Terror Of The Tongs (1961)

AKA: The Terror Of The Hatchet Men
Director: Anthony Bushell
Starring: Geoffrey Toone, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur, Brian Worth, Richard Leech, Marne Maitland, Barbara Brown, Marie Burke, Burt Kwouk, Roger Delgado, Milton Reid, Bandana Das Gupta
Music: James Bernard

Burt Kwouk must be one of the most successful jobbing actors of the last half century. Since the late 1950’s, whenever a British film production or television show needed an oriental character, Burt Kwouk was the go-to man. Very often he would re-appear in television shows, like The Saint, The Avengers, Danger Man, and Callan as different characters because he was never a household name and nobody knew who he was. The closest he came to fame and recognition is as Cato Fong, Inspector Clouseau’s manservant in the Pink Panther movies. If you look at a list of movies that he has appeared in, you’ll be staggered by the shear amount of productions he has been in. However, being oriental usually meant that Kwouk had to play evil scheming characters. Some people may say that Dr. Fu Manchu was the epitome of Asian menace, or the so called ‘yellow-peril’. I disagree. Fu Manchu was usually played by a Caucasian actor (like Christopher Lee) with eye-pieces applied. Burt Kwouk was the real thing. Having said all that, The Terror Of The Tongs is unusual in that Burt Kwouk plays a good guy.

In the film, Kwouk plays Mr. Ming, an operative for an un-named organisation that is attempting to stamp out the Red Dragon Tong in Hong Kong. The Red Dragon Tong is a secret society that preys on the the people of Hong Kong. They extort money from shopkeepers and run gambling and opium dens, as well as brothels. Mr. Ming is on a steamer captained by Jackson Sale (Geoffrey Toone) as it sails into Hong Kong Harbour. Ming is carrying a list of all the Red Dragon Tong members. With this information he intends to stop the Tong once and for all. But Ming suspects that the Tong will try and stop him, so he secrets the list into the cover of a book of Chinese verse and gives it to Captain Sale as a gift for his daughter. The Captain gratefully accepts the gift.

Once in port, Ming is right. The Tong are waiting for him, and an assassin armed with a hatchet attacks Ming on the dock. Ming shoots his attacker three times but thins doesn’t stop the assassin who delivers a mortal blow to Ming.

The Tong arrange to claim Ming’s body and possessions but are dismayed to find that the list Ming was supposed to be carrying is nowhere to be found. The leader of the Tong, Chung King (Christopher Lee – with eye-pieces applied) surmises that Ming must have passed the list onto one of the officers on the ship, and orders that anyone who comes into contact with the list must be killed.

Captain Sale returns home to his daughter, Helena (Barabara Brown) and his housekeeper Anna (Bandana Das Gupta). Sale gives his daughter the book with the list hidden inside. Anna, the housekeeper is actually Ming’s contact in Hong Kong, and secretly she retrieves the list. But the Tong follow the trail. They start at Sales Steamer, where they find nothing, and then come to Sale’s home. Sale isn’t in the house at that time, but Helena is. The Tong’s, following their orders to kill anyone who comes in contact with the list, do just that. They kill Helena.

After the death of his daughter, Sale goes on a rampage, determined to expose the secret Tong society and find his daughter’s killer.

The Terror Of The Tongs is a Hammer production written by Jimmy Sangster and provides all the action and intrigue you’d expect from a film of this vintage. It is somewhat studio bound, but this allows the film-makers to control the colour and lighting (and it’s cheaper than filming on location in Hong Kong). Put simply, the film looks fabulous (especially the new widescreen transfers available on DVD). But is it a spy film? Well there are hints of espionage, but they are never really fleshed out. We don’t know who the good guys really are. They could be Interpol, maybe even the police – we never know. If it is a spy film, it’s a cusp spy film and not essential viewing for espionage fans.

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