The Terror of the Tongs (1961)

Christopher Lee stars in Hammer's darkly toned Oriental adventure film. Sony US R1 boxset DVD.

The Film

Arriving in Hong Kong harbour from Singapore, Captain Jackson Sale watches as one his passengers is brutally killed on the wharf. He soon learns that the notorious Tongs were behind the killings and as they make a desperate search for a piece of paper that the passenger had been carrying they kill both Sale's friend and then his daughter. Despite being discouraged Sale tries to seek revenge against the secret society and its powerful leader (Christopher Lee).

As usual Jimmy Sangster is called in for the writing chores and his script shows his typically strong style. The television style teaser opening does not bode well but the film proper gets off to a good start with plenty of mystery and continues to build this up throughout. The Captain Sale character is probably the most noteworthy, while the 'normal man getting involved' is a pretty typical fictional cliché, it is his sheer incompetence that marks him out, he is not a policeman or detective and despite his best efforts just never manages to act like one - randomly trying to interview and threaten people. Fortunately Sangster never plays this up for laughs although the scenes border on unintentional humour more than once. The film builds to an effective and quite tense climax with a fitting ending, although like many Hammer films of the era it ends very suddenly.

The only real dampener is the Lee character and her love story with Captain Sale, both of which seem really tacked on and are certainly never convincing, existing perhaps only to pad out the film to its quite short 80 minute runtime or to appease the female audience. There are a few logical jumps - notably, how the 'liberator' got into the secret gaol and why Sale never mentions the murder of Mr Ming to the police officer - but these are quite minor. While Stranglers of Bombay (1960) had been partly based on a real incident, Terror of the Tongs seems to be an entirely fictional creation. The Tongs themselves did exist in the 1800s and many became corrupt and involved in extortion and vice, however they were established mostly in the United States as a measure of protection against racist attacks and prejudice, and they are unlikely to have existed in Hong Kong itself.
Although one of director Anthony Bushell's very few film works, he shows some real talent here, in particular with the long lingering close-ups to end scenes that add some genuine mystery to several of the characters. The production values are up to Hammer's typically strong standard and all of the sets look beautiful - although the exteriors can never escape that stange-bound feeling. The studio's long term composer James Bernard provides another superb score mixing his trademark strings with some appropriate Oriental sounds.

Irish born Geoffrey Toone is cast in the lead role. Rarely a lead film actor he certainly looks the part as a British captain, but never convinces in the acting stakes with a generally wooden performance. Yvonne Monlaur has previously appeared in Hammer’s Brides of Dracula (1960) and gives a similarly unimpressive performance here making what there was of the love scenes, completely without emotion. Christopher Lee plays lead Tong (foreshadowing his later work as Fu Manchu) and gives a decent show but is clearly hampered by the restricting make-up. A young looking Burt Kwouk makes a brief appearance at the start of the film and is the only genuinely Oriental actor in the whole production, the rest of the Chinese characters being played by Brits (including The Master Roger Delgado) – with the exception of widely travelled Indian born actor Marne Maitland who gives one the film’s best performances as the leader of the liberators.

Terror of the Tongs suffers a little from poor acting and a rather tacked on love story, but despite this manages to remain a highly enjoyable adventure film - aided by a generally strong script and some beautiful sets. Fans of the Hammer adventure films should find plenty to enjoy here.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Christopher Lee - Hammer's favourite villain, who later played the notorious Chinese villain Fu Manchu
Directed by anyone interesting? John Gilling - writer and director of the low budget British smuggling film Fury at Smuggler's Bay (1961) and Hammer's adventure film The Brigand of Kandahar (1965)
Any gore? Several scenes with blood.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Has a general appeal, certainly for fans of Hammer and Christopher Lee.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
The print looks beautiful with minimal damage and light grain. There does appear to be some very light cropping at the top of the frame - or perhaps just poor framing - that seems to crop off the very top of a few scenes.
Audio English language mono sound - sounds good throughout.
French dub track.
Subtitles English and French
Extras This disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with Hammer expert Marcus Hearn, script writer Jimmy Sangster and art director Don Mingaye. Further discussion about the film and the studio in general.
  • Original theatrical trailer.
Other extra features are also included in the boxset.
Availabity Only available as part of the Icons of Adventure four film boxset.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Not available elsewhere.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut as per the theatrical print (several major cuts were made by the BBFC to scenes that were filmed, these might be lost). Print is English language.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 11th June 2008.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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