Vengeance of Fu Manchu, The
Europe 1968
Directed by Jeremy Summers.

Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu sets up camp in a remote part of China, causes earthquakes, and schemes his mad schemes.

Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) is back -- back home, that is. Apparently, Fu is in charge of an entire walled city in a northern Chinese province. He and his daughter Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) return home to great fanfare, then blow up all the mountain passes, sealing themselves away from the rest of the world. Hmmm. Makes it kind of hard to conquer the world, doesn't it? Well, never mind, where there's a will, there's a way.

Unfortunately for Fu this time, all he can think of is vengeance against Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer), who is such a sorry sad sack I can't help but feel a little pity for Fu Manchu, to be bested time and again by such a loser. Fu kidnaps a Christian missionary working in China, who is also, conveniently enough for Fu, a plastic surgeon. Not quite sure how those two occupations go together, but in any case, he is kidnapped to perform an operation on one of Fu's dacoits to make him look just like Nayland Smith. The doctor at first refuses, but then eventually capitulates to Fu because...well, Fu has also kidnapped his beautiful daughter. Having already kidnapped scientist's daughters in The Face of Fu Manchu and The Brides of Fu Manchu, I must admit I'm finding the strategem to be wearing a little thin.

In The Vengeance of Fu Manchu, I finally realize something -- Fu Manchu is absolutely balls-out insane. Probably Tsai Chin runs the actual operation, while he just concocts idiotic schemes to rule the world or just to kill Nayland Smith. How to kill Nayland Smith? A sane evil warlord might send some of his minions to do the job. Having thousands of operatives all over the world should make it easy work. But no. Fu has a double created of Nayland Smith. Then, he kidnaps the real Nayland Smith, and crates him up, shipping him to China. Then, the double kills somebody, and the double is tried for murder. Nayland Smith's reputation is ruined, of course, but here's where he lost me: Fu wants to keep the real Nayland Smith alive until the precise moment that the double of Nayland Smith is executed. And the point of that is...? None. So, logically, Fu Manchu is a stark raving lunatic.

But that's just part of his plot, not all of it. He wants duplicates made of all the major police chiefs of the world, to discredit them as well. He calls one Rudolph Moss (Horst Frank), the head of an American crime syndicate, to join him. As if the Fu Manchu films do not deal enough in cultural stereotypes, the American criminal is of course wearing a wide-brimmed cowboy hat.

Since Nayland Smith spends most of the film unconscious or otherwise imprisoned, it's up to FBI agent Mark Weston, Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion Crawford), and the man on the spot, Inspector Ramos (Tony Ferrer), to puzzle things out and save the day.

In fact, Inspector Ramos, the head of the international police in Shanghai, steals the show. His investigation of Rudolph Moss leads him from the docks to a nightclub, to Rudolph Moss's discarded girlfriend (Maria Rohm), to her contact with Tsai Chin, and eventually to Fu Manchu himself. These scenes are by far the most exciting of the film, evoking a feeling of the dingy, ex-pat Shanghai of the past. Or at least, evoking it as much as one can when filming in blaringly bright, crisp technicolor.

Christopher Lee gives another classic performance as Fu Manchu. He looks somehow nastier and more sinister this time around, either they changed make-up artists or Lee was down with a cold or something. I read an interview with Lee in which he discusses how he really studied the character -- he spoke with Sax Rohmer's widow, read the books, and tried to create an interior motivation for his actions. Too bad that he just looks stiff as a board and seldom says anything that makes any sense. In fact it is his lack of convincing motivation that lead me to the conclusion that he is simply insane. Of course, one can't blame Lee too much. If he went to the books to find motivation, he found precious little there -- Fu Manchu's character is as thin as the paper it is written on. The script, by producer Harry Alan Towers, doesn't help, either. But he does get a few unintentially funny lines. At one point, he says to his assembled audience, "Within this palace we have a modern receiving and sending system," just as one of his dacoits is handing him an old, yellowed scroll which he unrolls.

It wouldn't be giving anything away to say that the film ends with the entire walled city going up in flames, during which Fu Manchu's visage appears to Nayland Smith, saying "The world shall hear from me again." And so we do, but for now we must say goodbye to technicolor, to British production values, to decent budgets and at least passable scripts. When Fu Manchu reappears, it is in a pair of Jess Franco euro-trash cheapies, Kiss and Kill and The Castle of Fu Manchu.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 28, 2004.

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