"Imagine a person, tall, lean, and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government—which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man."
— The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu (1913)
The villain of various novels by Sax Rohmer
, this Diabolical Mastermind
is the archetypical Yellow Peril
villain. He has made his way into many media, including film, radio, TV, and comics.
Fu Manchu has a long Evil Moustache
in the famous "Fu Manchu" style
He has squinty eyes: pure Yellow Peril
. He is a Chessmaster
setting up The Plan
and he's as much of a Karma Houdini
as the codes of production allow.
Fu Manchu's arch-nemeses are Denis Nayland Smith, an agent of the British government, and Dr. Petrie, Smith's Watson
. Likely inspired by
the Sherlock Holmes
series, Sax Rohmer had Petrie narrate each of the novels as Smith combated Fu Manchu's latest evil plot.
His actual public domain status is complicated. The first three Fu Manchu note
books were published prior to 1922 and are public domain in the USA; however, some characters are not public domain since they were introduced later, particularly his daughter Fah Lo Suee, who was only named in a later book. This has caused problems for Marvel Comics
, who cannot reprint Master of Kung Fu
, which uses not only Fu Manchu but other characters from the series. Also, Fu Manchu is not in public domain in Europe (Rohmer died in 1959), and Alan Moore
could not name him in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
He has been played in over forty films by over a dozen different actors, including H. Agar Lyons (an Irishman), Warner Oland (a Swede, appearing in the page image), Boris Karloff
(an Englishman, with Irish-American Myrna Loy as his daughter, here called Fah Lo), Christopher Lee
(an Englishman with a bit of Italian in him), and Peter Sellers
(also English) — but never yet by an actual Asian
actor, although the daughter of Lee's version was played by Tsai Chin, an actual Chinese actress. In fact Sellers' take, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu
(1980), is the last movie centered around the character to date, and a parody at that.
His first appearance on radio was on a show called The Collier Hour
, which presented adaptations of various popular works. This was followed by the short-lived Fu Manchu
radio series, which lasted from 1932-1933. There was also a Fu Manchu
newspaper comic which ran from 1931 to 1933.
There was a brief television series entitled The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu
airing in 1956. The show can be considered Fair for Its Day
as it contains some sympathetic, peace-loving Asian characters as well as some villainous Western characters. However, Fu Manchu is still played by a white man (Glen Gordon) in Yellow Face
and it contains the same over-the-top exoticism, so it can still be a little cringe-worthy.
Of course, Fu Manchu also made a notable cameo
in the Grindhouse fake trailer Werewolf Women of the S.S.
where he was played by none other than Nicolas Cage.
He probably bears direct responsibility for killing off an entire facial moustache style among the East Asian peoples of the world, a feat only matched by Adolf Hitler
Novels by Sax Rohmer
- The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu (1913). A number of 1912 stories were combined into this novel.
- The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu (1916).
- The Hand of Fu Manchu (1917).
- Daughter of Fu Manchu (1931).
- The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932).
- The Bride of Fu Manchu (1933).
- The Trail of Fu Manchu (1934).
- President Fu Manchu (1936).
- The Drums of Fu Manchu (1939).
- The Island of Fu Manchu (1940).
- The Shadow of Fu Manchu (1948).
- Re-Enter:Fu Manchu (1957).
- Emperor Fu Manchu (1959).
- The Wrath of Fu Manchu (1973). Actually a combination of the previously published stories:
- The Wrath of Fu Manchu (1952)
- The Eyes of Fu Manchu (1957)
- The Word of Fu Manchu (1958)
- The Mind of Fu Manchu (1959)
- Affably Evil: Fu Manchu, who, despite using underhanded tactics, is a man of his word and even gifts his nemesis when said nemesis is married.
- Big Bad
- Big Damn Villains: "Daughter of Fu Manchu" features a climax where the eponymous character, having dug up her father's stash of superweapons and reformed the Si Fan, has captured both our narrator Shan and series hero Nayland Smith, evades a possible last minute rescue, and is preparing to make the former victim of a gender reversal of the Scarpia Ultimatum, when Fu Manchu simply walks in the room and immediately takes over the resurgent Si Fan and release the prisoners. A rare case where The Bad Guy Wins, so long as we consider Fu Manchu the Big Bad of the series, is also a happy ending.
- Brainwashed: Fu often uses his mental powers on his victims.
- Censorship Bureau: The production of Fu Manchu movies was halted during World War II at the request of the US State Department as China was an ally against Japan. Rohmer's publisher also voluntarily stopped publishing Fu Manchu novels during the war.
- Character Development: Fu starts out as an extreme Nationalist seeking the sovereignty of China and developed into one who seeks personal world domination. Moreover, as the series progresses Fu becomes more and more the Noble Demon type of character, a Man of Honor who occasionally even joins the heroes (as in The Island of Fu Manchu) to fight a greater evil.
- Chessmaster: Fu Manchu
- Daddy's Little Villain: Fah Lo Suee
- Death Trap: Quite a few of the novels begin with someone being murdered in a mysterious and gruesome manner (often with the victim gasping out a cryptic Dying Clue), and the hero(es) later being attacked by the cause (very often some hideous reptilian/arthropodian horror). Rohmer claimed that every method he devised was based on actual scientific fact.
- Diabolical Mastermind: Fu Manchu himself.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Starting with Dr. Petrie, most of the series' narrators find themselves Dating Catwoman and occasionally suffering from lapses in judgement thanks to a brief moment of eye contact with any of Fu Manchu's beautiful henchwomen.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: In President Fu Manchu the assassination of a populist political candidate recalls that of Huey Long.
- Dragon Lady: Fah Lo Suee.
- The End... Or Is It?: The '60s film series (produced by Harry Alan Towers and starring Christopher Lee) would always end with Fu Manchu saying "The world shall hear from me again".
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Fu Manchu never breaks his word, with the exception of all the times he promises his daughter "You Have Failed Me for the last time" and "kills" her. She's the only real affiliate of his to never complete a Heel-Face Turn and still survive the entire book series.
- Even Evil Has Standards / Noble Demon: Fu, despite his willingness to mind-control, murder, and torture to gain his ends, nevertheless refuses in indulge in unnecessary cruelty and is always scrupulously a man of his word. He gives Naylor wedding presents and a sincere congratulations in the epilogue of The Drums of Fu Manchu.
- Femme Fatale: Zarmi and Fah Lo Suee.