The world believed the master criminal Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) was dead, but they were wrong, he is very much alive and taking up residence in one of his Chinese palaces where he can regroup and set about his latest dastardly plan: nothing less than world domination will satisfy him. On arrival, he surveys the scene from his throne, his daughter Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) at his side, as four prisoners who dared defy him are brought before him. He sentences them to death, one by having his neck broken, another beheaded with a sword, and another hypnotised into murdering the fourth, but still Fu Manchu is not satisfied. His next target is no less a person than his arch-nemesis Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer)...
This was the third in the Harry Alan Towers produced (and frequently screenwritten under his Peter Wellbeck pen name) Fu Manchu series of the sixties, and one which on paper sounded fairly promising since it was a co-production between him and the Shaw Brothers, the latter well into their domination of the East Asian movie scene. The thought of Sax Rohmer's famed creation actually produced by a Hong Kong studio, near enough where the character was supposed to be from, should have sent pulp fiction fans' mouths watering: think of it, a Fu Manchu flick with proper kung fu fighting! Alas, in practice it didn't quite work out as many would have hoped for.
There were action sequences, but even the pre-Bruce Lee martial arts were disappointingly choreographed, so while there may have been a more extensive cast of actual Chinese, including a few in sympathetic roles, mainly those trying to bring down the villain, the results were tending towards the lacklustre in spite of authentic locations. Couple that to the plot Towers dreamt up (not taken from Rohmer) which saw to it that Fu Manchu hardly appeared for about two thirds of the running time, and as if that wasn't frustrating enough Nayland Smith was incapacitated for most of the story until he broke his bonds in the final ten minutes, and you had a movie cluttered with characters and incident but one which felt as if there wasn't much going on.
You could get away with an unironic, non-knowing Fu Manchu in the sixties, but these days it would be more difficult due to accusations of racism. Nevertheless, there have been commentators pointing out that Rohmer wrote his character not as an outright bad guy, but as an anti-hero thanks to his fascination with the Far East, one bordering on a love affair which would undoubtedly be an interesting way to take the character. Not that you'd get that here, as in Towers' vision Fu was strictly one-dimensional villain material, and Christopher Lee was not exactly stretched in his portrayal, not as stretched as his eyelids were at any rate, barking orders and intoning menacingly in an accent which didn't sound like any Chinese you had ever heard.
Needless to say, he spoke English throughout as well. What he got up to rather hamstrung the action this time around, forcing a top surgeon to use plastic surgery to create a Smith double in that movie version of such operations where it can be used to make those under the knife look so completely different that they might as well be different people. Or indeed played by a different actor. Once the impostor is swapped with the real Nayland, we've lost our protagonist who spends the rest of the movie till his inevitable rescue tied up and useless while his good name is dragged through the mud as the double tries to get himself executed for murder as Smith's right hand man Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford) looks on in dismay and powerless to act (it would have been nice to see Petrie reassured at the end). Elsewhere, a selection of less recognisable stars parade about either helping Fu or hindering him, looking as if there was cost-cutting going on in how much time Towers had with the bigger names, leaving a mildly amusing but slight entry in the series. Music by Malcolm Lockyer.