Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981)

PG | 95 mins | Comedy | 1981

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HISTORY

Although the copyright registration date reads 1981 in copyright records, the notice on the film states the year of publication as 1980.
       Peter Ustinov performs a song as “Charlie Chan” over the opening credits. The song was written by composer Patrick Williams, with whom Ustinov collaborated on the lyrics, according to a 2 Jan 1981 DV news item.
       Inspired by the novels and literary characters of Earl Derr Biggers, Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen was the latest installment in the prolific Charlie Chan film franchise, which began in 1926 with the silent serial, The House Without A Key .
       The story was developed by “avowed Chan fan” Jerry Sherlock, the producer of the film who “consider[ed] himself an expert on the Orient,” according to a 22 Jul 1980 article in US Magazine .
       A 5 May 1980 article from Village Voice stated that before Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen was made, “[a]n active Asian-American lobby [had] been instrumental in clearing the air not just of [Charlie Chan] remakes but of the original films” in response to the perceived negative depiction of Asian Americans. The fact that the Charlie Chan character had a long history of being played by Caucasian actors and that, even in 1980, a Caucasian actor had been cast in the title role, angered many. According to the 22 Jul 1980 article in US Magazine , Asian Americans perceived Chan as “a yellow Uncle Tom"—a character who for them symbolized stereotypes they had struggled to escape. Groups were formed to oppose the production from the ... More Less

Although the copyright registration date reads 1981 in copyright records, the notice on the film states the year of publication as 1980.
       Peter Ustinov performs a song as “Charlie Chan” over the opening credits. The song was written by composer Patrick Williams, with whom Ustinov collaborated on the lyrics, according to a 2 Jan 1981 DV news item.
       Inspired by the novels and literary characters of Earl Derr Biggers, Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen was the latest installment in the prolific Charlie Chan film franchise, which began in 1926 with the silent serial, The House Without A Key .
       The story was developed by “avowed Chan fan” Jerry Sherlock, the producer of the film who “consider[ed] himself an expert on the Orient,” according to a 22 Jul 1980 article in US Magazine .
       A 5 May 1980 article from Village Voice stated that before Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen was made, “[a]n active Asian-American lobby [had] been instrumental in clearing the air not just of [Charlie Chan] remakes but of the original films” in response to the perceived negative depiction of Asian Americans. The fact that the Charlie Chan character had a long history of being played by Caucasian actors and that, even in 1980, a Caucasian actor had been cast in the title role, angered many. According to the 22 Jul 1980 article in US Magazine , Asian Americans perceived Chan as “a yellow Uncle Tom"—a character who for them symbolized stereotypes they had struggled to escape. Groups were formed to oppose the production from the start, including the Coalition to Nix Charlie Chan (aka C.A.N. Charlie Chan), and staged protests and pickets throughout the making of the film. The Village Voice article reported that Chinese for Affirmative Action, a San Francisco group, met with Sherlock the week prior to 5 May 1980. Though the group demanded an “Asian-American play Chan” without the typical broken-English speech patterns, Sherlock defended the script and claimed he had shown it to “100 Asians before it was sold.” Sherlock also defended the casting of Ustinov, saying there were “no bankable Asian-American stars.”
       According to production notes from the AMPAS Library, filming took place in San Francisco and Los Angeles, with interior scenes shot at Hollywood General and MGM Studios. In three weeks on location in San Francisco, the filmmakers shot “a chaotic destruction of a Chinatown street” and “a spectacular Hansom cab chase through Golden Gate Park.” A 7 May 1980 DV news item noted that the production had cancelled its plans to shoot in Chinatown the day before, possibly due to protests from Chinese-American groups. Production notes also identified the Los Angeles location used for the Lupowitz estate as Norma Talmadge’s former home, an “Italian villa…[with] clusters of semi-precious stones decorating the domed ceilings.” A 16 Jul 1980 DV article announced that principal photography finished two days ahead of schedule.
       A 7 May 1980 DV article reported that production entity ACI, American Communications International, would domestically distribute the film and had negotiated a deal for United Artists to distribute outside the U.S. and Canada. The film, according to the 14 Feb 1981 LAT review, would be “the first Charlie Chan theatrical feature in nearly 30 years.”
       Protests against the film continued upon its release. A 14 Feb 1981 LAHExam article reported that 50 Asian American protesters from C.A.N. Charlie Chan picketed the film’s premiere at the Pacific Theater in Hollywood, to voice their displeasure. Adding further fuel to the fire was the fact that “[a]ll the major roles and well over half the supporting parts went to whites,” as noted in a 4 Mar 1981 UCLA Daily Bruin article. According to an 8 Feb 1981 LAT news item, the controversy surrounding the film was so strong that four television stations in Northern California willingly sacrificed an estimated $50,000 in advertising revenue by refusing to air commercials, as a way to show support for the Asian American groups.
       Critics from several major publications received the film poorly. The LAT review described the film’s script as “hopelessly unfunny and uninspired.” An 18 Feb 1981 Var review said “the film consists of wholly unbelievable characters trapped in a dubious, convoluted mystery over a series of murders too cute for their own good. Worse still, when stumped for more stupid talk, [the director] falls back on every cliché stunt ever thought of.” In another negative review, HR stated, “It’s a movie utterly devoid of charm, style or humor.” Var noted the only somewhat redeeming quality of the film was “a large cast of quality performers who must have wanted a working vacation in San Francisco at any cost.” Two of those actors in question, Richard Hatch and Michelle Pfeiffer, were relative newcomers to feature films.
       Actress Rachel Roberts made her final onscreen appearance in the film as Mrs. Dangers, a housemaid. Roberts committed suicide in Nov 1980, roughly three months before the film was released.
       According to a 15 Feb 1981 LAT news item, a tie-in novel was written by Michael Avallone and published by Pinnacle Books to accompany the film’s release.



