Sign of the (Past) Times

Becoming invested in Terror of the Tongs requires a nearly impossible tolerance for this production. In the starring role, Christopher Lee, playing a Hong Kong gang leader, with makeup intended to make him look Asian. It’s not just Lee either, but much of the cast who play their roles through the obvious racism.

Hong Kong is portrayed as vicious, but exotic. Sex and opium, ax killings and finger slashing. Their savior? A British captain who singularly tears down an entire criminal organization because the locals themselves can’t. Colonialism was great, you see, because one strong-willed Brit can save an entire city when hundreds of citizens won’t.

… clearly, accuracy wasn’t Terror of the Tongs intent

Terror of the Tongs isn’t alone in Hammer’s filmography, and in multiple ways, mirrors Stranglers of Bombay. Again, it’s the lone British leader saving the world from people who can’t (or refuse) to save themselves. The whole design is such as to have an Asian woman (really a French native, Yvonne Monlaur) fawn over Geoffrey Toone, speaking in broken English to make the hero look superior. It’s all so embarrassingly obvious, made worse by the insensitivity that even for 1961 seems egregious.

Blame lingering Asian hatred from World War II, but even then it’s crude. The story goes nowhere other than to vilify an entire race, beginning with the murder of a perfect white, western teenager. Cruel torture techniques and a willingness to die for power depict Hong Kong’s people as manic; those not under Lee’s influence indulge themselves with prostitutes and drugs.

The outlandishness can’t hide a formulaic approach: A mystery, dead bodies, and what’s effectively a monster at the helm of it all. Toone’s character is faultless, just bull-headed, if with the audience support given the contrast against Lee’s hatred.

Although lavishly decorated, the surroundings never seem authentic. Rather, more akin to a shopping spree to a thrift store specializing in tourist trap tchotchkies. What looks vaguely Chinese is good enough, and clearly, accuracy wasn’t Terror of the Tongs intent. That goes for the cast too considering Hammer spent more on makeup than simply finding actual Asian actors.

Video

Brilliant color reproduction allows Terror of the Tongs to glow in this presentation. All of the Chinese decor, gold trims, and other set details saturate intensely. No, it’s not natural, but certainly attractive, even the slightly bronzed flesh tones. The aesthetic is pure old Hollywood – but British.

Mill Creek’s encode stifles things a tad, enough to turn the grain toward noise in spots. Severity varies, mostly minor, with a few spikes on occasion. No question the brighter colors pose a challenge.

Barely revealing any source damage, the print is near pristine. Adequate resolution draws out texture, defining facial detail in close, and enriching environments all around. It’s all organic, no messy processing applied. Further helping is bold contrast, the superlative black levels fantastic too. Depth is constant.

Audio

While rotting a little on the upper end, the DTS-HD mono preserves the sound adequately. Brassy scoring inevitably suffers over time, the treble waning long before reaching this disc.

Dialog does okay for itself, worn understandably, but firm.

Extras

Nothing.

The Terror of the Tongs
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Movie

Terror of the Tongs can’t escape its racially crude depiction of Hong Kong and the lone British captain who can save the country.

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