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The terrible trial of MR WU begins with his daughter's first love.
Lon Chaney once again gives scope to his prodigious talent, this time portraying a wealthy Mandarin who is compelled to commit the ultimate crime to avenge his family honor. Chaney inhabits the role, making every glance & gesture perfect for his portrayal of the character. Even while performing despicable acts, Chaney makes the viewer experience his private pain in an almost visceral way. Chaney also portrays ancient Grandfather Wu in the film's opening scenes, exhibiting an astonishing make-up transformation that is practically preternatural.
Much of the screen time is given over to Chaney's younger costars. French actress Renée Adorée provides a beautifully poignant portrayal of Wu's lovely, tragic daughter. Englishman Ralph Forbes, one of the most under-appreciated actors of his generation, gives a stalwart performance as her handsome Western lover. The tender romance of their scenes provides the film with its softer, more sentimental moments.
Louise Dresser plays Forbes' patrician mother, a woman somewhat isolated by her social status who is suddenly, violently, brought into confrontation with Wu's implacable vengeance. Holmes Herbert does well with his short role as her bigoted husband. Delicate Anna May Wong portrays Miss Adorée's faithful servant girl.
The silent film is given excellent production values by MGM, with the beautiful sets being especially noteworthy.
No, not a great silent film, but nearly so and still an absorbing and
entertaining 90 minutes in which to wallow in yet another great Lon
Chaney performance. And with some high MGM production values, I almost
wished some of Cedric Gibbons' garden scenes could have been shot in
Technicolor, although the b&w nitrate print is pristine and
Simple tale expertly unfolded: Honourable Mandarin Mr. Wu's beautiful daughter Nang Ping falls in love with heavily made up Englishman Ralph Forbes with the usual tragic biological consequences. Worthy of University dissertations is the portrayal of both East and West as hamstrung by racist social customs and conventions, real and fictional. It persists today: some people are simultaneously hamstrung by the fact that miscegenation can be frowned upon in certain backward quarters but paradoxically also that a member of one race can act the part of another on film and stage. Mr. Wu is shown to be the then usual Chinese stereotype with inscrutable savagery masked with a veneer of (Western) inculcated civilisation, but a real Chinese would have had to have played it the same as Chaney: it was merely the custom after all. And the whites were also shown to be usual Western stereotypes in a foreign country with condescension and arrogance mixed with ingenuousness. Anna May Wong is here in another good role as sidekick to the unfortunate heroine, whilst Holmes Herbert had a few patronising scenes and never looked older. The climax to the affair is striking - if remade today I'd expect a somewhat different conclusion to mull over!
All in all well worth watching for enlightened silent melodrama fans.
Turner Classic Movies aired this movie with a new music score for the first time on Oct 31, 2000. It was GREAT! It was the first time it has been shown on TV. Mr. WU is about a Chinese man who's daughter has fallen in love with a man from the west. The man already has plans to marry his daughter into another Chinese family of great society. When Wu finds out the man from the west decided to leave his daughter he realizes he must carry out an old Chinese law stating if a daughter is defiled the father must kill her. Will WU kill his daughter? TCM should be showing this movie often now that it has a music score. Look for Lon Chaney's make up as both Mr. Wu and Wu's grandfather. A must see for Lon Chaney fans.
By 1927, Lon Chaney had clearly established that he could play
practically any role--ranging from Quasimodo to the Phantom of the
Opera to sideshow freaks to maniacs. However, one type of role that
Chaney did that just looks pretty shabby today is his Asian characters.
In MR. WU, Chaney plays two characters--a very, very old Chinese man
and his grandson. As the grandfather, Wu looks really weird--not all
that Chinese. As the grandson, with his shaved head and painted
eyebrows he looks a little more like Joan Crawford circa 1970 than a
Chinese guy! Interesting performances, yes--but not at all believable
to anyone but the rather unsophisticated audiences of 1927 (who were
used to seeing White guys dressed as Asians).
As for the story, it's odd because from the point of view of the Western characters, they didn't seem racist but were very open towards Asians. In contrast, Wu was a bigoted old guy who, according to some ancient teachings, could NEVER allow a child of his to marry anyone who wasn't 100% Chinese.
In light of this, it certainly isn't surprising that the grandson (I guess that would be Wu III) freaked out when his daughter fell for an American man. This of course leads to a sad and rather crazy conclusion that certainly is interesting--though it also seemed rather silly and tough to believe.
