racechanging: The Hatchet Man

The Hatchet Man

In San Francisco during the ‘Tong Wars’ Wong Low Get is a respected boo how doy (hatchet man) of the Lem Sing Tong. Having sworn total allegiance, he cannot turn down an order – not even one to kill his best friend. His friend forgives him, begging only that Wong raise his daughter Sun Toya San (Loretta Young) as his own.

Wong does as he has sworn, but as she grows up he falls in love with her. She marries him out of a sense of obligation, but a handsome younger gangster persuades her to leave Wong disgracing him.

Later Wong learns that Toya has been sold to an opium den and he travels to China to rescue her.

As was typical of the time, almost no Asian actors appear in the cast of a film set completely among Chinese characters. Fim-makers had noticed that audiences were more likely to reject Western actors in Asian disguise if the faces of actual Asians were in near proximity. Rather than cast the film with all Asian actors, which would have then meant no star names to attract American audiences, studios simply eliminated most of the Asian actors from the cast.

The makeup

Perc Westmore was the makeup artist.

The makeup featured in Photoplay (March 1932) in the article ‘Loretta goes Oriental’. The process was described as taking two hours as taking two hours and ‘Discomfiture, pretty heavy!’:

The first step is accomplished by pulling the skin back from Loretta’s eyes and pasting it down firmly with spirit gum and fish skin  – not adhesive tape. The fish skin is then covered by makeup. Lips are made larger, eyes and nose are lined. The finished job might make you think Loretta was Anna May Wong.