Fu Manchu in the 21st Century – Part Three


The character of Fu Manchu was created 111 years ago in 1912 by author Sax Rohmer. He’s appeared in books, comics, radio, television and in motion pictures. However, the world is not the same place it was more than a century ago. In fact, the world has changed significantly since the last time we saw the evil mastermind on the big screen in 1980. So, does Fu Manchu even fit into the modern 21st century?

Before that personal opinion is offered up, it must be acknowledged that Fu Manchu has always been a problematic character. His very appearance was immediately feeding into a stereotype that all Asians were evil, a common belief at the time of his creation better known today as the “yellow peril”. The problem of cultural typecasting has always existed in Hollywood but as Black actors have been able to shed some of the racial stereotypes over the decades, the journey for Asian actors has been a longer one. In early films, they were always seen wearing slippers and silk jackets with long braids. They were servants or seen in manual labor roles. If they owned a business, it was always doing laundry for the white man or running a Chinese restaurant that was more often than not a front for criminal activity. By the 1960s, the concept of seeing blackface was mostly abandoned by Hollywood but there was still nothing wrong with Mickey Rooney’s character of I.Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), a very painful characterization to watch today. 

One of the roughest aspects of the Fu Manchu films is that he is always portrayed by a white actor. The level of racism is certainly uneven as you work your way through the various film and television incarnations. My brief experience with the silent films witnessed actors in blackface, which is something I personally find disgusting and have a very hard time getting past as I watch an old film, even understanding its age and the mindset of individuals at the time. Warner Oland’s version of Fu Manchu is more bent on revenge and is missing the blatant racial overtones. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Boris Karloff’s performance in The Mask of Fu Manchu, which was deemed offensive even in 1932. A planned re-release in 1972 was met with even more protests.

Despite its popularity, the U.S. State Department requested no sequels be produced after the release of The Drums of Fu Manchu in 1940 due to China being an ally in World War II. Then, there is the case of Christopher Lee and his five films in the 1960s. His goal was world domination and while racist views against the white man are virtually unheard of in these films, the presence of a white man playing an Asian character with makeup is still front and center. Some historians have claimed that finding Asian actors who could speak English sufficiently enough were rare at the onset of sound films. However, that argument is thin at best when you see Myrna Loy on screen in 1932 playing the daughter of Fu Manchu after Anna Mae Wong had appeared in a similar role just one year earlier.  

Sax Rohmer would always contend that Fu Manchu was based on villainous Chinese criminals he saw in the Limehouse district during his time as a reporter in London. There are those that profess that the racism in the original books is actually less prevalent than the film representations. Having never read any of the original novels, I honestly can’t speak to this but I am interested in reading some of the series, which have thankfully remained in print. I say thankfully because I strongly believe that these original novels and films should never be censored. They are representations of a time when many were not as sensitive towards their fellow human beings as they should have been. Many today would use the word “woke” but I absolutely despise that word and all of the negativity that comes with it. I prefer to see that the human race has entered an age of enlightenment. A time that we recognize everyone for their diversity and strengths. Many will welcome these changes with open arms while others will resist. I firmly believe time will prove who is right and who is clearly in the wrong.

Despite the changes that have occurred that are absolutely necessary for the betterment of humanity, I do believe that books, radio programs and films of the past should never be erased. They should be available for those to view and to judge for themselves. I would welcome the screenings of these films with panels that encourage discussion and open dialogue as a means to educate everyone on the past and what we can accomplish together in the future.

As for whether or not the character of Fu Manchu should be used in new books or films, I believe the only way that it could work would be to greatly rewrite the character. He would have to re-created in a way that would erase the obviously racial stereotypes. There were reasons beyond copyright issues that Fu Manchu was absent from the recent Shang-Chi movie from Marvel. Essentially, the new Fu Manchu would be a new character but with an old name and all of the historical baggage that comes with it. Although this goes against the grain of how Hollywood typically works, I would then present the greater challenge of simply creating a new character for the modern age. It would free the project from the past and leave the door open for new possibilities going forward. In other words and in my opinion, the writers should be creative as they move forward and leave the old character of Fu Manchu in the past.  

