director Charles Brabin
The B-side to the DVD of Mark of the Vampire (1935) was the 1932 piece of political incorrectness called The Mask of Fu Manchu. It stars the inimitable Boris Karloff as the fiendish Chinese supervillain. The “Mask” in question is the death mask of Genghis Khan, of whom Fu Manchu believes himself the living reincarnation. Oh yeah, and he was to start a race war to bring down the white man.
Dr. Fu Manchu is a character created by Sax Rohmer in 1913. He holds numerous doctorate degrees and speaks a multitude of different languages. He’s of course the most over-the-top Chinese super-stereotype villain of all time but it’s rather imaginable that he could be reclaimed by someone in modern times to capitalize on utter reinvention. You just take the “evil” out of “evil genius” and maybe you don’t have a Chinese Hitler but rather a superhero who fights against oppressive Imperialism.
But, you know. This movie is pretty “wow”. The kind of wow of racial stereotyping that was very commonplace up until a certain point in time.
Now, that said, Karloff played Fu Manchu once. Werner Oland, the man who would go on to play Charlie Chan in dozens of movies, played Fu Manchu three times before Karloff. But more amazingly, Christopher Lee played him five times in the 1960’s! So, so much for cultural evolution over decades.
My “research” such as it is for writing this, my thoughts on The Mask of Fu Manchu isn’t going to reach far enough to even satisfy my piqued curiosity. I can easily speculate on film studies or cultural studies that have delved deeply into the topic of Dr. Fu Manchu, and frankly, I’m quite curious to delve more deeply.
I recall, as a kid, when I first encountered Charlie Chan, that I was interested, even liked it. And I’ll be honest, I appreciate outdated, un-PC things from the more untamed cultural Id of pop culture before the righting of political correctness. Still, this is some pretty amazingly out-there pre-code stuff.