Short Ends and Leader

'The Face of Fu Manchu'/'The Vengeance of Fu Manchu'

Going insidious.

The Vengeance of Fu Manchu

Director: Jeremy Summers
Cast: Christopher Lee, Douglas Wilmer
Distributor: Warner Archive
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1967
USDVD release date: 2012-10-26

British writer Sax Rohmer created Fu Manchu and his daughter in a series of novels from just before WWI through the 1950s. They are culturally interesting inventions who, like other pop culture icons, have escaped their creators' hegemony and who were always ambiguous anyway. They might be seen as racist symbols of a "yellow peril," a Western fear of Chinese domination motivated by grudging acknowledgement of the alleged Other's qualities. However, the very brilliance of this enemy allows him to articulate the sort of anti-Western imperialist critiques and defense of Asian pride that the Occidental heroes wouldn't utter, much less the stereotypical comic-relief cooks and launderers found in other Western products of the era. The fact that his fierce offspring is a woman throws in a feminist angle, as together they embody the rage of multifarious oppressees.

As pulp characters, they recall the French criminal mastermind Fantomas, whose adventures were filmed by Louis Feuillade and others, and also Fritz Lang's films of evil genius Dr. Mabuse, or Germany's endless cycle of Edgar Wallace films in the 60s. The Face of Fu Manchu successfully evokes those fast, reckless, uncanny efforts, a continual shell game of mysterious invasions, kidnappings, escapes, secret passages, apparent killings and unkillings. Seemingly no development can't be reversed five minutes later. With such an agenda, the plot can't make too much sense and simply represents the eternal struggle of might opposites Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) and Sir Dennis Nayland Smith (Nigel Geen), equal in giant stature and grim determination. Fu Manchu's atrocity of wiping out an English village (the fiend!) is answered by the counter-atrocity of Nayland Smith blowing up a Tibetan monastery!

Alas, what a falling-off is there by The Vengeance of Fu Manchu. Not only is the script slow and dull, marked by endlessly expository scenes in which every point is explained many times, but the setting up and editing of shots is clumsy and pointless. This is clear in the first scene, where Fu and his daughter (Tsai Chin, now clearly an accessory) execute some uppity lackeys. This ought to be a setpiece of grotesque thrills, but every death is mediocre in concept and clumsy in execution (as it were). Virtually every instance of action is botched by a tendency to cut away whenever something might be happening. This is partly a convention of censorship but mostly a shortcut around production value, and it becomes a pathological tic.

This time, Fu Manchu does little but manage a plot to replace Nayland Smith (now played by the more boring Douglas Wilmer) with a zombified double who's hardly less exciting; this execute-a-double schtick is a tedious retread of an off-handed idea from Face. As a dubious plus, Maria Rohm's gratuitous character sings a couple of brassy cabaret songs.

These English-German co-productions are the first and third films in a series of five produced by Harry Alan Towers from 1965 to 1969. Face is shot mostly in Ireland, while Vengeance shoots some scenes at Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers Studio, so both look reasonably handsome. They're now available on demand from Warner Archives, but we fancy Face will face greater demand than Vengeance, and let that be the Vengeance of Face, or perhaps the Face of Vengeance.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.