Fu Manchu may not have a place at the dinner table in the 21st century but the memory of his stories should never be forgotten to ensure the insensitivities of the past never be revisited. Admitting one was wrong is never a sign of weakness but repeating those wrongs would be. It’s only through discovering the past and talking about those wrongs that we can truly move forward. This is just as true in real life as it should be for that magical world known as Hollywood.

OTR – The Shadow of Fu Manchu Episodes 3-5


We continue our month-long look into the world of Dr. Fu Manchu with the next three episodes of the 1939 radio series, The Shadow of Fu Manchu. Ted Osbourne plays Fu Manchu with Hanley Stafford as Nayland Smith and Gale Gordon as Dr. James Petrie.

The Zayat Kiss Part 2 originally aired on May 12, 1939 while Clue of the Pigtail parts 1 and 2 aired on May 15 and 17 of the same year.

For a much more detailed analysis of Fu Manchu on the radio, I recommend you read the January 20, 2012 edition of Martin Grams Blog. Martin is a legend in the field of old time radio history and has written numerous books on various programs, including The Radio Adventures of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu. Both are highly recommended!

Now, grab yourself a drink and listen to the second episode of The Shadow of Fu Manchu, available on my Fu Manchu YouTube playlist.

Classic Horrors Club – Ladies’ Night


It’s February and love is in the air. What hot-blooded man wouldn’t be be attracted to these lovely ladies? Sure, they’re selfish and evil and manipulate men to get what they want, but in the end, they get what they deserve. Meet Countess Dracula and Lady Frankenstein, the titular characters of two films from 1971.

In episode 77 of the Classic Horrors Club Podcast, Jeff and I discuss the movies and their remarkable similarities. Hammer glamour and Eurohorror sleaze… what more could you possibly want to celebrate a belated Valentine’s Day?!?

Don’t forget to check out the video companion on our YouTube channel. Put images to the voices… if you dare!

Call us at (616) 649-2582 (CLUB), email at classichorrors.club@gmail.com or join us in our clubhouse at https://www.facebook.com/groups/classichorrors.club/!

We’d also appreciate if you’d give us an honest rating on Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud. Thank you!

You can find Jeff at:

Coming up next month, we lighten things up while sticking with the classics…sort of. Join us won’t you as we take a look at Uncle was a Vampire (1959) starring Christopher Lee as a famous bloodsucker inspired by Dracula and Young Frankenstein (1974), a true cinematic masterpiece!

Fu Manchu Goes to the Movies – Part Two


The first three Fu Manchu novels were published between 1913 and 1917 before author Sax Rohmer put the good doctor on the shelf for 14 years. Although the stories were successful, Rohmer struggled with becoming too identified with the character and desired to move on to other stories. However, the world had taken notice of the insidious doctor and by 1923, the cinematic world first heard of Dr. Fu Manchu.

The Silent Era

H. Agar Lyons would become the first actor to play Dr. Fu Manchu and the precedent of having a caucasian actor playing the Asian villain would be set. Unfortunately, this was commonplace for the time period and, sadly, many decades to follow. (This topic will be covered in the third part of this series.) Lyons would play Fu Manchu in two serials, The Mystery of Fu Manchu (1923) and The Further Mysteries of Fu Manchu (1924) with 15 and 8 chapters respectively.. These were successful enough that Lyons went on to play at least one other Asian character on screen, Dr. Sin Fang, in a series of films in 1928 and again in 1937.

