It’s the birthday of Burgess Meredith (1907-1997); having already written a biographical post about the late star, I thought today I’d honor him by paying some attention to the exceedingly strange movie he directed and co-wrote in 1970, The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go. This is my favorite kind of movie: too strange to be either “good” or “bad”. It is not without it’s bad elements, but anything this incessantly surprising and interesting cannot be ALL bad.
The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go is a sort of a cross between a James Bond film, a psychedelic freak-out, a home-movie travelogue, with a soupcon of musical (there are several songs) and a little pornography. James Mason plays the titular character, a Mexican-Chinese gangster doing business in Hong Kong. He hires a hippie draft dodger (Jeff Bridges in one of his first films) to compromise a gay government scientist (Peter Lind Hayes) — in precisely the same way one blackmails a gay anybody. Broderick Crawford plays a CIA chief — his scenes were clearly all shot in about an hour. Irish actor Jack MacGowran also plays a CIA agent named Zimmerman who happens also to be a James Joyce scholar. Meredith himself plays a Chinese acupuncturist and double agent. There is a drag performer in the film, and a lesbian rape scene. Lots of toplessness. Then, halfway through the movie, the Buddha (the actual Buddha) shoots a ray out of his forehead, which converts Dr. Go from a bad guy to a good guy! At the moment of his conversion, he says, “Why don’t I just boil away, like the green stuff on dirty water? Maybe it’s because I have too much juice left. I haven’t used up half my heartbeats, or any of my ambition. Maybe I’ve been… saving something.”
Mason and Meredith both bring a certain amount of restraint to their Asian characterizations (they’re no Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but then what it is?) But the movie is certainly pretty racist (in addition to homophobic), with a soundtrack full of ching-chong music and crashing gongs. Irene Tsu of Flower Drum Song plays Bridges’ exploited and put-upon girlfriend. She’s not exactly the main character, but check out this poster:
In the end, Dr. Go strives to bring about world peace, much like another famous James Mason character, Dr. Nemo. Although our last shot of him is with a naked Irene Tsu shtupping him from above. Make Love, Not War!
As for this film, it didn’t set the world on fire, although I’m just as glad the world didn’t set the film on fire. It must be seen by everybody at least at once, or, like the Buddha’s special mind beam, once every 50 years.