TITLE: The Face of Fu Manchu
YEAR RELEASED: 1965
DIRECTOR: Don Sharp
CAST: Christopher Lee, Nigel Green and Joachim Fuchsberger
Oh no! Fu Manchu is dead! He must be – I just saw them cut off his head!
The Face of Fu Manchu begins in a Chinese prison with the master criminal being lead to his executions for crimes so numerous, they can’t be counted.
British secret service agent Nayland Smith (Nigel Green) stands by and watches his foe take his final steps to meet his maker via the executioners blade. Swoop! slice! The job is done and Fu Manchu’s head is taken away – his body lying motionless in the courtyard. Everyone, including Nayland Smith is satisfied. Fu Manchu is dead.
We flash forward to several years later and Nayland Smith – now back in London – is bored with his mundane English life and longs for the excitement of the Far East. Smith also concerned. A recent spate of crimes across Europe has lead him to believe Fu Manchu may still be alive. But how can that be? Fu Manchu is dead!
The plot, as in all Fu Manchu capers see the great villain working on a plan to take over the world. This time he has a scheme to use the gas from a rare Tibetan flower as a chemical weapon. Unless the authorities obey him, people will die!
The Face of Fu Manchu is the first of five films Christopher Lee plays the evil genius during the latter half of the 1960s.
This review is part of my six “Fu Manchu movies in six days” movie marathon. I watched Karloff’s Mask yesterday and now I am on to the Christopher Lee outings.
Christopher Lee’s Fu Manchu is very much like his Dracula. He is a tall, imposing figure, who blurts out “powerful” threats and men and women shudder in his presence. But at the end of the day, he always loses – which is a pity because Fu Manchu is always much more interesting than the sappy good guys in these films.
Having now watched Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff both play the evil Oriental crime master, created by Sax Rohmer, I must say Karloff is leading on points.
Directed by Australian-born Hammer alumni Don Sharp, the independent UK production of The Face of Fu Manchu was filmed in Ireland and it looks great and it has the feel of an early James Bond film. Producer Harry Alan Towers spent big on this production and you can see it in the fantastic locations, sets and props.
The one thing that lets it down in my mind is the pathetic fight scenes. In what is essentially an action movie, the fights are poorly executed and Fu Manchu’s henchmen go down at the slightest stern expression. One would have hoped an evil Chinese crime lord would have a team of extreme kung fu bad boys at his disposal, not these glass jaw numpties.
The opening scene with Fu Manchu being “executed” is outstanding and as good as you are ever going to see. But it goes downhill from there. (Fun fact: The film was shot on location in Ireland and the abandoned Kilmainham Jail doubles as the Tibetan monastery in the climax and the Chinese prison seen in the opening sequence.)
We all know that Fu Manchu is going to fail – it is the amount of people he kills, tortures and humiliates along the way is what makes it fun. There are some great scenes like the drowning of a Fu Manchu traitor and the bombing of a bridge by plane. Unfortunately, these type of scenes are few and far between.
Special note must be made of Tsai Chin, who plays Fu Manchu’s daughter Lin Tang. Her character’s eagerness for sadistic torture is delightfully wicked and what Fu Manchu should be all about, not a lacklustre crime drama. (I am starting to think that Fu Manchu’s daughter is probably the best character in any Fu Manchu film, but I’ve only seen two of the films so I can’t really judge yet.)
I hope the sequel to The Face of Fu Manchu – the Bride of Fu Manchu – is a lot better. But I gather from reading other reviews, that’s not going to be the case.