Hatchet Man is a dated but fascinating film set amidst the "tong wars" in San Francisco's Chinatown. Tong hatchet man Wong Low Get (Edward G. Robinson) is required to kill his boyhood friend Sun Yet Sen (J. Carroll Naish). Sen is resigned to his fate, but extracts a promise that Wong will look after Sen's daughter Toya San, and marry the girl when she grows up. Played as an adult by Loretta Young, Toya San weds Wong, now an influential Chinatown figure. But the girl is secretly in love with Harry En Hai (Leslie Fenton), a disreputable young half-caste. When Wong learns of the affair, he sends Toya and Harry packing, and is ostracized by the community for not fighting for his honor. Harry is deported to China for drug-dealing, taking Toya with him and ultimately deserting her. Wong trails the pair to China, where he finds that Toya has been sold into prostitution. He intends to use his hatchet to kill Harry, but is talked out of the murder by Toya. But before Wong and Toya leave for America, Harry En Hai accidentally receives his comeuppance from the one-time "hatchet man." Well acted and powerfully directed, Hatchet Man would hardly qualify as "politically correct" these days, since virtually every Asian character is portrayed by a Caucasian.
by Hal Erickson synopsis