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The Hatchet Man (1932)

San Francisco Tong hatchet man Wong must execute his boyhood friend Sun. Sun knew his time was up and wrote out his will just prior to Wong showing up at his door. When Sun realizes Wong is... See full summary »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
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Sun Yat Ming (as J. Carroll Naish)
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E. Alyn Warren ...
Soo Lat, the Cobbler
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Bing Foo (as Eddie Piel)
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Storyline

San Francisco Tong hatchet man Wong must execute his boyhood friend Sun. Sun knew his time was up and wrote out his will just prior to Wong showing up at his door. When Sun realizes Wong is there to kill me he tries to set his friend's mind at ease by telling him he is the beneficiary of all Sun's worldly possessions and convinces Wong to promise to take care of Sun's young daughter, Toya San who Sun has bequeathed to become his wife. Years later, when she becomes of age, she marries Wong, now a powerful figure, though she loves evil Harry. When Wong learns Toya will be happier with Harry he allows them to leave. Still later Wong learns that Harry has been deported and since Toya could not prove she was married to someone else she too was deported to China. When Wong learns of this, he goes after them. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

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Crime | Drama

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Release Date:

6 February 1932 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Honorable Mr. Wong  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Japanese-born Toshia Mori was up for the Chinese-American role of Sun Toya San, before it went to Loretta Young. Mori later admitted it was the biggest disappointment during the first five years of her career before she was signed as a contract player by Columbia. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film (2008) See more »

Soundtracks

Poor Butterfly
(uncredited)
Music by Raymond Hubbell
Instrumental played in background during Sun Toya San's birthday
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User Reviews

 
The oddness and the dated politics aside, it remains a bit stiff and contrived
22 September 2014 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The Hatchet Man (1932)

So burdened with ethnic slandering—most of it "unintentional" at least—this movie is almost impossible to watch fairly. The basic story of inter-clan fighting and murder in the Chinese community (in San Francisco) is meant no doubt to have echoes in Italian mobster killings, and therefore have a wider appeal. But when the main characters are played by very non-Chinese talents (a product of the prejudice in Hollywood at the time), there is a constant woe and disbelief on many levels.

Of course, these problems are exactly why a "student' of early Hollywood should watch this. This is a way to get some sense of the problem these movies present. And there are additional reasons to see this—mainly the two really famous actors of the period doing their best to be Chinese. Edward G. Robinson is of course one of the greats of the era, an odd but searingly talented actor, and he plays well the head of one of the Chinese clans (or tongs). His wife has a smaller role but important —and so Loretta Young, a rising, fresh star, does what she can.

Nothing can redeem all this. The title refers to the violence of the subculture, where the solution for dishonor is death (by hatchet, literally).

There is the simplest of attempts to show how the Chinese were assimilating at the time. In a way the movie shows some shred of real life for the Chinatowns of America. The secondary theme here is love, and a kind of arranged marriage. This conflicts in different ways and Robinson, playing a Westernized immigrant, faces one aspect of this New World he can't quite understand. There are a couple of turns of plot to keep you alert, and a crazy ending worth seeing.

It's great to see Warner Archive put this out there in a clean copy, ready for all our various social biases. Maybe that's why it's worth it on some level. Never mind that it is often stiff and slow. Judge it as you can.


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