Daughter of the Dragon
U.S.A. Before 1950
Directed by Lloyd Corrigan.

Anna May Wong discovers she is Fu Manchu's daughter, and immediately follows that discovery up with plans for murder. Death to Petrie!

"The blood is mine. The hate is mine. The vengeance shall be mine." - Ling Moy

Twenty years has passed since the events in The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu, and the captions read that "Today, the daughter of Fu Manchu, unaware of her father's identity, stands on the verge of a startling experience." He has a real daughter? And to think, he spent all that time raising a white daughter for his revenge in The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu.

His daughter turns out to be Princess Ling Moy, an oriental dancer (Anna May Wong). She is the very picture of the exoticized oriental female. She is told by her manager that she will meet her mysterious father for the first time tonight. She is also introduced to young John Petrie, the son of Dr. Petrie and Lia Eltham, who happens to live next door to her.

At the Petrie house, Dr. Petrie, now an old man, is shown a stack of death threats that his half-blind secretary Roger neglected to show him earlier. Moments later, an aging Fu shows up in his study as well. He tells Dr. Petrie that he will kill him and his son. Apparently, three generations of death to Petrie is not good enough anymore, he's got to go for four.

Fu Manchu has mixed poison in Dr. Petrie's tobacco, poison which allows Fu to control him like a puppet. He walks him to the top of the stairs, and dramatically lets him fall down the steps to his death. Scotland Yard arrives and shoots him, but Fu escapes anyway, wounded. He repairs next door to meet his daughter, Ling Moy.

Scotland Yard is on the case, then, but where is Nayland Smith? Not here. For the first and only time in the Fu films, Nayland Smith does not make an appearance. Instead, we have Ah Kee, a Chinese detective (Sessue Hayakawa).

The wounded Fu Manchu meets his daughter for the first time. He explains who he is, and explains that she must carry on his vengeance. She agrees. They come up with a scheme in which it will appear that he is attacking her, the men will save her, and she will get closer to her quarry, making it easier to kill Petrie. She says she will do as he says as a dutiful daughter, and his plan works to perfection when Ah Kee and the rest burst in and blow Fu away. He dies -- for real, this time. Ling Moy thanks them for "saving" her. Ah Kee is immediately smitten, perhaps because she is the only other asian person in the film?

When a comparison is made to Fu Manchu's white daughter Lia in The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu, the underlying implications of this scene become more clear. In that movie, he had to hypnotize Lia to do his evil bidding, otherwise she never would have done so. But here, his real daughter, whom he has never met before, is willing to go on a killing spree for him without much hesitation. The film implies that she must be obedient to her father and do as he says because it is the proper Chinese thing to do, and such morals as we know and understand them in the west do not apply to her thinking, whereas a white woman would understand and embrace western morals regardless of where or how she is raised, morality being somehow innate to her. So Ling Moy's decision to try to kill Petrie is not based on her own feelings alone, rather it is understood that ANY Chinese person would do the same under the same circumstances. In fact, she feels specially obligated to do so because a son would so better serve Fu's evil purposes, that she feels somewhat inferior because of it. Comments such as "A stupid son is better than a crafty daughter," do nothing to improve her emotional stability.

Two months pass, and the next time we see Ling Moy the young Petrie is slobbering all over himself trying to make a pass at her. Unbelievably, but keeping well with stereotypical portrayals of Asian women in western cinema, she is falling in love with him. When it comes time for her to kill him while he sleeps, she hesitates, and then a scuffle in the hallway between Ah Kee and the villain Lin Chung causes her to flee. The other minions of Fu Manchu realize she needs more encouragement, and they start up a multimedia presentation of the wisdom of Fu Manchu (pre-recorded). It firms her resolve to kill Petrie. She uses her charms to convince Ah Kee to come over, when he's supposed to be guarding Petrie. He leaps to it, whips into some Chinese robes which he pulled out of nowhere, and they have a quiet, romantic evening together. The rest of the villains take the opportunity to snatch Petrie and his girlfriend, too, as an afterthought.

Meanwhile, Ah Kee propases to take Ling Moy back to China, "the land of our ancestors." But when she leaves to check on the captive Petrie, he spies on her, and the game is up. "Why do you poison the wine -- and our love?" he accuses. She admits being the daughter of Fu Manchu. "It is the supreme irony -- that the only woman I have ever deeply loved, should be born of blood that I loathe." The film climaxes with a dramatic, 11th hour rescue launched by Ah Kee and Scotland Yard, just as Ling Moy is about to dash acid into the face of Petrie's girlfriend.

Daughter of the Dragon is the best of the Warner Oland Fu Manchu films, and without a doubt it is because of the presence of Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa, two of the biggest Asian stars in hollywood at the time. This film marks their only appearance together.

Sessue Hayakawa was Japanese, from a wealthy family. Originally, he wanted to enter the navy, but was refused based on a partial loss of hearing. So instead, he turned to theater. Ah, it's so like the military men I know, to go from dreams of the military to dreams of theater (?). He formed a touring troupe and performed across America in a production he wrote himself, called The Typhoon. It was a hit, and was made into a film in 1914. Amazingly, he played a leading man in films throughout the silent era and made the transition to talkies, despite the rampant Yellow Peril paranoia of the time. Perhaps his most famous silent film appearance is his starring role in Cecil B. DeMille's The Cheat (1915). Hayakawa played a sexually ambiguous, cruel, rich man, who brands a white woman as a mark of his possession. His performance was so powerful he became quite the sex symbol. He actually made sixty-six films in the silent era, many of them lost or waiting to be restored. Daughter of the Dragon was one of the last films he made in Hollywood before anti-Japanese fervor began to build in the years leading up to WWII and he was no longer welcome. After the war he returned to the states, ironically to appear in many films about WWII, the most famous being The Bridge on the River Kwai in 1957.

Anna May Wong did not have the same success as Sessue Hayakawa, and always found herself cast in supporting roles to white actors who as often as not appeared in yellowface. She had roles in some famous silent films, including a strong supporting role as a Mongol Slave in Douglas Fairbanks The Thief of Baghdad (1924). She got tired of playing second fiddle in 1928 when she lost another asian woman lead role to a redhead from Montana who was getting them hand over fist, and went to Europe where she was more appreciated. (The redhead was none other than Myrna Loy, who ironically plays Fu Manchu's daughter in the next film in the series, The Mask of Fu Manchu). She returned to the states to star in Daughter of the Dragon. She also appeared in the more successful and more well-known Shanghai Express (1932) with Marlene Dietrich. But her career never really took off, and even in the best of years ended up playing second fiddle to actors and actresses in yellowface. It's a shame, because she gives does complicated portrayals, with depth of character, something that a characature in yellowface could never possibly manage.

Daughter of the Dragon, then, sits at the intersection of the careers of two remarkable pioneers, perhaps the first asian male and asian female stars of hollywood, and should most certainly be seen by anyone with an interest in the history of the motion picture. Sadly, the dubbed copy I saw was so blurry it was difficult sometimes to tell who was who, I can only hope that a clean copy is circulating somewhere and some enterprising company will release it on DVD in the future.

Rating: Highly Recommended (Highly Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 07, 2004.

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