These silent films are rare and the only ones currently available on YouTube are almost unwatchable due to either a horrific musical score or no score at all. There was little to no effort put into making Lyons’ version of Fu Manchu believable as he simply seems like a white man in Asian clothing. Many of his henchmen appear to be in blackface or under very heavy makeup, which makes no sense and is perhaps the most racist thing witnessed in all of the Fu Manchu films I watched. Until restored prints with a proper score become available, I’ll hold off discussing these any more but my first impression is less than stellar at best.

The Warner Oland Era

In 1929, American audiences were given their first glimpse into the world of the mad genius with the first of three films starring Warner Oland. In The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu, a different back story for Fu Manchu is presented as he was originally a brilliant scientist working with Caucasians and trying to remain neutral in the Boxer Rebellion. However, when his home is attacked in error and his wife and son are both killed, he would turn towards a path of revenge against those responsible. This would place the family of General Petrie, his son and his grandson in harms’ way with Scotland Yard Inspector Nayland Smith on the case to save them and stop Fu Manchu.

The story would continue in The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu (1930) and Daughter of the Dragon (1931). However, Fu Manchu’s role is greatly reduced in the third film as the focus would shift towards a previously unknown daughter, Ling Moy, played by Anna May Wong. These three movies would stray from the original source material with Fu Manchu focusing on revenge rather than world domination. While we’re once again presented with a Caucasian actor in the lead role, some supporting characters would be played by Asian actors. Unfortunately, others would not, leaving the racism still very present in these films but, admittedly, a little toned down compared to what was to come.

The Boris Karloff Era

To be fair, there really is no era for Boris Karloff as he only starred in one film, The Mask of Fu Manchu in 1932. Having seen all of the theatrically released films, I can honestly say this film is by far the most racist and most problematic in today’s enlightened world. Karloff’s presence in the film makes it the most well-known of the early Fu Manchu films and he gives us a greatly evil performance, at least on the surface. However, the make-up work on Karloff to give him an Asian appearance, while visually stunning in a technical sense, is jarring and quite offensive. 

The film was very controversial upon its’ release with it’s torture scenes, pre-code sexuality and dialogue about killing the white man and statements against Christianity. Seeing Fah Lo-See (Myrna Loy) in orgasmic joy as a man is whipped is still cutting edge even by today’s standards. The film was publicly criticized by the Republic of China and subsequently censored for many years. The 1972 re-release was met with equal criticism from the American Citizens League. Although censored scenes have been restored in recent years, it remains the most racist version of Fu Manchu to date.

Chapter serials, comics, radio and television

Following the 1932 film, eight years would pass before Fu Manchu returned to the big screen. In 1940, the next plot of world domination played out in the 15-chapter serial film, The Drums of Fu Manchu. The lead role once again went to a white actor, this time Henry Brandon. Fu Manchu is in search of the sceptre of Genghis Kahn to help him unite the people of Asia. Ultimately, it’s not one of the most racist films made at the time and is often considered as one of the best chapter serials of this era.

There were two television appearances of Fu Manchu in the 1950s. First, a rarely seen 1952 pilot starring John Carradine as Fu Manchu and then, in The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu, a 1956 TV series which lasted 13 episodes and starred Glen Gordon.

There have been several different radio adaptations over the years, the longest of which was The Shadow of Fu Manchu in 1939. Even as recent as 2010 there was a BBC mockumentary.

Fu Manchu has also been represented numerous times in comic books. The first was a series of stories in Detective Comics spanning issues 17 through 31. These were actually reprints of an earlier strip from 1931. Fu Manchu was a central character in Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu series in the 1970s with Fu Manchu being the father of main character Shang-Chi (a plot point wisely omitted from the recent cinematic adaptation). There have also been other appearances over the years, most recently in Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The Christopher Lee Era

After more than three decades of missing from feature films, Fu Manchu returned to the big screen in the first of a five film series in 1965 with The Face of Fu Manchu. Christopher Lee would assume the lead role, once again a white actor in Asian makeup. While Lee had already wore similar makeup in The Terror of the Tongs (1961), his performance here as an Asian is actually a little more low-key. He chooses not to do a noticeable accent and is surrounded mostly by Asian actors, including Tsai Chin as daughter Lin Tang, a much more active ally in his quest for world domination.

