Mysterious Mr. Wong

Director: William Nigh

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Bela Lugosi is Fu Wong, a "yellow peril" villain with Fu Manchu mustache & disposition. Based rather too loosely on Harry Stephen Keeler's short story The Twelve Coins of Confucius (Ten Story Book, November 1922; included in his collection Sing Sing Nights, 1927).

Mysterious Mr. WongThe twittery charm of Keeler's "pulp light" fictioneering should not be judged by this film's awful stereotyping. Nor should The Mysterious Mr Wong (1934) be mistaken for Mr. James Wong, detective of San Francisco's Chinatown, protagonist of several poverty row mysteries.

Lugosi looks very foolish in Chinese drag, & to hear him speak of "the house of Wong" in the same Hungarian dialect as his Dracula was not intended to be funny. Mr Wong has a "secret identity" as Ly See, an herbal quack, & fun though it can be for any Lugosi fan to see him create a double-character, it's awfully hard to overlook what horrid caricatures he has concocted.

Fu Wong in San Francisco Chinatown seeks the twelve coins of Confucius, leaving a trail of dead previous owners. Why all the coins are in San Francisco rather than in China or scattered around the world or some of them in Limehouse or whatever, we are provided no clue. Everyone who has one just happens accidentally to be in San Francisco where Fu Wong doesn't have to work so hard at being a master criminal to find them.

Once the coins are regathered, they will impart untold powers (untold in the film anyway) permitting Fu Wong to return to Keelat & become emperor. "Keelat" or Kilat is a Mongolian word for "Chinese" & though no such country or province exists, we can suppose northern China is where Fu Wong would be ruler.

A newspaper reporter (Wallace Ford) has a line on the Chinatown murders which the police have mistakenly blamed on a Tong war. The reporter gets his hands on the last coin, so he & his girlfriend (Arline Judge) will become Wong's captives, I guess because he's less inclined to just outright kill white people like he has been doing yellow people.

Lotus Long plays Moonflower the lovely & good niece of Fu Wong. She disapproves of her uncle's desire to rule Keelat, but doesn't do much to stop him, & the one thing she does do gets her killed. There are quick appearances from other Chinese American actors of the day, & just too damned bad actors of their calibre didn't have good films to frame their talents.

How the coins would result in Wong becoming an emperor is never at all clear, but needless to say, his evil plot is foiled. There is no climax to speak of. The film pretty much just ends.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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