Friday, June 3, 2011

The Terror of the Tongs (1961)

Hardly the best of Hammers long line of fantastic cinema, but in the middle of the crude portrays of Asians and weak script there’s a quite entertaining slice of a small-scale adventure. Written by the great Jimmy Sangster the script hardly lives up to his usual genius, but I wonder if it wasn’t edited down by someone else before shooting began? I have no idea, but something is clearly missing.

The year in 1910 and Geoffrey Toone (a real bore) is Captain Sale, who has lived in Hong Kong the last fifteen years together with his daughter, the cute and adorable Helena (Barbara Brown, who died very early, in 1975 – anyone know how and why?). On the latest route he befriends Mr Ming (Burt Kwouk) who smuggles a piece of paper into a book, a gift to Helena. Hours later his brutally killed in the Hong Kong harbour by a member of the Tongs. Soon the good captain realized that he and his familyn is in danger to, because the Tong wants that paper and they’re doing everything to get it!

Beware, spoilers ahead!

Shot in studio with some random stock footage from Hong Kong, The Terror of the Tongs is not a bad movie, but feels very uneven – mostly because the script almost completely lacks any kind of logical behaviour. It must have been a lazy day for Sangster when he wrote it. The biggest problem is when Captain Sale’s daughter is killed, which by itself is quite surprising, but the aftermath is so underwhelming that it’s like the captain almost don’t care that his daughter has been brutally murdered! He shows no emotions, and it’s not because he’s in shock – it’s just badly written. But still, he wants to take revenge and starts to pentrate the Hong Kong underworld of criminals and gangs, which could have been a lot more exiting than how it became. Instead he walks around like he’s sleepwalking and talks to British actors dressed like Chinese. And that’s about it.

The movie has some highlights of course. Christoper Lee as the evil mastermind Chung King is great, and the only of the British actors that comes out with his dignity intact with Chinese make-up. Probably because he skips the silly accent and walks like a normal human being. Burt Kwouk is good, as usual, but has a small part. The ultra-cool Milton Reid does one of his classic henchmen and he’s a blast as usual. Marne Maitland is excellent to, but that’s about it.

But the production looks good, if not a bit stiff, and the violence is not especially graphic, but still quite violent for it’s time. Not the best or most memorable Hammer-movie, but worth watching if you like Christopher Lee and British character actors making a fool of themselves dressed like Chinese.

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