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April 03, 2008

The Chin of Fu Manchu

blood of fu manchu 1.jpg

The Blood of Fu Manchu
Jesus Franco - 1968

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The Castle of Fu Manchu
Jesus Franco - 1969
both Blue Underground Region 1 DVD

The Denver Public Library continues to amaze me. Not only am I able to free up my rental queue a bit with their selection, but I often find unexpected titles. Currently in the library are four films by Jesus Franco. That there are four titles is a mere drop in the bucket of his output, but it is four more than may be found in some other libraries. This was enough for me to check out Franco's two entries from the five Fu Manchu films produced by Harry Alan Towers. As Franco films go, these are not only the most conventional films I have seen, but also, sadly, the most boring. Seeing the films did succeed in bringing to my attention an actress I was previously unaware of, Tsai Chin.

One of the more interesting parts of this Fu Manchu series is the interviews included in the supplements. Tsai Chin discusses her conflicted feelings about taking on a role that had racist connotations. Chin had hoped to make her performance a tribute to Myrna Loy, who had played the role of the title character's daughter in The Mask of Fu Manchu, but was denied the opportunity, even by Franco, of being as sexually provocative as Loy. The films provide a footnote into the history of cinematic portrayals of Asians. While it is laudable that a Chinese actress played the part of a Chinese character in the series, the question is raised as to whether a Chinese actor would play the part of Fu Manchu, and if so, would he resemble the character created by Sax Rohmer, or would there be changes to reflect more current sensibilities?

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This question of racial casting also brings to mind the subject of films that maybe should be remade. As long as Rosemary's Baby is to be redone by (yipes!) Michael Bay, and other films are slated to be remade or "re-imagined", here are a few more titles to consider:

Breakfast at Tiffany's. Now some will mutter about this being THE Audrey Hepburn classic. Even Blake Edwards has acknowledged that casting Mickey Rooney as the Japanese neighbor was a mistake. "Seinfeld" even had an episode about how the film diverges from Truman Capote's novel. I say that someone like Todd Haynes make a film that actually hews closer to the novel. I also nominate Takeshi Kitano to play Mr. Yunioshi.

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. How about a Eurasian actress to portray the Eurasian doctor? Instead of Jennifer Jones, why not Cecila Chung or Josie Ho? And Henry King directed the film from the point of view of a tourist in Hong Kong. Maybe Han Suyin's story might benefit from being filmed by Sylvia Chang, Mabel Cheung or Clara Law?

Meanwhile, back to films starring George Peppard that are need of remaking, how about The Subterraneans. There is a reason why there haven't been any other film adaptations of novels by Jack Kerouac and this is it. A year before Capote was bowdlerized for the big screen, Peppard starred in MGM's travesty. The original novel is about a young writer involved with an African-American woman. In the MGM version, the woman is . . . French! I don't think Leslie Caron was who Kerouac had in mind. Then again, maybe it's better not to fool around with film versions of Jack Kerouac novels. While not as tall as Christopher Lee, but taller than Boris Karloff, how about Chow Yun Fat as the first Chinese actor to play Fu Manchu? It couldn't be that much worse than Bulletproof Monk.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 3, 2008 12:04 AM


John Lone played a Fu Manchu-like character in THE SHADOW (1994), and frankly, I don't think casting a Chinese actor in the part made the conception any less racist.

Posted by: c. jerry kutner at April 4, 2008 02:28 PM

A new Fu Manchu seems to be on the way, according to Imdb and Variety Asia. This from them : "Separately, Distant Horizon has hired scripters Eddie and Chris Borey ("Open Grave") for the company�s revival of "Fu Manchu," which it announced earlier this year at Cannes . "Fu Manchu" will be produced by Singh and Cox with Harry Alan Towers and Maria Rohm, who were key figures in the 1960s "Fu Manchu" film series starring Christopher Lee" (September 2007).

And yes ! This from Distant Horizon, which makes sense in the light of your post.

"Singh said that the project will address the xenophobia of the original material head-on with the possible collaboration with Chinese filmmakers in a bold effort to turn Sax Rohmer�s underlying sentiments on its head. �We will re-invent Fu Manchu as an anti-hero who fits in with a more socially conscious world and that addresses the very complex multi-polar world we all live in today. We have already begun to discuss Fu�s rebirth with a number of exciting talents in Hong Kong and mainland China. If you look at the enduring popularity of films like �The Mummy,� or even �Wolfman� or �Dracula,� It is clear that the old film serial villains still offer an enormous entertainment value that works across a broad, worldwide audience, so reinvention and modern updates always make sense. We can�t wait to re-introduce this character to worldwide movie audiences. Fu Manchu is an icon and a part of cinema�s aristocracy as demonstrated by Quentin Tarantino�s use of the character in �Grindhouse�,� continued Singh."

Thrilling, eh ?

Posted by: Zuleika at April 6, 2008 02:48 PM

That indeed sounds exciting! While somewhat recently watching the Charles Brabin Mask of Fu Manchu at a Boris Karloff retrospective, I found that the way to enjoy the film was to root for Manchu against the clueless, colonialist British protagonists.

Posted by: Brian at April 7, 2008 01:38 AM