So it it worth seeing? Well for silent film fans (particularly lovers of Chaney), of course. For others NOT familiar with silents or who mistakenly think they are bad, then they should try some other films first. This film is like a strong cigar--it can be appreciated by someone used to them but for novices it's best to just stay away for now.
As a youngster in the 1950's I was in a library thumbing through a large movie book when I found a few pages dedicated to Lon Chaney,there were several photos of him in make-up. I just stared at the photos with a great interest.One of the photos that awed me was that of Mr. Wu,it and other characters were a sharp contrast to his natural features. Through the years I've been able to obtain some of the more common Chaney movies but only recently have I viewed this movie.It didn't take long to grab my attention,the opening credits were accompanied by a powerful music score that assured the viewer they were about to see a drama.Overall I would say the music for this video copy contributed to a solid 25% of my viewing enjoyment.Other points of the movie that made it enjoyable for me were: As in other of his movies Lon Chaney doesn't rely only on make-up to entertain an audience,he does his homework on his character and adds distinct mannerisms that fit the part he is playing.The human goodness of the daughter(Adore)the way she can make her father(Chaney) smile who otherwise is usually serious.Anna May Wong does not have a major part but when seen she has great screen presence.Louise Dresser another talented actress takes part in a very serious scene that let's the viewer know what acting is all about.Upon viewing the whole movie there is one stand-out and that is mr. Chaney,there is no doubt he is the star of the movie.One is left with the feeling that his performance reached out to the audience a little further than the others.It can be said this movie is about a young man(Forbes)meeting a young lady(Adoree) and falling in love. What makes the movie though is the result of this encounter.If I were to view this movie with someone other than family I'd want to make them aware some parts demean Asians in picture and word,take it out nothing is lost only gained.I only encourage people to watch movies that I like,this is one of them.
Ancient Chinese custom gets the best of star Lon Chaney in this re-make
of 1919's melodramatic "Mr. Wu". Mr. Chaney portrays both Mr. Wu; and,
in an extended prologue, he's Mr. Wu's grandfather. Chaney is, as ever,
wildly entertaining. The film is well-produced, with beautiful
photography and sets; with, for its time, a starry supporting cast. The
main story doesn't get started until Chaney struts his oriental stuff;
it involves daughter Renée Adorée (as Nang Ping) having an
out-of-her-race affair with Englishman Ralph Forbes (as Basil Gregory).
Mr. Forbes plays the Englishman enchanted by a lovely "China doll" well. Ms. Adorée is not as convincing in her Asian role; certainly, supporting player Anna May Wong would have been better cast as Wu's daughter. Louise Dresser (as Mrs. Gregory) is quite excellent as Forbes' mother; at first, her role seems small - but, keep your eyes on Ms. Dresser, who turns in a great performance without extraordinary make-up! Chinese culture is not presented very flatteringly, to Western filmgoers, in the end. Chaney (as Wu)'s declaration, "My poor little blossom - broken by an ill West Wind," evokes D.W. Griffith's superior "Broken Blossoms" (1919), which more artfully covered some of the same ground.
******* Mr. Wu (3/26/27) William Nigh ~ Lon Chaney, Louise Dresser, Renée Adorée
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mr. Wu is easily one of Lon Chaney's weaker films but it contains one
of the most inspired premises he was ever apart of. I was somewhat
afraid of the film walking in thinking it would be socially backward
and racist to Asians but I found that the film actually wasn't. It is a
story about how the laws of each culture can come back and haunt people
if they follow them to the keel. Wu means well but he knows the world
is growing smaller and that the laid back culture of the east will
effect how he can raise his daughter. Wu's daughter falls in love with
a Westerner. Despite the social changes Wu expects his daughter Nang
Ping to obey the laws of her fore fathers and she does despite tragic
results. It is implied that Nang Ping is carrying the child of the
Westerner Basil Gregory. Wu looks into his books and sees what must be
done, he will have to kill his beloved daughter to save her soul. Wu is
broken by the realization of what he has to do but the fact remains
that he feels he must do it. Nang Ping accepts her punishment willingly
and that is what makes Wu lose his honor and go mad. He decides to
embrace the Western' culture of an "Eye for an Eye". Mrs Gregory shrugs
off her son's playfulness and this is something Wu cannot accept.
