WALK LIKE A DRAGON
(director/writer: James Clavell; screenwriter: Daniel Mainwaring; cinematographer: Loyal Griggs; editor: Howard A. Smith; music: Paul Dunlap/Mel Torme; cast: Jack Lord (Linc Bartlett), Nobu McCarthy (Kim Sung), James Shigeta (Cheng Lu), Mel Torme (The Deacon), Josephine Hutchinson (Ma Bartlett), Rudolph Acosta (Sheriff Marguelez), Benson Fong (Wu), Michael Pate (Will Allen), Lilyan Chauvin (Mme. Lili Raide), Charles Irwin (Angus); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: James Clavell; Paramount Pictures; 1960)
“Clavell created an intriguing story of Asian-Caucasian relations and framed it like an offbeat Western.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Director/writer/producer James Clavell (“To Sir, with Love”/”Five Gates to Hell”/”The Last Valley”) would later become more famous for his Asian novels such as, King Rat, Tai Pan, Shogun, and Noble House. Clavell was the son of a British career military officer stationed in Australia. He joined the Royal Artillery and at the age of sixteen found himself stationed in Malaysia during WWII, where he was wounded by machine gun fire and ended up as a Japanese prisoner of war in Singapore’s notorious Changi Prisonon. This is where Clavell learned the art of surviving, and developed the theme for his King Rat. Walk Like A Dragon is about the travails of the Chinese immigrants in the 1870s, who were brought to America to build the railroads. Women were not allowed to come with the men because the government wanted the workers returning to China after their work and not settling in America. As a result women were smuggled into the country and sold as slaves. The two Chinese stars are played by the talented Japanese-American actors Nobu McCarthy and James Shigeta.
Linc Bartlett (Jack Lord) is a San Francisco freight line operator who becomes shocked when he watches a lovely nineteen-year-old Chinese girl, Kim Sung (Nobu McCarthy), being auctioned off at a slave market and on an impulse buys her for $750 in gold coin. He intends to set her free, but Kim has nowhere to go so he has no choice but to take her to his home in the rough mining town of Jericho. Accompanying them is a young proud, pony-tailed Chinese immigrant who speaks English fluently, Cheng Lu (James Shigeta), who is given a ride by Linc to see his Chinese uncle who owns a laundry in Jericho. Soon the two men clash and their dislike for each other increases when Cheng falls for Kim and offers to buy her from Linc, after he sees that Linc keeps her as a housekeeper but does not have sex with her. The jealous Linc threatens to cut off his pigtail if he touches Kim and Cheng threatens to kill him if he does. The pigtail is a symbol of his cultural identity.
At first Linc’s mom (Josephine Hutchinson) rejects Kim as an inferior heathen, but later softens and teaches her English only to become further dismayed when Linc falls in love with her and wants to marry her. Meanwhile Cheng is bothered by several cowboys in the mining area and has to be rescued by Linc, who immediately takes him to his Uncle Wu (Benson Fong). Cheng is put off when his uncle advises him to not make waves and act subservient to the whites in order to survive in the foreign country. When Linc again rejects his offer to buy Kim, Cheng hires a mysterious Bible-quoting gunfighter known as The Deacon (Mel Torme) to teach him how to become a fast draw and then challenges his adversary to a gun duel.
The townspeople show their racial bigotry by not accepting Kim as one of them, and fight back at Linc economically by destroying his thriving business. Kim refuses to become westernized, but Linc accepts her as she is and his mother reluctantly agrees to the marriage. But there’s much more melodramatics afoot, that leads to the final gun duel between Cheng and Kim. It results in Kim, now a free woman, choosing which one of the two she wants to marry, as Cheng relents and doesn’t want to buy her as a slave but wants her to accept his marriage proposal as a free woman.
Clavell created an intriguing story of Asian-Caucasian relations and framed it like an offbeat Western. The theme being that the Chinese act one way when with whites (like speak in pidgin English) and another way when among their own people.
Singer/actor Torme not only played the menacing gunfighter in the movie, but also sings the title song — “Walk like a dragon, breathe smoke and flame, pray that she’ll softly breathe your name… .”
REVIEWED ON 6/23/2008 GRADE: B