25th Oct2015

‘Charlie Chan & the Curse of the Dragon Queen’ Blu-ray Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Peter Ustinov, Lee Grant, Angie Dickinson, Richard Hatch, Brian Keith, Roddy McDowall, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rachel Roberts, Paul Ryan, David Hirokane | Written by Jerry Sherlock, Stan Burns, David Axlerod | Directed by Clive Donner

Charlie-chan-blu

In Hawaii, master sleuth Charlie Chan unmasks the Dragon Queen as a killer. Before she’s arrested, she places a curse on Chan and his family. Years later in San Francisco, Chan is called out of retirement when the city of San Francisco finds itself in chaos over a series of weird murders. Chan is assisted by his blundering grandson, Lee Chan Jr, who is more of a hindrance than help. Yet the shadow of the Dragon Queen still hangs over the Chan family, when she becomes his number one suspect.

If you’ve never heard of (or seen) Charlie Chan & the Curse of the Dragon Queen before, where have you been? Here in the UK the film was – at least according to my memory – almost always on British television. At least in our household, along wth the more “serious” iterations of the character… Though one thing that always struck me, even as a kid watching this movie on TV, was how Peter Ustinov could go from playing such an iconic character as Hercules Poirot to playing Charlie Chan?Back then I thought the roll was a comedown for the actor, but today? Well that preponderance is only amplified. Lets just say times have certainly changed…

Made in 1981, Charlie Chan & the Curse of the Dragon Queen was unlike the Chan films that preceded it. Whereas prior takes on Earl Derr Biggers character where proper detective dramas, Clive Donner’s film is a spoof of both detective movies and the Charlie Chan character, no doubt to cash in on the success of the 1978 Neil Simon movie Murder By Death, which featured a parody of Chan’s character, played by Peter Sellers, called Sidney Wang. Only Murder By Death was funny, this is just painful to watch, even moreso now. When watching back the new Blu-ray, the so-called laughs just feel incredibly juvenile. Of course the huge elephant in the room watcing the film today is the idea of a white man playing a Chinese detective – it was frowned upon even when this film went into production in the early 80s but today it comes across as even more offensive.

I haven’t seen the previous DVD release of the film, so don’t know how this compares but  yhe print quality of this 101 FIlms Blu-ray is astonishing. There is some print damage, a few seckles here and there – but for the most part the colours are vibrant, there’s no DNR that I could determine and throughout the film the PQ remains solid, despite the soft-focus look of the film (which was how it was originally filmed).

Charlie Chan & the Curse of the Dragon Queen is out now on Blu-ray from 101 Films, as part of their Cult Movie Collection.

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