Crimson Celluloid: Firstly I have to thank you for your contribution to the history of cinema in the guise of Cleopatra Wong. Does it surprise you that all these years later people still feel fondly about the WONG films and are still talking about them?
Marrie Lee: Yes it does but when I watch the films these days, I am surprised that it is still so watchable unlike some of the very old films that seem rather slow.
What is it like to wake up in the morning with the glorious knowledge that you ARE Cleopatra Wong? I’ve seen recent interviews with you and you don’t seem to have aged at all. Are you still recognized by fans?
Nope, only recognized when there is an obvious film event. I guess 40 years is a long time. For the fact that I am CW, I will always be grateful to Bobby Suarez coz he has given me something that will stay with me for life.
Given that in the film world of Cleopatra Wong it seems that EVERYONE knows martial arts, have you ever had any weird or funny encounters with fans over the years getting over-zealous?
No such experience but it would have been funny if someone tried to exchange blows with me.. haha
According to IMDB you went to the audition for Cleopatra Wong wearing a mini-skirt and go-go boots, what drew you to audition and what do you think you brought, personality-wise, to the audition that ultimately won you the role?
In the first interview with Sunny Lim, he showed me an artist impression of CW. She was wearing a wide brimmed hat, a short sleeve blouse, mini skirt, boots and that was what I wore to the final interview. Here is a 2 min re-enactment of the interview, word for word.
What was your first impression of the cult director Bobby Suarez? What memories do you have of working with him?
All bad is forgotten, can only remember he is good. In his eyes I am always the 17 years old Cleo, even at 40s. He was a good mentor, a brilliant man.. I will always remember him with fondness.
Did you have a martial arts background? I ask because you had to fight continuously in the film and perform all manner of risky stunts. Were you worried about your safety and did you get injured in the process?
I had some injuries during filming. I was trained in karate and cinematic arts ie tae kwan do and kungfu and arniis sticks (a local filipino martial arts).
Have you ever wished that in your everyday life you could channel the spirit of Cleopatra and, say, if you are getting bad service in a shop do a “I’M CLEOPATRA WONG!!!” followed by a flying ninja kick “hiiiiyaaaaa”? (Are these the most asinine questions you have ever been asked!!?).
Probably haha.. but it would have been cool to start a trend all over like the gangnam style…
I think Mean Business would have been the faatest and most commercial of the three… actually I like the film that didn’t got made.. Asean 5, code name The Destroyers…. It was filmed half way and Bobby had a fall out with Sunny Lim . Bobby did not complete it because of legal issues but it was the most challenging film for me.
In real life what qualities do you share with Cleopatra and how do you differ?
I have always been serious looking from childhood days and I don’t smile a lot in my films.
The Orange jumpsuit in the film is stunning, it should be in some kind of movie museum devoted to the films of Bobby Suarez. Have the films been screened many times over the years since their initial release?
Thank you. I have been invited to Switzerland, France, Australia, Myanmar, Philippines to screen the old film.
What was it like seeing yourself on the big screen for the first time? What was the reaction of your family and friends?
I was very uncomfortable when I was young because of that kung fu jump in Chinese Garden. It was ridiculous. It was not impossible. Now I just laugh about it. Naturally family was very proud, especially sister Betty.
You’ve recently written, directed and featured in a film intriguingly titled Certified Dead, what can you tell your fans about this film?
That there is a lot of myself in the film, either in scenes or in the characteristics of the characters.
You’ve done pretty much everything in front of and behind the camera over the years, what parts of the filmmaking process do you enjoy the most and least?
The principal photography is really the glamor part. The learning part is the post production.
Between 2013 and 2016 you’ve directed a dozen short films, do you think this experience has served you well when it comes to directing a feature film?
I have done 15 short films to date of different genres and they have really taught me a lot but nothing makes a director grow up more than his or her first feature. Being a hobbyist project where no one got paid, it was really painful to sacrifice sometimes entire scenes. My film according to script ended up 150 mins.. we had to trim 60 mins to cut down to 90 mins… some reel frenz didn’t get to see themselves on screen and I felt totally bad about that.
What are your plans for the future? Your legion of fans can only hope that there will be another appearance from Cleopatra Wong sometime soon!!
Now in development and fund raising stage for next feature, an action omnibus… 7 Bullets and doing a short LGBT themed film called Au Naturel and 2 episodes of a web action series called Forgotten Kata… also doing a charity project as a sort of payback to society.
Any final words for your fans?
After 7 Bullets, I will be attempting the reboot of Cleo Wong… aka Kill Cleo, if I can get QT to helm it, it will be great but I think he is busy with Kill Bill 3.