The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Anjuli M. Singh, an independent scholar.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
7 May 1980.
---
Daily Variety
16 Jul 1980.
---
Daily Variety
2 Jan 1981.
---
Daily Variety
13 Feb 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Aug 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Feb 1981.
---
LAHExam
14 Feb 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
8 Feb 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
14 Feb 1981
p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
15 Feb 1981.
---
New York Times
13 Feb 1981
p. 6.
UCLA Daily Bruin
4 Mar 1981.
---
US Magazine
22 Jul 1980.
---
Variety
18 Feb 1981
p. 18.
Village Voice
5 May 1980
p. 32.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
and
as Lee Chan, Jr.
with
as The Dragon Queen
Co-Starring
Co-Starring
Classic Chan Film
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Jerry Sherlock Production of
A Clive Donner Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir, 2d unit
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir, 2d unit
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir, 2d unit
Asst dir trainee, 2d unit
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
Charlie Chan characters by courtesy of
Stanley A. Weston, President
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog, 2d unit
Cam op
Cam op, 2d unit
Cam op, 2d unit
1st cam asst
2d cam asst
Cam asst, 2d unit
Cam asst, 2d unit
Gaffer, 2d unit
Best boy
Key grip
Key grip, 2d unit
Best boy
Dolly grip
Still photog
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
Illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set des
Set dec
Leadman
Prop master
Prop master, 2d unit
Asst prop master
Propman
Const foreman
Labor foreman
Const
Const
Paint foreman
Stand-by painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward supv
Men`s cost
Women`s cost
Cost supv, 2d unit
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd mixer, 2d unit
Boom man
Cableman
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Process coord
Titles & opticals
DANCE
Dance coord
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Makeup artist, 2d unit
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist, 2d unit
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Secretary to Jocelyn Rickards
Loc mgr
San Francisco loc
Unit pub
Craft service
Boss wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Wrangler
Transportation coord
Transportation co-capt
Traffic coord
Police motorcycles courtesy of
In charge of 2d unit
Prod accountant
Staff accountant
Prod coord
Secy to Mr. Donner
Asst to Mr. Sherlock
Secy to Mr. Belkin
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Asst stunt coord
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunt double
Stunt double
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
Utility stuntman
COLOR PERSONNEL
Processing & color
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on characters created by Earl Derr Biggers.
DETAILS
Release Date:
1981
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 13 February 1981
Copyright Claimant:
ACG Motion Picture Investment Fund II--'79
Copyright Date:
14 May 1981
Copyright Number:
PA105568
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Eastman Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex® cameras by Panavision®; Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
95
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26165
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Retired detective Charlie Chan is summoned to San Francisco to investigate a series of bizarre killings that have been plaguing the city and remain unsolved by the local police. Chan is met by his helplessly clumsy grandson, Lee Chan, Jr., who dreams of becoming a great detective like his grandfather, and the San Francisco Police Chief, who has developed a variety of ailments due to the stress of the continuing murders. Reporters hound Chan, who answers their questions with cryptic replies. Police escort Chan to a hotel, where he is reunited with Lee’s maternal grandmother, Sylvia Lupowitz, and her household staff. Charlie also meets Cordelia, Lee’s fiancée, who asks how he solved the mystery of the Dragon Queen. Years before, Charlie investigated the murder of Lupowitz’s husband, Bernie, and determined the killer was Bernie’s mistress, the Dragon Queen. Before being hauled off to jail, the Dragon Queen put a curse on Charlie and his family to the third generation. Charlie explains that the Dragon Queen is the most “diabolical woman” he has ever known. As Charlie heads to his hotel room, unbeknownst to him, the Dragon Queen moves across the hotel lobby. Moments later, an elevator door opens and a flood of water and people rush out. The Police Chief arrives and examines the drowned victims lying on the floor. Later, Cordelia takes Charlie to visit Lee at his office. Lee’s only client, a young girl, shows up to demand her lost cat, Lala, and becomes physically abusive toward Lee. After she leaves, Lee explains to Charlie that his detective business is not going so well. As Charlie investigates in San Francisco, the killings continue, hitting close to home ... +


