A pretty Chinese woman, seeking help from San Francisco detective James Lee Wong, is killed by a poisoned dart in his front hall, having time only to scrawl \"Captain J\" on a sheet of paper. She proves to be Princess Lin Hwa, on a secret military mission for Chinese forces fighting the Japanese invasion. Mr. Wong finds two captains with the intial J in the case, neither being quite what he seems; there\'s fog on the waterfront and someone still has that poison-dart gun...
Boris Karloff ... Mr. James Lee Wong
Marjorie Reynolds ... Roberta \'Bobbie\' Logan (reporter)
Grant Withers ... Police Capt. Bill Street
Huntley Gordon ... Mr. Davidson (bank president)
George Lynn ... Capt. Guy Jackson (Aviation Corp. president) (as Peter George Lynn)
William Royle ... Capt. Jaime (captain, Maid of the Orient)
James Flavin ... Police Sgt. Jerry
Lotus Long ... Princess Lin Hwa (murder victim)
Lee Tung Foo ... Willie (Wong\'s servant) (as Lee Tong Foo)
Bessie Loo ... Lilly May (Princess Lin Hwa\'s maid)
Richard Loo ... Tong chief
Ernie Stanton ... Burton (Davidson\'s butler)
A distressed Oriental woman comes knocking on the door of James Lee Wong seeking his help. Before we get to learn her request, she is murdered by a poisoned dart, fired through the open window of Wong\'s study. She is Princess Lin Hwa, a woman of high degree from the Wang-Ki family, as evidenced by a ring displaying her family crest.
As in prior Mr. Wong films, James Lee Wong (Boris Karloff) is accompanied in his investigation by Police Captain Bill Street (Grant Withers), though he needn\'t bother, as the detective is mostly ineffective in getting any real police work done. It\'s Wong himself who develops his leads and is more effectively helped by Herald newspaper reporter Roberta Logan (Marjorie Reynolds), a somewhat romantic interest for Street, though she\'s pretty much pushed around by the Captain for most of the film, while maintaining a wry smile and quick wit to counteract the blustering bully.
In her last minutes before dying, Lin Hwa manages to scribble a curiously worded \"Captain J\" on a piece of paper, pointing Wong to not one but two different but connected leads - Captain James of the steamship \"Maid of the Orient\", and Captain Guy Jackson (everybody\'s a Captain!) of the Phelps Aviation Company. It\'s revealed that the Princess was arranging for the sale of airplanes to her brother in China, but the two Captain J\'s were conspiring to rid her of her money without fulfilling their end of the bargain.
The real villain behind the murders though is the outwardly helpful bank president Davidson (Huntley Gordon), having had access to Lin Hwa\'s bank account and freely forging checks to relieve her account of a million dollars. The giveaway - Davidson claimed to have had a vicious dog buried with an expensive headstone, but Wong correctly surmises that the grave actually conceals the body of a mute dwarf that was a friend of the Princess.
Monogram Pictures released this movie in 1939, and later remade the film in 1947 with another Oriental Detective in the lead role, casting Roland Winters in his first screen appearance as Charlie Chan. \"The Chinese Ring\" is virtually a carbon copy of the Wong movie, with the \"Captain J\" clue changed by one letter to \"Captain K\". From there it moves along at pretty much the same pace until Chan\'s revelation of the killer. Both films are passable, but if you\'ve seen one, you\'ve seen both.
I\'ve seen several Mr. Wong films and I can definitely understand why Monogram Studios decided to drop the series in favor of making Charlie Chan films. Unlike the Chan films, the Wong series is pretty dull--with unlikable or bland supporting characters and a very low energy level in the movies. It\'s like the characters are just walking through the lines and putting little into it--particularly Boris Karloff, who was capable of so much better work than this. His supporting characters don\'t help, as Grant Withers is a pretty dull police inspector and Marjorie Reynolds in her first of four appearances in the Wong series as the nosy reporter is a tad annoying.
The film begins with a Chinese princess coming to Wong\'s house. When his butler goes to get Wong, an unseen person kills the lady with a poisonous dart! It turns out that the princess was in America to buy planes for their war with the Japanese, though since the US was not yet at war with Japan, they were never mentioned by name. Why she was killed and unable to complete her mission is mildly interesting, but that\'s about all. My advice is try to see a different B-detective series, such as Sherlock Holmes, The Falcon or Charlie Chan--they are just a lot more interesting and fun to watch.
As a fan of 1930s-1940s movies with an \"Oriental\" protagonist, I have collected all of the Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, and Mr. Wong movies. However, this movie would have been much better had the all-too-frequent, painfully annoying, and downright noisy cat-fights between Captain Bill Street and Reporter Bobbie Logan ended up on the editor\'s cutting-room floor.
Another problem with this film is that Mr. Wong plays a much too passive role. All he seems to do is follow the lead of either the Captain or the Reporter. Bottom line: one quickly begins to wonder why Mr. Wong is in this movie, because he doesn\'t seem to be necessary to the plot.