Kid with the Golden Arm
"All in all, maybe the Venoms' finest film, and one of the best martial arts movies of the late 70's."
Kid with the Golden Arm (1979)
Literally: Golden Arm Kid
Director: Chang Cheh
Cast: Kuo Chui, Lo Meng, Sun Chien, Chiang Cheng, Lu Feng, Wei Pai, Wang Lung Wei
Running Time: 95 min.
Plot: The Kid with the Golden Arms has invincible arms which can not be penetrated by the blades of swords. His arms are his weapons. When he disarm his enemy they are hopeless against him. Watch out for Iron Foot. He kills his enemies with his feet. His kicking style alone defeats many of his enemies before they throw the first punch.
JOE909'S REVIEW: If you were to pick up the NS DVD of Kid with the Golden Arm (currently the only DVD release available), you might deem the movie a haphazard, barely-plotted action fest that jumps from one fight scene to the next, with zero character or plot development. You wouldn't be too far from the truth, but in reality you can't judge Kid by the NS DVD. Like most other Venoms movies they've released, NS has sourced their copy of Kid with the Golden Arm from a severely-edited European print of the movie. True, the picture quality isn't bad, and it's actually widescreen, but about fifteen minutes of the film is missing.
One of the few movies to feature all six of the Venoms, Kid gets started with an action scene and doesn't stop until the end. Even the opening credits feature some action, as the four bosses of the evil Chi Sah gang show off their styles. The story concerns Sun Chien's escort service, which must transport a large shipment of gold. With them comes virtuous swordsman Li Chin-Ming (Wei Pai) and his woman, the equally-skilled Ms. Ling (Chi Pan-Ping). The service also employs the services of Short Axe (Chiang Sheng) and Long Axe (Sun Shao-Pei, the annoying prick who killed Lo Meng in Five Venoms), two fighters who compete to see who can kill the most villains. Continuously bumping into them is the drunken government agent Hai To (Kuo Choi).
The Chi Sah gang is headed by Lo Meng, as the titular character. As usual, he only fights with his hands, but he has an iron skin technique, plus he can shatter swords bare-handed. Their second chief is Lu Feng as Silver Spear; Wang Lung-Wei is the third chief, Iron Robe, and Brass Head (Yang Shung) rounds out the principal villains as the fourth and final chief. Sun Chien knows these guys are out for the gold, and even after the Chi Sah gang attacks the escort service at their base, they still carry on with the journey.
Kid with the Golden Arm is not a movie with layer upon layer of subplots. Instead, things pan out in about as narrow-minded a manner as you could imagine. The escort service gets attacked by the Chi Sah gang, someone dies, the escort service moves on, they get attacked again. The movie features more action than The Five Venoms, sure, but it's nowhere near as good because the story is lacking.
Kuo Choi's drunken character Hai To provides the only unexpected bits; for example, at one point Li Chin-Ming is hit with the "sand palm," which is an assured, but slow, death. Hai To steals him away from his girl and bars him in an iron forge, despite her pleas. Turns out almost being roasted alive is the only cure for the sand palm, yet Wei Pai's character holds a grudge against Hai To throughout the movie. On top of that, Kuo engages in all manner of Jackie Chan-type goofery, obviously attempting to tap into the success Drunken Master.
The film opens bloodily with an escort service member crawling into their headquarters, "Chi Sah gang" etched onto his bare back by a sword. He dies in his tracks, serving as warning that the gang is out for the gold. Everyone reacts to this, and then Sun Chien gives everyone a history of the gang. What's great is that after a while no one even pays any attention to the guy's corpse. After warding off a surprise attack (in which Brass Head gets killed), the escort service heads out.
On the road they're attacked a few times, though each time Hai To saves the day, appearing literally out of the woodwork. One unique aspect of the film is that main villains are killed throughout. Those expecting the requisite Venoms finale of Kuo Choi, Lu Feng, and Chiang Sheng going at it will be surprised. Instead, the movie is comprised of several running battles in which main heroes and villains buy it, regardless of how late we are into the film.
Finally it comes down to a face-off between Hai To and Golden Arms. This is a nice fight, as Kuo Choi uses his acrobatic skills and swordplay against Lo's bare hands. The fight is also enjoyable because it's one of the few times we get to see Lo Meng. Although he's the title character, Lo is absent for the majority of the film. He also doesn't get a chance to display his comedic skills, instead playing the kind of character typically portrayed by Lu Feng.
Speaking of which, Lu Feng is also underused in the film, though he does get to camp it up early in the movie, disguising himself as an old man. The climax features an unexpected twist, but I find it hard to buy. Regardless of how many times I see the movie, the sudden appearance of a major character's twin always surprises and confuses me.
