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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...

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935)

The movie opens with our detective traveling to Shanghai. He is responding to a request from a friend of his named Sir Stanley. He is met at the docks by his son Lee, played by the always excellent Keye Luke, and soon is at a banquet being held in his honor. When Sir Stanley opens a box with a ceremonial scroll it is booby trapped and a small pistol goes off killing him. But why was he killed? Did it have anything to do with him telling Charlie he had discovered something that he wanted to discuss with him? Well… yeah of course it did.

Charlie is caught up in finding the killer of his friend. Along the way someone tries to kill him more than once, which means he must be closing in on them. He is kidnapped, there is secret messages in invisible ink, and we even get a case of stolen identity. But worry not as Charlie navigates the twists and turns making sure that the killer gets caught and punished. Along the way he also figures out what Sir Stanley’s concerns were and deals with them as well.

This is an earlier entry into the franchise but already has the formula down. Charlie shows up, we are introduced to the other characters, and then a murder happens. There are twists and turns as you never know who you can trust and who might be hiding secrets. Here we get a fun bit with a secret plan that makes you think one of the innocent parties is guilty, but it was all Charlie’s plan to root out the real killer. The clues are doled out, though I do feel like we aren’t given enough as an audience to play along and try to solve the crime. Then again Charlie Chan in Shanghai sort of plays out more like an action flick and less a straight up mystery. While this would normally be a deal breaker for me, I’ll cut the movie some slack.

Warner Oland plays the detective. As I’ve mentioned in my other reviews, I understand the problems that many viewers have with a white actor playing an Asian character, so I won’t rehash that here. You can check my thoughts on that here. If we ignore that obvious issue and just judge the performance of Oland, I have to say that he isn’t too bad. He brings an energy to the role that livens up every scene he appears in. Sadly, he only did these movies for a couple more years as he passed away in nineteen thirty eight, though between thirty one and thirty seven he did appear as the character sixteen times!

I’ve already mentioned Keye Luke appears as his son Lee. He played this character eleven times, including once in a Mr. Moto movie! Say what you want about typecasting Luke was a working actor and always brought his “A” game to whatever part he was given. Here he is more of the comic relief and foil for the much older and wiser Chan, but without the Lee character these movies don’t work. Luke also got to be the star of a similar series when he took over the role of Mr. Wong in Phantom of Chinatown, which I just covered and highly recommend you check out.

The story is fun, the performances good, and all the boxes are checked. This is a great example of a thirties murder mystery flick. If you have any desire to either rewatch or perhaps dip your toes into this genre Charlie Chan in Shanghai is a wonderful place to start.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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