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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Mr. Wong Detective (1938)

With the success of the Charlie Chan movies, which I will be covering in this marathon, other studios went looking for their own Chinese detectives. Mr. Wong was one of those and is most notable for the actor cast in the main role, genre legend Boris Karloff! Before I continue if you haven’t already checked out my thoughts on this as well as the Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan movies unfortunate use of “yellow face” then click this link. These reviews are only going to address the movie’s merits and whether it is worth checking out and not the political stuff. 

The action starts off at a dock where a ship is being loaded for a journey. We see some sketchy looking characters are watching this and we get some talk about if the shipment goes their cause is doomed. Later we find out that the ship is full of chemicals to make deadly nerve gas and is being sent to a government that will use it against their citizens. The man who co-owns the company with three partners, Mr. Dayton, comes to see our detective. He believes his life is in danger and asks for his help. Mr. Wong comes to see him the next day in the office to look at the threatening letter he received but Dayton is dead before he arrives. 

The rest of the movie is Wong trying to figure out who killed and is continuing to kill the men involved in the chemical company. In addition to the people trying to stop the shipment, we get the other partners, and a chemist whose formula was stolen by the company as suspects. Who did it and how was it managed? I’m not going to spoil the fun because I think you should check out Mr. Wong Detective yourself. 

This is an excellent movie with a mystery that is easy to follow but keeps you guessing until the end. The bit with the glass balls and poison gas is nifty and satisfying without being overly complicated. The way that the killings are executed feel realistic and clever. The movie gives you plenty of red herrings before dropping a twist that works well. I must keep this vague as to not spoil it but trust me if you like murder mysteries you will dig it. The movie is paced well and keeps the action moving until the final reveal. The dialogue is snappy and deliberate, which is a must if you are to follow the story and try to discover the clues. The filmmakers knew how to make a good mystery movie. 

The characters are likeable for the most part with Karloff being the highlight. Clearly there are issues with a white actor playing an Asian character, but he still is very good in the role. Though I found it interesting that instead of the accented and stereotypical speech present in the Charlie Chan movies he decides to use his normal British accent. There are a couple of points where the movies low budget is obvious, but that didn’t spoil the fun for me. A good example is that we only get a couple of sets that they keep returning to, but had I not pointed that out you probably wouldn’t have noticed. 

There are six movies in the Mr. Wong franchise, and I’ve only ever seen this one before. I plan on covering them all eventually and I hope that they all are as much fun as Mr. Wong Detective. I highly recommend checking this one out. 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

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