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The James Bond Files


The James Bond Files ~
A James Bond Mystery – What and Where is The Green Jade Mahjong?

By Wesley Britton

On January 29, 2007, the entertainment world buzzed with the news – in Beijing, Chinese audiences got their first chance to see James Bond, uncut and uncensored up on the silver screen.

For this much-publicized debut of Casino Royale, Daniel Craig and his leading lady, Eva Green, flew in especially for the event. This evening set the stage for screenings in more than 1,000 cinemas – the widest release ever for a foreign film in China. After 45 years on the international scene, Mr. Bond finally made an official appearance in the Forbidden City. Well, beyond the much-discussed market for bootleg copies of older films sold widely behind the “Bamboo Curtain.”

But – was Casino Royale actually the first Bond picture seen in the Communist country?

Sometime between the era of Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, there might have been another screen 007. At least, this is the case according to a long-forgotten interview aired on Entertainment Tonight broadcast sometime between Licence to Kill and Goldeneye. If this report was true, then a sometime actor named Ron Cohen played 007 in a film seen only in China.

I recently found a videotape of this story and was immediately struck by one fact – outside of the ET item, I’d heard nothing about The Green Jade Mahjong, which is supposedly the name of the film made in China starring Cohen as Bond. The ET piece begins introducing Cohen as a “down-on-his-luck businessman from Pleasentville, California” who goes to China to visit his girlfriend, an American teaching English in Beijing. Cohen claimed she got a phone call from a film director looking for a Westerner to play a part in a movie. Cohen said he asked what the part was, and was told “James Bond in China.”

Cohen said he got excited, started doing push-ups in the shower “and started singing ‘Goldfinger’ to get prepared for the part, for the audition.” Much to his surprise, he got the part in The Green Jade Mahjong, “a Chinese spy thriller about the theft of precious gems.”

Knowing no Chinese and working for a director who knew no English, Cohen said he had serious language problems beyond learning to identify himself as “Ling ling qi” – Chinese for 007. “One day I said to the director ‘in the West, James Bond makes love to beautiful women. Am I going to get that opportunity?’ And he said, ‘Today,’ through the interpreter, ‘you will see a beautiful Chinese woman and she will be wearing no clothing.’“

As it turned out, Cohen maintained, his co-star “was a very, very heavy Chinese woman wearing a bikini and my job was to carry her under one arm and in my left arm carry this heavy machinegun. I had to run 15 yards carrying this machinegun and this heavy Chinese woman and that was quite a challenge. That was my love scene.”

This scene was made more difficult, he said, because the director wanted Cohen to also hold his coat on his back while carrying the woman in a second shoot. Cohen claimed he tried to tell the director “she’s a lot heavier than the last time I did this same scene. I kept dropping her so what you’re seeing is James Bond dropping his leading lady.”

According to the interview, Cohen was stunned to get his paycheck – only $16.00 in American money. “When I got that, I thought it was pretty funny but it turns out that $16 is the equivalent of one year’s rent in China.” So he decided to go to a Western restaurant and have a hamburger.

The visuals for the ET interview include shots from the film – so it seems certain Cohen did in fact work in a Chinese thriller of some sort. However, despite queries to and rather diligent online research with a number of experts and fans of Chinese cinema, I’ve found nothing further on The Green Jade Mahjong. As of this writing, we have an interesting James Bond mystery.

Speculations? Obscure movie expert Louis Paul says his best guess is that Cohen “was hired to play one of the several ‘gweillo’ male Caucasian roles in a Chinese Bond-type flick and he had no idea he wasn’t playing the hero or not . . . but just a type.“ (Note 1)

The sort of film Paul thinks Cohen might have been cast as a walk-on includes such fare as slapstick actor Stephen Chiao’s 1994 From Beijing With Love (Gwok Chaan Ling Ling Chat).

In this comedy, Chiao was incompetent secret agent Ling Ling Chai (007 in Chinese) or, according to another source, “Ling Ling-chat (whose name sounds like ‘007’ but literally means ‘Frozen Frozen Rain.’)“ In this story, when a renegade calling himself “The Man With the Golden Gun” purloins the skull of China’s only dinosaur fossil, Ling was dispatched to Hong Kong in pursuit. (Note 2)

A decade before, Bond spoofing was all over 1984’s Aces Go Places: Our Man From Bond Street alias Mad Mission III. Cameos by Peter Graves and former Baddies Howard Sakata (“Oddjob”) and Richard Kiel (“Jaws&rldquo;) spiced up this action-comedy sequel to the first two Aces Go Places Hong Kong quasi-classics. In this outing, a British agent called James (Jean Marchent) wants to recover one of the stolen crown jewels.

