Scandalous movie too far ahead of its time, still, today
How did I go through my entire life without knowing about this 1915, avante-garde, Cecile B. DeMille, silent film?
I haven't seen it yet, but read about it and the posts on this forum. Apparently during its time there was negative publicity and public controversy, but being 1915, long before World War II, long before movies became a universal human phenomenon, and waaaayyy before the age of the Internet and instant global media coverage....the controversy was small in scope and limited in location.
From what I gather the movie plays off an old racial sexual stereotype of the minority man's lust for the beautiful, sensual, sexual, white woman. But this was not something normally attributed to Asian men. However there was the added Asian stereotype of the nefarious, corrupt, wealthy mafia gangster-like Asian master criminal who indulges in white slavery and uses the typical Asian predilection for torture upon his kidnapped white female merchandise.
Then later there was a clumsy attempt to mollify the Japanese by changing the Asian gangster chieftain's ethnicity to Burmese, which may have backfired, since it would be akin to calling a Korean a Japanese, or calling a Japanese a Korean. The plot has mitigating circumstances. The anti-heroine, actress Fannie Ward, is no innocent, virginal waif out of a bodice ripper romance novel. She's a casual, one-time embezzler who should have known better and therefore she get's her just deserts in one of the best ways possible. Instead of prison, the beautiful white woman, at the peak of her womanhood, femininity, and sexuality, is degraded at the grubby, oversexed hands of a corrupt, oversexed, white-woman-obsessed, filthy-rich, psychotic, probably insane Asian gangster chieftain who is typically unhandsome to boot.
Understandably, this movie quickly fell into obscurity and was never remade in the following 98 years. Movies that featured quasi sexual sadist violence against Caucasian women by psycho Asian bad guys were extremely rare, although a few did appear, notably, the Fu Manchu movie franchise from its noir 30s inception to the 60s franchise utilizing the Brit actor supreme, Christopher Lee and his prosthetic rubber eyelids, and laughable super long fingernails, wearing a Qing dynasty high official's royal court robe.
The possibilities for a modern remake of this movie gins up a myriad of possibilities, from a PG-13 version for LifeTIme cable television, to a R-rated direct-to-video, or even a hard R soft porn version. The remake versions can change the tone and sexuality of the plot, not by the actress; any pretty white woman in her mid-twenties to very early thirties will do. It's the Asian gangster character. The story tone and 'feel' and sensuality will be different depending upon what kind of Asian man chosen. Imagine hiring, Jackie Chan? Black comedy, anyone? Scary-looking Asian man for the classic feel? Or go a different direction by hiring a young version of Russell Wong, the handsome, 6'1" Chinese American action actor of the mid-90s who everyone thought was an up-and-coming Asian American actor that would breach the glass ceiling which the late Bruce Lee stood on the very threshhold of doing at the time of his 1973 death? That would make for an excellent, cold-shower-inspiring bodice ripper romance novel version. Russell Wong broke ground by a steamy, sex scene with up-and-coming actress Rebecca Gayheart in the 1994, television mini-series, "Vanishing Son", which barely passed the censors. Hong Kong actor, Tony Leung went further in the 1992, critically-acclaimed, French movie involving the son of a wealthy Vietnamese businessman and the nubile, 18-year old daughter of an impoverished French family (whose diplomat husband/father had died) in 1930s Hanoi, Vietnam. That movie stood on the knife edge of hard R and X.