He is pursued in all five films by Nayland Smith (played by Nigel Green, Douglas Wilmer and Richard Greene) and Dr. Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford). The first three films present them much like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson with Fu Manchu coming across more like a James Bond villain. After The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) and The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967), the film series took a noticeable step down with the final two films. The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969) suffer from lackluster scripts, reduced budgets (resulting in blatant stock footage by the last film) and overall poor direction from Jesus Franco. 

Aside from the obvious racial insensitivity of once again having a white actor in the lead role, the racism is actually toned down somewhat in these films. Fu Manchu doesn’t rant about killing the white man and comes across more like a stereotypical mad scientist. Unfortunately, the racist undertones are still present with 1960s misogynistic views front and center as Fu Manchu seemed to have a penchant for capturing women, keeping them chained and naked as he used them as bait or tools for his evil plans.

Odds and Ends 

As the fifth Christopher Lee film was a box office failure, plans for a sixth film were scrapped and Fu Manchu would only grace the big screen once again in The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980), a comedy starring Peter Sellers. Paul Naschy would play Fu Manchu in Fu Manchu’s Daughter ‘72, an odd 1990 short film, and Nicolas Cage would appear in an equally odd but amusing cameo in the “trailer” for the fake film Werewolf Women of the S.S. within Grindhouse (2007). Aside from these oddities, Fu Manchu has been greatly absent from the big screen since 1969. Meanwhile, the world has changed.

The world will hear from Fu Manchu again

Next week in part three, I’ll wrap up this series with a look at whether there is a place for Fu Manchu in modern cinema and if the older films are acceptable enough by today’s standards to be seen or if they should be buried in the vaults.

Enter the World of Dr. Fu Manchu – Part One


On February 15, 1883, Arthur Henry Ward was born in Birmingham, England. Today, that name will mean very little to most people. However, there is a fan base out there who will still remember him as Sax Rohmer, an alternate persona he created when he decided to pursue a career in writing fiction.

In 1903, Rohmer had his first short story published when The Mysterious Mummy appeared in Person’s Weekly. After years of short stories, his first book, Pause!, was published in 1910. And then, in 1912, he introduced the world to a new literary character, Dr. Fu Manchu. The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu was serialized from the fall of 1912 through early summer 1913. The story focused on a popular theme at the time…the “Yellow Peril”. Even at the time, it was a racially insensitive depiction of people from the East and Southeast Asia. They were considered a danger to the “civilized world”. In reality, there was no basis in fact to support this as it was purely a racist belief. 

The heroes were, of course, two white men. Denis Nayland Smith, a character Rohmer had originally created in the short story, The Zayat Kiss, which was narrated by his friend Dr. Petrie. In later novels, Nayland Smith would be knighted and working with Scotland Yard before eventually accepting a position with MI6.

The character of Dr. Fu Manchu is, on the surface, a man with a goal of world domination. While the novels would originally present him as clean shaven, films and other interpretations would have him wearing a thin moustache, now known universally as a Fu Manchu. While he might be envisioned as the stereotypical mad genius, his character was original and unique at the time. Rohmer’s visual representation of Fu Manchu was inspired by a popular magician during his time writing for music hall performances. Chung Ling Soo was the creation of a white magician used to enhance what would have been just an ordinary stage performance but enhanced by a Mandarin costume with a pigtail. However, beyond the outward appearance, there was much more to Fu Manchu.

Fu Manchu rarely ever directly involved himself on the front lines of his plans. He would employ various thugs and thieves to be his agents, committing the actual criminal acts while using his various weapons, which would often include poisons and chemicals or venomous creatures, such as snakes and spiders. Fu Manchu was also not above using torture to eliminate his enemies. He was an older, brilliant scientist, as described in the novels, with multiple doctorates received at universities around the world, giving him great scientific knowledge that he used to create an elixir of life to help keep him alive and youthful. He was initially a member of a Chinese tong, then later a more global organization called the Si-Fan that supported his ultimate goal of restoring China to its former glory.

