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It's just as well for the world that evil geniuses routinely make the sort of managerial decisions you would expect from slightly retarded 13-year-old boys. Otherwise we'd be in big trouble.

The Vengeance of Fu Manchu is the third of Christopher Lee's Fu Manchu films, based on the novels by Sax Rohmer. The first and second were The Face of Fu Manchu and The Brides of Fu Manchu respectively; they were colourful crime thrillers, always entertaining, with plots that, while dodgy, didn't cross over into the realm of the stupidly annoying. Unfortunately the plot of this one not only crosses the line once, but keeps doing so over and over again.

Below are some of the crossings I found particularly annoying.

For a start, Fu Manchu's scheme for destroying Nayland Smith (which involves facial reconstruction) is totally silly and begs far too many questions.*


* Where did the facial scars go? How did the pre-reconstructed fake Nayland Smith gain physical height through a mere facial reconstruction? Why does no one bring up the possibility of a "double" (or at least the need for a doctor) when the fake Nayland Smith starts acting so absurdly unlike himself?

The scheme also seems rather more complicated than is necessary as Nayland Smith is often in a position where he could easily be killed -- and even tortured a bit first -- if it was felt necessary to do so. But no! If there's a way of organising things to ensure he will escape from his fate, the evil genius who is out to destroy him will make sure the scheme is set up that way. So we won't kill him. We'll just kidnap him and institute a complicated plot to kill him instead.

But that's not all. The legal aspects of the false Nayland Smith's trial for murder are a snapshot of the legal process as filtered through the consciousness of a 13-year-old boy.**


** Why didn't Nayland Smith's counsel think to check the fake Nayland Smith medically, even though he was clearly and absurdly acting in a grossly abnormal fashion? Fingerprints anyone? Blood tests? How long do murder trials take anyway? Is an application for a re-trial likely to be dealt with in three days? And what do you mean there were no grounds? Was Nayland Smith shown to have a motive for murdering his housekeeper? Was he acting in any way normal? Did no one question why he didn't say a single word? Please, people, this man was a famous and much honoured Scotland Yard chief! Surely someone thought this was odd. But no, even his best friend the doctor didn't think there might be a medical reason for his condition.

Then there are other plot absurdities that come down to the writer taking the easy, if silly and senseless, way out of story difficulties. Things need to happen (such as Fu Manchu being defeated) so they do happen, with little effort made to give the scenario conviction.***   *** Don't you love it when the good guys' plan is basically: let's rush in and worry about what improbabilities the writer can come up with to get us out of trouble once we're there! So they're outnumbered (though Fu Manchu's highly trained assassins are incapable of effective defense, it seems, and generally can be guaranteed to miss you unless you're a nameless piece of cannon fodder). Yet without forward planning the good guys succeed in timing their incursion so that it coincides with Nayland Smith's improbable escape from prison and when the crunch comes there's this convenient and unexplained wagon full of high explosives sitting nearby so that they can detonate it and blow the place up. Naturally, too, for no good reason the heroes can get out of the castle before the explosion, but Fu Manchu is too mesmerised by his own brilliance to do anything but glower.

Why am I going on? You get the idea. The story is dumb and the script is lazy, sloppy and cliched. No attempt is made to work out the logistical problems or to give the proceedings a veneer of realism. And I find that annoying. It could be so easily remedied. Particularly as Lee's presence as Fu Manchu is excellent, the location shoots are colourful and attractive, the action/fight scenes are well handled and the camera-work is generally well-directed, giving movement and life to some fairly lifeless scenarios. What a waste!

The film was even made in conjunction with Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers. What a pity they didn't think to include some top-notch kung fu action, the sort of thing the Shaw Brothers are famed for! They came so close. A major character from among the good guys is a Hong Kong police inspector and adds a bit of local biffo. They should have cast a Shaw Bros. martial arts expert and really gone for it!

Some say this film is fun to watch anyway. No, I'm sorry. I don't agree. It's annoying.

(OK, it's a bit fun...)

The Vengeance of Fu Manchu


Year of Production: 1967

Production company: Ardmore Studios

Director: Jeremy Summers

Based on characters created by Sax Rohmer

Writer: Harry Alan Towers (writing as Peter Welbeck)

Christopher Lee (Dr. Fu Manchu)
Douglas Wilmer (Nayland Smith)
Tsai Chin
Horst Frank
Wolfgang Kieling
Maria Rohm
Howard Marion-Crawford
Peter Carsten
Suzanne Roquette
Noel Trevarthen
Tony Ferrer
Mona Chong

Producer: Harry Alan Towers

Original Music:
Malcolm Lockyer

Rating: 4/10

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