by Jonathan Lewis

   With Christopher Lee’s recent passing, I thought it would be worthwhile to seek out some of the veteran actor’s more obscure, or at least lesser discussed, films. Lee was in many films, over 250 according to IMDb, in fact. Some were great, some were good, and others were downright forgettable. All except for one thing: Lee was in them. And that’s one thing that made Christopher Lee so special. No matter how silly, campy, or mediocre the film, Lee’s singular presence, coupled with his distinct bass voice, shined through.

THE TERROR OF THE TONGS. Hammer Films, UK, 1961; Columbia, US, 1961. Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur, Geoffrey Toone, Marne Maitland, Brian Worth, Ewen Solon, Roger Delgado, Richard Leech. Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster. Director: Anthony Bushell.

   Such was the case in The Terror of the Tongs, a considerably dated movie about the Red Dragon Tong, a secret, violent Chinese criminal gang terrorizing the residents of British Hong Kong. Set in 1910, the story is nominally about a British man, Captain Jackson Sale (Geoffrey Toone) who seeks to avenge the death of his sixteen year old daughter at the hands of the Tongs. It’s sort of like Death Wish or Taken before these movies were even thought of by their respective writers.

   But who’s kidding whom?

   With laughably clumsy dialogue and borderline incompetent direction, the movie really is worth watching for one reason and one reason only.

   It’s to see Christopher Lee in his portrayal of Chung King, the leader of the Hong Kong branch of the Red Dragon Tong. Although many contemporary viewers might bristle at the sight of tall Englishman of Italian heritage portraying a Chinese criminal mastermind, it’s worth noting that Lee’s performance in The Terror of the Tongs really transcends ethnicity. He’s just a villain and a captivating one at that. (Thankfully, he doesn’t speak in a faux “Chinese” accent, if you know what I mean.)

   So, while it might seem odd to begin a tribute to Lee with this otherwise forgettable film, I did so to prove a point. That there are a lot of films out there, some rarely written about or discussed anymore, where Lee towers over, both figuratively and literally, the whole production. He will be missed.