In San Francisco's Chinatown, the Bo Sing Tong are a secret society, shaking down merchants, running opium, committing murder. Ming Tai is their boss and a dirty old man; Luk Chan is their enforcer, in love with Sen Chee, the daughter of Louis Toy, a merchant whose bazaar is a front for the opium trade. The Bo Sing want money from Toy; he refuses to pay. They send Luk to kill him. Meanwhile, Ming has designs on Sen Chee and tries to make a deal with Toy: Toy's life in exchange for Sen Chee's hand. Watching Luk's back is Lucero, a sweet but murderous sailor. Are Luk's dreams of saving money, marrying Sen Chee, and returning to China pipe dreams? Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown. Written by
Amazingly, his role here as the vicious, two-timing leader of the tong, seems to be the only movie appearance of Marc Roberts, who manages to steal the film from its seasoned players with his dominating and utterly convincing performance. Not that Sessue Hayakawa and company are in any way lacking in expertise. The impassive Hayakawa is absolutely just right as the assassin, and Toyo Fujita is likewise totally lifelike as the curiously unconcerned merchant who dares to oppose the tong and seems quite certain he can get away with it. Very adroitly, the actor works against our instant dislike for his character (he's a drug-runner who preys on his fellow Chinese) to win over sympathy. When he quietly and firmly, without any histrionics at all, defies the tong, you can almost hear the audience cheering him on.
Also worthy of applause is the sensitive study of Sen Chee by the lovely Helen Jerome Eddy. Although obviously not Asian, she manages to convict us of her impersonation by the sheer force of her on-screen charisma. Yutake Abe (who later became an award-winning director in Japan) also impresses as the murderous Lascar sailor that Toy decides to help.
William Worthington's static but extremely skillful direction is aided immeasurably by the astonishingly atmospheric, moodily noirish photography of Frank D. Williams.
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