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Tales of Old Chinatown

Chinatown is as much an idea as a place. In the early 20th century British films imagined their own Chinatown, defined by mystery, fear and the exotic.

The most famous screen Chinatown is probably the Los Angeles setting of Roman Polanski's 1974 classic, but British filmmakers have long offered up their own Chinatown. This mythic place drew on early-20th Century moral panics, forged in 19th-century opium wars and the 1900 Boxer uprising. It had little connection to the real Chinese-British people who made their homes in London's East End, Birmingham, Liverpool or Aberdeen. This screen Chinatown was exoticised, romanticised and coloured by imagined associations with vice and intrigue. It took shape in Sax Rohmer's lurid tales of the fiendish Dr Fu-Manchu - incarnated in his own mid-1920s film serial, and in the near-identical character of Dr Sin Fang, played by the same white actor). Other films, like the sensationalist Cocaine (1922), situate Chinese characters in a shadowy world of vice and drugs. Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong was allowed more complex roles, even if her characters remained tragic outsiders, shut out of British society. In the end, these tales reveal less about Chinese people in Britain than about a largely uncomprehending British culture, transfixed by ideas of mystical oriental 'Otherness'. Even so, these little-known films add up to a fascinating record of a nation taking its first faltering steps towards multiculturalism.

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The Woman from China
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The Woman from China

Crime193176 minsSilent

A young woman is persuaded to help a Chinese businessman to kidnap a naval officer in this fun and outrageous British thriller.

Attack on a Mission Station
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Attack on a Mission Station

War19001 minsSilent Location: Blackburn

Dramatised account of Chinese rebels' violent confrontation with Christian missionaries, made in the wake of the Boxer Rebellion.

A Bid for Fortune
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A Bid for Fortune

Drama191784 minsSilent

Master criminal Dr Nikola seeks a Chinese curio that promises eternal life and world domination

Cosmopolitan London
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Cosmopolitan London

Interest film192410 mins Location: Soho

An extraordinary tour of Soho's French cafés, Clerkenwell's Little Italy and the lesser-trodden streets of Limehouse in the 1920s.

Lieutenant Rose and the Chinese Pirates
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Lieutenant Rose and the Chinese Pirates

Drama191012 minsSilent Location: Croydon

Lieutenant Rose is kidnapped by Chinese pirates in this action-packed early adventure series.

Lieutenant Lilly and the Sploge of Opium
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Lieutenant Lilly and the Sploge of Opium

Comedy191311 minsSilent Location: Walton-on-Thames

The intrepid Lt Lilly is called upon to quell a Chinese Boxer rebellion in a spoof adventure serial.

Attack on a China Mission - Bluejackets to the Rescue
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Attack on a China Mission - Bluejackets to the Rescue

War19001 minsSilent Location: Brighton

Fictional treatment of a contemporary atrocity story from the 1900 Boxer rebellion in China.

Beheading a Chinese Boxer
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Beheading a Chinese Boxer

War19001 minsSilent

A grisly early fictional reconstruction inspired by atrocity stories from China's Boxer Rebellion.

The Silent House
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The Silent House

Crime192982 minsSilent

Spooky house thriller directed by Walter Forde, replete with secret panels and snake-filled rooms.

The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu

The Fungi Cellars
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The Fungi Cellars

Crime192327 minsSilent

In one of his most fiendish schemes yet, the dastardly Dr Fu-Manchu entombs his pursuers in an underground chamber full of deadly giant mould spores

The Man with the Limp
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The Man with the Limp

Crime192333 minsSilent

When evil Dr Fu-Manchu is thought dead, his murderous secret Si-Fan society continues its awful work, using the dreaded Flower of Silence!

The Coughing Horror
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The Coughing Horror

Crime192430 minsSilent

It lives! Tremble as Detective Nayland Smith and Dr Petrie come face to face with Fu-Manchu's greatest horror

Aaron's Rod
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Aaron's Rod

Crime192328 minsSilent

A mysterious murder sets Nayland Smith and Petrie once again on the trail of villainous Fu-Manchu, and seeking a strange old stick with magical powers

The Call of Siva
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The Call of Siva

Crime192327 minsSilent

In the dastardly clutches of evil Dr Fu-Manchu, Nayland Smith and Petrie are threatened with pythons, spiders and the ghastly ‘wire jacket’ torture

The Clue of the Pigtail
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The Clue of the Pigtail

Crime192312 minsSilent

Intrepid sleuths Nayland Smith and Dr Petrie investigate the baffling murder of a disguised detective. Could devilish Dr Fu-Manchu be responsible?

The Cry of the Nighthawk
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The Cry of the Nighthawk

Crime192329 minsSilent

A deadly cat with poisoned claws, meant for super sleuth Nayland Smith, is hurled from a tree. Could that master of evil Dr Fu-Manchu be responsible?

The Golden Pomegranate
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The Golden Pomegranate

Crime192435 minsSilent

Detective Nayland Smith takes hold of evil Fu-Manchu's coveted Tulum Nur Chest, only to discover it's been booby-trapped..

The Fiery Hand
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The Fiery Hand

Crime192336 minsSilent

Things go bump in the night in this eerie episode of the Fu-Manchu series: will intrepid sleuths Nayland Smith and Petrie make it out alive?

The Knocking on the Door
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The Knocking on the Door

Crime192336 minsSilent

Evil Dr Fu-Manchu visits London's historic waxworks, while a country cottage is plagued by odd knocking, awful groans and fiendish laughter...

The Miracle
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The Miracle

Crime192334 minsSilent

Elusive evil genius Fu-Manchu holds sinister sway over the forces of life and death, thanks to a strange drug of his own devising

The Queen of Hearts
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The Queen of Hearts

Crime192332 minsSilent

Kidnapped and forced to perform a delicate operation on the Devil Doctor, sleuth Petrie’s ultimate fate is decided on the turn of a playing card...

The Sacred Order
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The Sacred Order

Crime192327 minsSilent

When sleuth Nayland Smith steals evil Dr Fu-Manchu's 'Sacred Order', the Devil Doctor himself faces death at the hands of the Si-Fan organisation.

The Shrine of Seven Lamps
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The Shrine of Seven Lamps

Crime192324 minsSilent

In this thrilling final episode, evil Fu-Manchu's pet marmoset leads sleuth Petrie to a secret Si-Fan ceremony. Is the Devil Doctor's game now up?

Dr Sin Fang: The Adventure of the Torture Cage
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Dr Sin Fang: The Adventure of the Torture Cage

Action and Adventure192830 minsSilent Location: Limehouse

An evil criminal doctor entraps and tortures a greedy trader in this only surviving episode of silent adventure serial Dr Sin Fang.