As Singapore’s first and only female Interpol agent, it’s surprising how Cleopatra Wong isn’t more well-known on our shores. Making her debut in Bobby Suarez’s 1978 film They Call Her…Cleopatra Wong, the eponymous femme fatale made such an impact, even Quentin Tarantino (of Kill Bill fame) took inspiration from her.
Spawning two more sequels in the years that followed, Cleopatra Wong is everything you could want in a cult film heroine – her skillset includes being able to leap high walls, adept at both ranged and close combat, being a master of disguise, a sleuth of the highest degree, and of course, oozing sex appeal.
So who’s the person behind the “deadliest, meanest and sexiest secret agent”? Marrie Lee, the stage name of Singaporean actress Doris Young, whose star power exploded over the silver screen as Cleopatra Wong. Originating the role of Cleopatra Wong at the tender age of 18, Marrie was completely dedicated to her craft, including performing her own stunts back in the day.
With the Asian Film Archive running a very well-received screening of They Call Her…Cleopatra Wong this October, we managed to interview Marrie Lee herself, and posed a couple of questions on how she feels about the legacy she’s left behind, what she thinks of the film industry today, and what she’s been up to since leaving the iconic role behind. Read the interview in full below:
Bakchormeeboy: Prior to your role in Cleopatra Wong, you didn’t imagine you’d get involved in film. Yet today, you’ve gone beyond just acting, becoming a director as well. What was it about film that made you want to continue on in the industry, even after Cleopatra Wong?
Marrie: Filming has gotten into my blood and to put it lightly it has given me a purpose in life to get involved in directing films.
Bakchormeeboy: What are some films that have inspired you over the years?
Marrie: I have always loved musicals and the films ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Mamma Mia’ have given me much inspiration.
Bakchormeeboy: How different is Marrie Lee the actress, from Cleopatra Wong the agent? Are there any similarities/qualities you share with Cleo?
Marrie: I am adventurous and sporty and have a sense of solving problems and that’s the same qualities of super agents.
Bakchormeeboy: Do you have any thoughts on the film industry today compared to the past? Has it become easier to succeed with how much it’s grown, or harder because of how saturated it’s become?
Marrie: The current film industry is easier to go into since it has become digital (expensive film was used to shoot back in those days) so the market is saturated with many many films and it is harder to get distribution now.
Bakchormeeboy: Do you think that the audiences of today can still appreciate Cleopatra Wong for who she is? Or have times changed too much to see her in the same way your fans did back in the 70s?
Marrie: I would say that fans still see her the same way for who she is.
Bakchormeeboy: What projects are you currently working on? Is there a lifelong dream you’ve held that you’re still aiming for?
Marrie: I am currently in the process of raising funds for the next action film I have written.
Bakchormeeboy: How does it feel knowing that you’ve left behind such a significant impact on our Singapore cinema history? Is there anything you’d do differently, given a choice?
Marrie: I feel very honoured to have been the first movie star in Singapore, I would have continued to act in films if given a choice.
Bakchormeeboy: In our current times, do you think Singapore has potential to ever produce another action flick on the same level as Cleopatra Wong? What would you like to see in a hypothetical Cleopatra Wong reboot, or spiritual successor?
Marrie: Yes Singapore has the potential to produce another action flick on the same level as Cleopatra Wong. I would like to have modern crime written into the script.
If you want to catch Marrie Lee in action, the Asian Film Archive has extended its sold out run of They Call Her… Cleopatra Wong at Oldham Theatre, with 4 additional screenings from 23rd October to 13th November 2021.
AFA has also produced exclusive merchandise inspired by They Call Her… Cleopatra Wong. Designed by local studio Knuckles & Notch, the limited-edition merchandise will be sold at Oldham Theatre and on AFA’s online shop.