Retired detective Charlie Chan is summoned to San Francisco to investigate a series of bizarre killings that have been plaguing the city and remain unsolved by the local police. Chan is met by his helplessly clumsy grandson, Lee Chan, Jr., who dreams of becoming a great detective like his grandfather, and the San Francisco Police Chief, who has developed a variety of ailments due to the stress of the continuing murders. Reporters hound Chan, who answers their questions with cryptic replies. Police escort Chan to a hotel, where he is reunited with Lee’s maternal grandmother, Sylvia Lupowitz, and her household staff. Charlie also meets Cordelia, Lee’s fiancée, who asks how he solved the mystery of the Dragon Queen. Years before, Charlie investigated the murder of Lupowitz’s husband, Bernie, and determined the killer was Bernie’s mistress, the Dragon Queen. Before being hauled off to jail, the Dragon Queen put a curse on Charlie and his family to the third generation. Charlie explains that the Dragon Queen is the most “diabolical woman” he has ever known. As Charlie heads to his hotel room, unbeknownst to him, the Dragon Queen moves across the hotel lobby. Moments later, an elevator door opens and a flood of water and people rush out. The Police Chief arrives and examines the drowned victims lying on the floor. Later, Cordelia takes Charlie to visit Lee at his office. Lee’s only client, a young girl, shows up to demand her lost cat, Lala, and becomes physically abusive toward Lee. After she leaves, Lee explains to Charlie that his detective business is not going so well. As Charlie investigates in San Francisco, the killings continue, hitting close to home when Lupowitz is nearly strangled in her bedroom with a knotted purple scarf. One day, Charlie, Lee, and Cordelia, receive an anonymous note announcing that the next murder will occur that afternoon at Mallard Lake in Golden Gate Park. The three go to the designated spot, where they encounter the Dragon Queen. After a long and chaotic pursuit in horsedrawn carriages, the Dragon Queen escapes Charlie and the police. The next day, while getting dressed for his wedding, Lee receives a call from the Dragon Queen, who tells him Charlie has been kidnapped. The Dragon Queen warns Lee he must go to a local movie theater to rescue his grandfather. In their wedding attire, Lee and Cordelia go to the theater, where they are then drugged and taken hostage. Meanwhile, at Lupowitz’s house, Charlie learns Lee and Cordelia are in danger. Charlie, the police, Lupowitz, and her household staff, go to the theater to rescue them. Charlie and the rescue party find and release Lee and Cordelia. They are then cornered by the Dragon Queen, who tells Charlie she plotted her revenge the entire time she was in jail. She points a revolver at Charlie, but Lee knocks her down. The police take the Dragon Queen into custody but, to the chagrin of the Chief, Charlie explains that she is not the bizarre killer but was only trying to enact her curse. As the police take her away, the Dragon Queen renews the curse. Charlie then considers the potential guilt of everyone in the room and identifies the killer as Sylvia Lupowitz. Although Lupowitz denies it, Lee notices the knot in her scarf matches the knot in the purple scarf with which Lupowitz was nearly strangled. Lupowitz finally relents and admits she committed the murders as a way to exact revenge on Charlie for exposing her late husband’s infidelity and making her a social outcast. She was sure Charlie would never be able to solve the killings, thereby ruining his career and turning him into a joke. Lupowitz tries to escape by running through the movie theater, which happens to be screening classic Charlie Chan films, but is apprehended. Back at the Lupowitz house, Lee and Cordelia are married. Charlie presents the bride and groom with a present, Lala, the lost cat. As they drive off to begin their honeymoon, Lee and Cordelia are followed by a police car, which transports Lupowitz to jail. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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