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Fu Manchu

Entry updated 20 February 2023. Tagged: Character, Community, Film.

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Sax Rohmer's Asian Supervillain Doctor Fu Manchu (also rendered as Fu-Manchu) is a Mad Scientist, initially based in the slums of Limehouse, London, who is armed with advanced scientific Weapons and bent on world domination. In addition to his impressive scientific acumen and boundless determination, Fu Manchu is given to occasional flashes of quixotic generosity, at times making him seem more an Antihero than a Villain. Yet his characteristic deviousness and cruelty have established him as one of the most enduring, and embarrassing, fictional incarnations of Paranoia associated with the Yellow Peril. Rohmer himself uses this very term early in the debut volume The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu (stories October 1912-July 1913 The Story Teller under the heading "Fu-Manchu"; fixup 1913; vt The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu 1913), wherein his regular opponent, the Sherlock Holmes-like hero Nayland Smith, explains the nature of the opposition to his Watson figure Dr John Petrie:

Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government – which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.

Fu Manchu's most significant ally – and occasional adversary – is his daughter Fah lo Suee, a match for her father in both Intelligence and her penchant for perfidy.

In addition to the dozen volumes (plus one late collection) about the exploits of Fu Manchu written by Sax Rohmer himself and listed in his entry, the character long maintained a robust presence in Cinema: after two serials featuring H Agar Lyons as the evil doctor, The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu (1923) and The Further Mysteries of Fu Manchu (1924), Warner Oland portrayed him in The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929), The Return of Fu Manchu (1930), and Daughter of the Dragon (1931) before yielding the role to Boris Karloff, whose The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) remains the best-known, and most cherished, of the early Fu Manchu films, though it was long suppressed as racially offensive (see Race in SF). Fu Manchu was also played by Henry Brandon in a 1940 serial, Drums of Fu Manchu (1940); by John Carradine in a 1952 television play, The Adventures of Fu Manchu: The Zayat Kiss; and by Glen Gordon in a television series, The Adventures of Dr Fu Manchu (1956). More prominently, Horror icon Christopher Lee took on the character in a series of 1960s films: The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967), The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968), and Sax Rohmer's The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969). Later, despite rising concern over the inherent racism of the character (particularly when portrayed by a Caucasian actor), Peter Sellers unwisely starred in the widely criticized comedy The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu (1980), and in one of the parody previews in Grindhouse (2007) – the umbrella theatrical title for a pairing of the films Death Proof (2007) and Planet Terror (2007) – an uncredited Nicolas Cage portrayed the Asian villain.

Fu Manchu has also periodically resurfaced in print: "The Fate of Fu-Manchu" (Spring 1935 The Huish Magazine; 1998 chap), a Sequel by Other Hands written by an adolescent Arthur C Clarke – wherein the villain is foiled by the detective with whom he would repeatedly be paired, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes – was republished in Clarke's Childhood Ends: The Earliest Writings of Arthur C. Clarke (1996). There are further appearances in two tales of August Derleth's Holmes-like detective Solar Pons, and alongside Holmes himself in two stories by George Alec Effinger, "The Musgrave Version" (in Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, anth 1995, ed Mike Resnick and Martin H Greenberg) and "Adventures of the Celestial Snows" (in My Sherlock Holmes: Untold Stories of the Great Detective, anth 2003, ed Michael Kurland) – both excerpts from a still-unpublished novel. A subplot of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (six issues 1999-2000; graph 2000) pits the Limehouse-based mastermind – here, for copyright reasons, referred to only as the Doctor – against Holmes's nemesis Professor Moriarty. Authorized sequels to Rohmer's novels, to date, are Cay Van Ash's Ten Years Beyond Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes Matches his Wits with the Diabolical Dr Fu Manchu (1984) and The Fires of Fu Manchu (1987), and William Patrick Maynard's The Terror of Fu Manchu (2009) and The Destiny of Fu Manchu (2012); at least one further Fu Manchu novel by Maynard is anticipated.

Fu Manchu has also inspired scores of similar Asian villains, ranging from the protagonists of two 1930s Pulps, The Mysterious Wu Fang and Dr Yen Sin, to Flash Gordon's Ming the Merciless and James Bond's Doctor No (see Ian Fleming). [DRL/PN/GW]


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