Phantom of Chinatown is historically significant because it was the only film in the “Oriental Detective” genre of the 30’s and 40’s where the leading man playing the Oriental Detective was actually an Oriental himself. After a five film run of Mr. Wong movies, Boris Karloff said enough’s enough and quit the series and the studio quickly tapped Keye Luke to replace him for the franchise’s swan song. Yes, after years of playing second fiddle to Warner Oland in all those Charlie Chan flicks, Keye Luke, The Number One Son himself, got to star in a movie. Too bad it sucked nuts.
A noted professor dies while giving a lecture about some ancient scrolls and foul play is suspected. Naturally Mr. Wong (Luke) is brought in to solve the case. After a couple of close calls, Wong teams up with Detective Street (series regular Grant Withers) and a foxy secretary (Lotus Long) to trap the murderer.
Phantom of Chinatown is easily the worst of the Mr. Wong series, mostly because it’s so damn dull. The opening lecture scene went on FOREVER and the professor’s incessant droning was really tough to bear. Once Wong is finally called in on the case, things don’t perk up any though.
Again, this movie is important because it featured an Asian in the leading role, but that doesn’t mean its any good. While Luke handles himself adequately as Mr. Wong, he’s sorely lacking the charisma of Boris Karloff and doesn’t command the role the way Boris did. After the poor showing of this flick, the series ended and Luke was quickly reduced to playing a sidekick yet again.
Luke later went on to play the shopkeeper in the Gremlins movies.