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The Terror of the Tongs
UK theatrical release poster
Directed byAnthony Bushell
Written byJimmy Sangster
Produced byKenneth Hyman
StarringChristopher Lee
Yvonne Monlaur
Geoffrey Toone
CinematographyArthur Grant
Edited byEric Boyd-Perkins
Music byJames Bernard
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 15 March 1961 (1961-03-15)
Running time
76 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Terror of the Tongs is a 1961 British adventure film directed by Anthony Bushell and starring Geoffrey Toone, Christopher Lee and Yvonne Monlaur.


In the year of 1910, Mr. Ming is an agent of a group which secretly fights against tongs, China's criminal organizations. To fulfill his mission, he takes a ship to Hong Kong. En route, he makes acquaintance with Captain Jackson Sale, a British sea officer who lives in Hong Kong with his teenage daughter Helena. Sale is indifferent about China's tong problem, as it does not directly affect him. Ming hides a note containing information about the Red Dragon, Hong Kong's biggest tong, inside a poetry book, which he gives to Sale as a gift to Helena, knowing that her servant is a secret member of the resistance.

Ming is later the victim of a ceremonial killing. In this type of assassinations, the killer murders their victim with a ceremonial axe and gauntlet in a crowded place, thus keeping the population scared of the Red Dragon Tong. Before dying, Ming kills his assassin. After searching Ming's body, the Tong do not find any incriminating note that could hurt their cause. To be sure, they decide to kill anyone who could have received that kind of information from Ming. Looking for the note, they search Sale's house, kill Helena, and eventually, also the servant. After learning of his daughter's death, Sale vows revenge.

He starts investigating the Tong on his own, despite the police's warnings. Because of this investigation, he gets into a fight with a Tong member. Sale is about to be killed when Lee, the criminal's wife saves him. Lee was forced to marry the man and, hating him, decides to aid in his demise before another innocent person is killed. Realizing the woman is in danger for defying the will of the Tong, Sale tells her to stay at his place.

Sale continues to investigate the Tong, who eventually kidnap and torture him, wanting to know what he knows. Sale is rescued by the Beggar, another member of the resistance. A beaten Sale is brought home to the care of Lee, who is developing feelings for him. While recovering, Sale starts a relationship with Lee.

The Beggar eventually visits Sale and offers him a choice: if Sale only cares about his own life, he should leave China; if he cares about bringing down the tongs, he should stay in Hong Kong, where he most likely will be the target of another ceremonial killing. If Sale survives the attack on his own, in front of a crowd of onlookers, that might be the spark of rebellion the Beggar needs to rile up the people against the Tong. Sale decides to stay and fight.

The night the hit on Sale is to be fulfilled, Lee suspects something sinister is going on and rushes to the port to save him. She ends up sacrificing herself to save Sale, who shoots her assassin down in front of dozens of onlookers. The Beggar takes advantage of this moment and incites a revolution against the Tong. The enraged crowd eventually reaches the headquarters of the Red Dragon Tong's Hong Kong division, wanting to kill its leader, Chung King. Before they can do so, Chung King immolates himself, hoping his ancestors will not be disappointed in him.



The Terror of the Tongs was quickly shot within the months of April and May 1960.

The film is a quasi-remake of Hammer's 1959 film The Stranglers of Bombay. The setting is changed to Hong Kong in 1910 from India in the 19th century but the basic plot of a middle-aged, yet youthful hero attempting to uncover the crimes of a secret sect in a British colony, being captured by the sect, and later released, having a personal stake in the outcome, finding that there is an inside villain, and losing friends or family are all there.

The film is notable in that is the first Hammer horror film to afford Christopher Lee top billing. Lee also reported to work on the film after a vacation in Northern Italy with a deep tan, which was problematic for the make-up department since his character was supposed to have very pale skin. Lee later said in interviews that the make-up to make him appear Chinese in this movie was the most uncomfortable make-up he had had to endure up to that time.

Critical reception

The Hammer Story: The Authorised History of Hammer Films wrote of the film: "The Terror of the Tongs, perhaps thankfully a rarely-seen film, remains resolutely undistinguished in almost every department."[1]

A tie-in to the film written by Jimmy Sangster and based upon his screenplay was published by Digit Books in 1961.

Cultural references

On the film's opening matinee showing at a Picture House in Sauchiehall Street Glasgow, a crowd of rowdy teenagers and young adults both male and female ran down the street shouting "tongs" causing a melee in which the police had to be called. To this day in Glasgow gang culture the cry of "tongs ya bass" can often be heard wherever youths come together to fight in a show of territorial loyalty.