipe, and characters who have an important mission to accomplish are now just immaturely obsessed with sex. It sounds offensive by today’s standards, you expect something culturally tone deaf and wholly insensitive, but Allen was always a healthy combination of lowbrow sight gags and highbrow wit and he uses the film as an opportunity more to make fun of arthouse-loving North Americans than to indulge in cheap jokes trading on offensive Asian stereotypes. Audiences of the sixties were flocking to movies like La Dolce Vita and The Lovers in theory because the films were racking up critical raves and awards, but actually it was because they had way more sex and nudity than American films did, and this hypocrisy is the target that Allen aims at here. That said, this experiment is only funny at points, not throughout, and Allen, who now distances himself from the project, was infuriated by the producers adding extra footage and throwing in musical numbers by The Lovin’ Spoonful to pad it out to feature length (he would have full control put into his films from here on in, and it’s the reason why he’s kept a very low budget since then as well).