The Castle of Fu Manchu BluRay review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Fu Manchu has conceived a device to freeze Carribean waters and sink ships, with which he is now blackmailing the world's powers into submission. Next up he aims for control of the world's opium trade, but moving against the underworld kingpin Omar Pashu, their Turkish allies led by Lisa (Rosalba Neri) turn against them. After seizing power there, Fu Manchu locks her away and leaves her alive against the advice of his daughter and right hand Lin Tang (Tsai Chin). Meanwhile in London, the government's Scotland Yard agent Nayland Smith (Richard Greene) uncovers the mystery of Fu Manchu's power: it's a theory devised by Prof. Heracles (Gustavo Re), whereby a certain crystalline substance could help turn water into an uncontrollable icy whirl: Opium. It all fits together now, that's why Fu Manchu moved into Turkey to take control of the opium trade. The professor seems to be in the fangs of Fu Manchu already, however struggling with his health. So his minions set out to capture another academic, Dr. Kessler (Günther Stoll), who Nayland and his partners have met already. He lets them know the professor left to Istanbul. So their suspicion is confirmed, but Manchus men abduct Kessler and his assistant Ingrid (Maria Perschy) and bring them to his castle. Smith and his partners set out for Istanbul to free Kessler from the fangs of the evil mastermind and stop his diabolical plan from materializing. As Fu Manchu keeps demonstrating his evil powers, it becomes a race against time....
This one ups the ante in terms of Fu Manchus mad designs on world domination, but tones down the exotic locations and banditry. In its place a power struggle between the mad villain and an opium magnate, fought out on the backs of the science community. An unlikely alliance builds up in secret against Fu Manchu, who patiently sits in a castle overlooking the Bosporus (but some shots clearly filmed in Barcelona). In the end he brings out Lisa from capture... in a dramatic ending that is just as mad as Fu Manchus mind. Jess Franco again lets the script ramble around, not offering any character an opportunity to really mature, but dashing from one grotesque confrontation to the next.
The actors and characters
Christopher Lee is of course back and spouting his ridiculous dialogue, crazy make-up and strutting around with his inexplicable and evil plans, declaring numerous warnings to "humanity". Between his idea of turning the sea into a block of ice and his ludicrous gang of thugs operating machinery and killing people, once again it becomes unclear as to the why of it all, and of course where all the clumsiness comes from. But the same could be said for his adversaries.
Back again are Tsai Chin as his daughter Lin Tang, the willing right hand and just as evil co-conspirator, the token Asian in a film that is about a Chinese Mastermind played by a Brit. Speaking of Brits, Richard Greene returns as Nayland Smith, this time more explicitly described as a Scotland Yard agent, albeit not a very good one.
No Maria Rohm this time, but instead we get, however in a small role, Rosalba Neri (a very good trade I think) as well as Maria Perschy as Dr Kessler's assistant. And of course José Manuel Martín as the Omar Pashu pulling the strings in the Istanbul underworld, a wonderful character actor many viewers should be familiar with. While he also showed up candidly in the first movie, this time we also get Jess Franco himself as a corny police inspector.
The Castle of Fu Manchu offers less boobs, less jungle, less snakes and might be a bit of a more conventional adventure. Few of the characters make total sense, not to mention the plot, and the campiness of it all spirals out of control. The locations remain impressive, some of the effects are original and the thievery of archival footage is rather nasty. Lee, hidden under a pile of racist make-up, struts around talking madman gibberish, and oh isn't it lovely. The ending totally fails to impress, as does the overall movie.
Cinematographer Manuel Merino again does a good job making the whole thing look great on the screen and this time somewhat better music is on board as well. By the way, the archival footage that can be seen is from Campbell's Kingdom (1957) and A Night to Remember (1958), showing a dam busting and the Titanic sinking, respectively.
It's an entertaining movie, and has a certain cuteness to it stemming from Jess Franco's originality and naivete, but none of it can make up for the lack of a really intriguing plot and all the flat characters. The locations are once again an interesting trip around the world (a recipe that to this day is the main ingredient to a good James Bond movie), but the less exotic look and feel of the film, and the leaving out of lurid details like torture and nudity, make it lack and overall exploitative character that would have made good for some of the other shortcomings. In that respect, the other flick is clearly better. This one has bigger ambitions, but Franco can never really live up to them.
The BluRay offers a sub-average 2K transfer which is often lacking detail and crispness - in fact I think it is even slightly worse in terms of detail and resolution that the other film, but is overall sufficient. Both movies are on one disc, so the bit rate is also not very high but the material also wouldn't need it. There is only an English language track, but it sounds alright for what it is. The sound design isn't great, so you don't even get proper gun shots anyway. You can select subtitles (English SDH), but there are no other language options. Extras are the second half of the "The Rise of Fu Manchu" featurette with interviews with Jess Franco, Harry Alan Towers, Christopher Lee, Tsai Chin and Shirley Eaton (15mins) as well as the theatrical trailer, plus a poster and still gallery.
Together with the other half of the double bill, this makes for lots of bang for your buck and a great afternoon's trip into Franco-land. Even fans should be honest about the two films' shoddy qualities, but even the doubters on the other hand, need to admit to the cute appeal these campfests have. The HD presentation on both movie is not amazing but with these flicks that's really more than you need.
Continue reading: The Blood of Fu Manchu BluRay review
Special thanks to Blue Underground for supplying the BluRay.
Sebastian, co-founder and admin of the Grindhouse Cinema Database (GCDb). He also started The Spaghetti Western Database (SWDb), The Quentin Tarantino Archives, The Robert Rodriguez Archives, Nischenkino and Furious Cinema. Outside of movies, he works on the intersection of technology and policy. He lives in Berlin, Germany.