Thursday, June 10, 2010
Ye Olde Grindhouse: The Kid With The Golden Arm
By Scott Tre
Classic Kung-Fu movies are not just the Hong Kong equivalent of B-Westerns, they are also forerunners to modern superhero blockbusters. Many of the same genre trappings are in place. The Characters wear outlandish costumes and exhibit even more outlandish abilities. They are often defined by these attributes to the point where they are named after them. The themes often deal with revenge, honor and duty. It's a shame that so many westerners allow production values and cultural differences to prevent them from enjoying the inventiveness and energy to be found in these films.
Chang Cheh's body of work contains a number of gems that serve as examples of eastern super hero sensibilities. Tokyo Shock has just released the wonderfully titled The Kid With The Golden Arm as part of it's Shaw Brothers Kung-Fu Collection. Those who have never seen it may recognize the title as having inspired Wu Tang rapper U-God's alias. It is yet another Shaw production that became a Saturday afternoon favorite of 70's babies all over the New York tri-state area during the 1980's. Despite it's graphic violence, it is very much a kids film in every sense of the word.
A shipment of gold is being delivered into an area that has been blighted by famine. The treasure has been targeted by the notorious Chi Sah gang,, the four chiefs of which are introduced during an opening credits sequence (one of my very favorites) that displays them like the rogues gallery of a well known superhero. First we have Golden Arm (Lo Mang) himself, leader of the Chi Sah. Silver Spear (Lu Feng), Iron Robe (Wang Lung Wei), and Brass Head (Yang Hsuing) finish out the quartet. All are named in honor of the powers they posses and/or the weapons they wield. For example, Golden Arms moniker refers to the strength and invulnerability of his aforementioned limbs. They are impervious to attacks by bladed weapons.
Charged with delivering the shipment safely to it's destination are Yang Yu Heng (Sun Chien), Li Chin Ming (Wei Pai), Miss Leng (Pan Pin-Chang), Short Axe (Chiang Sheng) and Long Axe (Sun Shu-Pei). Joining them along the way is the inebriated Agent Hai To (Kuo Chui). Their task proves easier said than done as the Chi Sah are both cunning and relentless. The story is a bit disjointed as it consists mainly of character introductions and encounters. The heroes fend of Chi Sah chiefs and gang members time and again. Combatants continue to fight after they have been sliced, impaled, and stabbed with all manner of weaponry. Li Chin Ming puts his honor ahead of all else, even his relationship with Miss Leng.
Golden Arm himself is the true star of the piece although he doesn't get as much screen time as the relatively bland heroes. He really gets to show off his abilities in the closing fight scenes. The most interesting protagonist by far is the perpetually drunken Hai To, who carries a jug of whine with him wherever he goes. As the story progresses, his drunken demeanor proves to be something of a facade. He is an amazing martial artist and has a knack for sensing danger before anyone else. These two characters keep the proceedings interesting, giving us someone to both root for and against.
It's a shame that the DVD release has no special features other than some trailers and stills. A commentary track from an expert on Hong Kong cinema would have been nice, as would a short documentary on the film. Reliable information on the Shaw Brothers catalog is hard to come by, and special features provide a great opportunity to educate fans and newcomers alike.
The Kid With The Golden Arm is great nostalgia. One could imagine it becoming something that genre fans use to introduce their kids to the strange and exciting world of martial arts cinema. Children love to let their imaginations wander, and films such as these can be the perfect catalyst to get their juices flowing. You may have to cover their eyes during some of the more bloody parts, but that has always been a rite of passage for kids who are ready to move beyond the realm of "childrens movies" and on to something with a bit more of an edge. Trust me, they'll thank you for it later.