Either her son dies or her daughter is to be raped.
I actually found that I really liked this film despite the performance of Lon Chaney. He's not bad in the picture but he is not up to par of what we would expect. All in all I feel Mr. Wu is a better showcase of Chaney the make-up magician than Chaney the actor. The Make-Up is incredible for the picture, Grandfather Wu graces the screen for a mere five minutes but the make-up is breathtakingly real. I wish we saw more of this character because Chaney as Grandfather Wu is extraordinary. Every mannerism and motion is so life like. I can easily understand why the introduction at the beginning was included. Mr. Wu is something else, the make-up is okay but that is it. The design is the less inspired of Chaney's oriental make-up designs, he looks more like a caricature than a person. The make-up also severely limits his eyes which were one of Chaney's strongest points and it hinders his performance. Despite this however Chaney does still have a huge amount of presence as Wu and the scenes with his daughter before he murders her are very powerful.
What really amazes me is that Mr.Wu could have been interesting without Chaney. I like the premise of a culture shock a lot. The fact that we get Lon Chaney only adds icing to the cake. Wu isn't a great film but it is an entertaining one
Taped this film during the wee hours of the AM, as I have never viewed this picture starring Lon Chaney and wanted to find out what the audiences of 1927 viewed and enjoyed. I thought that Lon Chaney was fantastic with his own make up and great acting skills, he was truly a master of his craft. There was a great deal of racism concerning the Chinese nation in this film. However, in those days, there was racism for all nationalities, Irish, Italian, Polish, and many religions were hated and bigotry was depicted in the films and newspapers. Thank God we have progressed in our film making world and people are trying to respect each other. Lon Chaney made this a very interesting film and I recommend it for all fans who adore and liked his many films.
In this weighted telling of the clash of two cultures Lon Chaney gives
two magnificent portrayals of a Chinese Patriarch and his son bound to
an ancient Cantonese Tradition regarding honor. The problem is the
story pitting American mother Courage against ancient, outmoded
bloodthirsty and sadistic Chinese tradition. In spite of its blatant
bias Chaney brings to both elder and younger. admirable qualities with
a certain dignity.
Raised by a strict grandfather Wu is determined to keep the Chinese tradition of choosing his daughter's husband to be sight unseen. She rebels when she meets a Britisher who in a nice touch has to climb over a wall to meet her. They get serious she dishonors the family, she must die. And that's not all.
With the Chinese Exclusion Act in place until 1943 one might see how easy it was to make one culture look so good and one so hostile. It's handsomely designed safely composed in favor of Chaney's beautifully nuanced and restrained performances while Rene Adoree as Wu's daughter Nang Ping seems contrived in comparison to Anna Mae Wong in a supporting role who would have brought so much more to the lead.
Even with it's blatant xenophobic thrust Mr. Wu is a fascinating document for the times of social acceptance. Just as much is to be said for the artistry of Mr. Chaney.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Stick to the rules -- or bend and show some mercy?
Shakespeare tackled the same question in "Measure for Measure."
Here we have Lon Chaney playing another one of his twisted, tortured characters, this time the Chinese mandarin Wu, a wealthy and powerful man who rationalizes his cruelty by citing his adherence to tradition.
Renee Adoree is moving as his tragic daughter, Nang Ping, and Ralph Forbes and Marie Dressler do well as Basil and his mother, Mrs. Gregory, Brits who have the extreme misfortune of getting involved with the venerable House of Wu.
This slow-moving and atmospheric film, which features an often-unappealing score dominated by a lone clarinet, is quite dated in its depiction of the interactions between Caucasians and Asians. Chaney's Wu epitomizes the stereotype of the wily Asian.
"I've seen you on a fan or a teacup," Basil says admiringly to a flattered Nang Ping, upon meeting her.
"You Chinese eat the silliest food," muses a Western guest at a Wu-sponsored tea party.
This film features some compelling stunning staging and cinematography. Wu's ritualistic slay scene is riveting and hard to watch. However, I found the film's ending to be a bit facile. How would Mrs. Gregory be able to flee with her two kids, given what has occurred? The filmmakers don't trouble themselves to address this critical issue.
Though this film doesn't seem the equal some others starring Chaney -- "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" and "The Penalty" come to mind -- it's definitely worth a view.
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