Films and later novels in the series would often change or expand on Fu Manchu’s background. Sometimes, he had a family that was accidentally killed during the Boxer Rebellion in China during 1899 and 1901. There is also Fu Manchu’s daughter named Fah Lo Suee, an evil genius in her own right who often seeks to take over her father’s control of the Si-Fan. In some movies, the character is either omitted or merged with another character from the original novels, Karamaneh, who was originally an agent of Fu Manchu’s before falling in love and eventually marrying Dr. Petrie.

Sax Rohmer wrote a total of 13 Fu Manchu novels before his death in 1959 at the age of 76. A final novel, The Wrath of Fu Manchu, was published posthumously in 1973, containing a novella and three short stories. Cay Van Ash, Rohmer’s former assistant and biographer, would write two authorized Fu Manchu novels in the 1980s. In Ten Years Beyond Baker Street (1984), Dr. Fu Manchu finds himself in conflict with the legendary Sherlock Holmes. A second novel was published in 1987 but a third was never finished before Van Ash died in 1994. It is now presumed lost.

Dr. Fu Manchu is a character from a past time when it was considered acceptable by some to present such “Yellow Peril” villains. Admittedly, the basic concepts behind Fu Manchu are problematic at the very least in a modern world but has Fu Manchu always been portrayed that way? And is there room at the modern day master villain’s table for the legendary Fu Manchu?

Next week, in part two of this three part series, we’ll take a look at how Fu Manchu was brought to life in movies, television, comic books and radio. Then, in part three, we’ll conclude this series by discussing how audiences of the day reacted to Fu Manchu and whether or not this character still has a place in modern culture.

OTR – The Shadow of Fu Manchu Episode 2


We continue our month-long look into the world of Dr. Fu Manchu with the second episode of the 1939 radio series, The Shadow of Fu Manchu. In The Zayat Kiss Part 1, originally aired on May 10, Ted Osbourne plays Fu Manchu with Hanley Stafford as Nayland Smith and Gale Gordon as Dr. James Petrie.

For a much more detailed analysis of Fu Manchu on the radio, I recommend you read the January 20, 2012 edition of Martin Grams Blog. Martin is a legend in the field of old time radio history and has written numerous books on various programs, including The Radio Adventures of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu. Both are highly recommended!

Now, grab yourself a drink and listen to the second episode of The Shadow of Fu Manchu, available on my Fu Manchu YouTube playlist.

OTR – The Shadow of Fu Manchu Episode 1


During the month of February, I’ll be taking a look at the character of Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu. The first of a three-part series begins this Friday, February 10, with a description of who Fu Manchu is and the novels in the adventure series. In the following weeks, I’ll be looking at the films and television shows before discussing whether this character has a place in the 21st century.

To start off this month-long analysis of Fu Manchu, let’s start with the 1939 radio program, The Shadow of Fu Manchu. It wasn’t the first time Fu Manchu had been featured on the radio. There were radio appearances on The Collier Hour as far back as 1927, followed by a CBS program in 1932 along with several BBC productions.

In 1939, The Shadow of Fu Manchu aired as three-times weekly serial before eventually expanding to five daily episodes. In total, there were 156 episodes. Ted Osbourne played Fu Manchu with Hanley Stafford as Nayland Smith and Gale Gordon as Dr. James Petrie.

For a much more detailed analysis of Fu Manchu on the radio, I recommend you read the January 20, 2012 edition of Martin Grams Blog. Martin is a legend in the field of old time radio history and has written numerous books on various programs, including The Radio Adventures of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu. Both are highly recommended!

Now, warm up next to the fire and listen to the first episode of The Shadow of Fu Manchu. The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu originally aired on May 8, 1939.