Like From Beijing With Love, such nonsense had Bond and the spy genre in its satirical sights, following a tradition dating back to the exploitation flicks of the 1960s. For many of these, as with Our Man From Bond Street, the Bond connections included the casting. For example, in 1974, former Bond George Lazenby appeared in the Hong Kong production, A Queen’s Ransom. In 1986, Lazenby had another short try as a hero in Never Too Young to Die.

While most Bond girls worked in European B-movies after their moments of 007 glory, “Golden Girl” Shirley Eaton was the title character in the Hong Kong produced 1967 The Million Eyes of Sumuru and its sequel, Women Without Men (1968) in which Eaton led a society of Amazon women out to rule the world.

Another Asian exploitation film clearly ventured over the copyright infringement line. The 1977 The Dragon Lives Again (aka The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu) starred Bruce Liang as Bruce Li who goes to Hell and battles James Bond, Dracula, Zatoichi, the Man with No Name, The Godfather, The Exorcist and Emanuelle.

According to a review by “William,” “Bruce Lee receives help in the form of the One Armed Swordsman, Caine from KUNG FU and Popeye! Yes, Popeye complete with his corncob pipe, can of spinach and theme song. Copyrights be damned!” According to the review, Hong Kong “stalwart Alexander Grand (imagine Burt Reynolds and Richard Dreyfuss’ lovechild) is James Bond and the only thing he has in common with the suave Bond is that he is white.” (Note 3)

Of course, Dragon is too early to be the film featuring Ron Cohen, and it’s not clear if The Green Jade Majong was part of the Hong Kong action-comedy genre or something produced inside Red China itself. It’s likely the film was better known by another title – what is needed is a cast listing for movies produced in this time period with Cohen either noted as a leading or supporting actor. Until then, consider this file open.

Notes ~

Note 1 – E-mail to this author, March 4, 2007.

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Note 2 – Check out ~

Hong Kong Digital #56 – From Beijing With Love

From Beijing With Love (1994; Win’s Movie Production, 6/10) – starring Anita Yuen, Stephen Chow; directed by Stephen Chow.
Cantonese – Gwok chaan Ling Ling-chat
Mandarin – Guo chan Ling Lingqi
English – Country-Made 007

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Note 3 – The review for The Dragon Lives Again is posted at the archived website Many Bruces.

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Special thanks to Chinese film expert – and Bond fan – Jeffrey Bona for doing his best to help with the research for this article, as in posting my query on various film forums.

Addendum ~

Googling around in October 2007 to see if there were any new leads, I found one tidbit. According to an April 2007 mention in the Wikipedia article on “James Bond Parodies”:

  • The Mahjong Incident, 1987. A Chinese thriller concerning a priceless jade mahjong piece. James Bond (portrayed by Ron Cohen, an American businessman who just happened to be spotted by the director while on vacation) has a brief cameo. Also known as The Green Jade Mahjongg.

June, 2008 – Thanks to a Spywise.net reader named “Steve”, some mysteries raised in the article above are now answered. The Green Jade Mahjong was released in March 2007 on DVD under the title of The Mahjong Incident by Guangzhou Beauty Culture Communication Co. Ltd. I checked out the Amazon.com description which doesn’t mention 007 but says instead –

About the doubtful case of jade majiang, the movie shapes a full image of our public security officer and shows all kinds of ideas and colourful lives of the youth today. It also lashes the depravity existing in the society.

Hmm. Order the DVD through Amazon U.S..

Above, I also mentioned a Hong Kong exploitation flick called The Dragon Lives Again. In that cornucopia of nonsense, the spirit of Bruce Lee goes to hell and battles, among other characters, James Bond. It’s now available as part of the “Return of the Dragon Pack”, a 4-movie set also available through Amazon U.S..

And if you’re into Hong Kong Bond parodies, Steve recommends Mad Mission 3 which cast, among other luminaries, Richard “Jaws” Kiel. Peter Graves even pops in as Jim Phelps. The film is available through Amason on DVD and VHS.