Chang and the Venoms inject some dark comedy into the film. Other than Kuo Choi's hijinks, the two Axes have a running gag on the number of villains killed. Kuo Choi also gets some laughs by continuously rejecting Silver Spear's offers to join the Chi Sah gang. I've also always loved the last moments with Golden Arms. At the end of the film, he makes a few serious, life-changing decisions; something rare for main villains, who usually stay bad until they meet their doom. But after he announces his plans, well, you'll just have to see for yourself. Let's just say what happens to him is shocking with each viewing.
The violence level is pleasantly high. Blood erupts from sword gashes, people get hacked apart, and those beaten by fists bleed profusely from the mouth. At one point, an assailant who hides behind a panel is stabbed, and blood shoots across the screen. One of the main chiefs suffers a grisly fate, landing on an upturned spear. This is certainly one of the more violent Venoms movies.
The sets however are minimal, mostly fake-looking reconstructions of forests and hills. It might appear fake, but it's the same look that gives these movies their otherworldly allure. The soundtrack deserves special mention, ranging from eerie synthesizer to acid-fried guitar to totally-inappropriate medieval-sounding tunes. Choreography is the usual Venoms great, though here most of them fight separately, and rely more on weapons than they do in some of their other movies.
Kid with the Golden Arm is a good Venoms film, but it's not their best. I'd rank Five Venoms, Crippled Avengers, and Invincible Shaolin higher. But for all Venoms fans, it's required viewing. For those who want to see the complete film, however, things aren't so easy. The movie was released uncut in Holland, and bootlegs exist of this print, which is full-screen and English dubbed, with Dutch subtitles. I'd advise all to just wait for the Celestial remastered release, though. There are few things as unappealing as the Dutch language.
JOE909'S RATING: 8/10
TheFrankEinstein's REVIEW: While I could attribute the confusion I suffered at the hands of Kid With the Golden Arm to the crappy dub I had to watch, I think the cast of nine hundred characters had more to do with it than idiotic dialogue. Long Axe, Short Axe, Brass Head, Yang Yu Heng... while a humongous cast is great when it's controlled well, this felt like characters were just introduced so they could die later on in the movie. As you can probably guess, when heroes come a dime a dozen, the death of one or two isn't nearly as powerful as it should be. And not only do they die by the boat-load, but each and every one of them has to do back flips while screaming and flailing their arms before they finally give up the ghost. But it's not some sort of dramatic struggle for life, either. It's as if they forget for a little while that they were run through by a giant spear and decide to go running a triathlon, only to remember that blood is spraying from a gaping chest wound and immediately drop dead to the ground. Toss in Iron Robe whose dub actor sounds like Peewee Herman and a scene in which Kuo Chui goes unnoticed while whispering to a character through a twelve foot long sewer pipe with a four foot radius (because he's hidden in a bush... only the giant pipe is sticking out!) and you've got yourself an unintentionally hilarious comedy.
But enough about that, we watch Venoms movies for the fighting! And with a name like Kid with the Golden Arm it must be good, right? Well, now, I find the whole metal appendage thing charming. It's one reason I love old Kung Fu flicks. Every guy has his little specialty: Brass Head head-butts his enemies, Silver Spear pokes people, and Iron Robe always has something to wear right when he gets out of the shower. But the Venoms bunch or not, these fights bore me to death. Maybe I'm spoiled by modern Yuen Wo-ping, Jet Li, Jackie Chan and the rest, but I felt like I was watching the junior Olympic gymnastics. I mean come on, WWF Monday night wrestling looks more spontaneous than this. Sure, Golden Arm's method of dispatch was pretty bad-ass, but on the whole I found myself almost dreading the fight sequences and hoping they'd end quickly when they showed up; not a sensation that should be associated with a Kung Fu movie. And the killer is how good these fights probably COULD have been. Everyone but the slow-as-molasses Iron Robe obviously had the talent, but they were stuck with the fight-by-numbers routines of the era. So in summary - The fights, I found boring. The characters, I found far too many of. The deaths, I found spastic. The story, well, I didn't find. But the sum of its parts made it an enjoyable experience, confusion and all. So if you find the nutty, themed characters as entertaining as I do, you watch the movie. I'm gonna go get drunk.
TheFrankEinstein's RATING: 6/10
PERKELE'S REVIEW: An INCREDIBLY fast-paced adventure from the Venoms mob and director Chang Cheh. There's not a single dull minute as a gold cargo escort is attacked by varied ruthless gangs & gangsters. Insane plotting and many lead characters guarantee you'll never know who's going to be killed next, and by who. All they actors are in top form, though Wei Pai is goddamn irritating and looks like he has stuffed something in his mouth that really should't be there. Anyway, the film is amazing, and I'm sure at least a half of this movie is fighting! The spectacular battles are absolutely stunning, especially impressive being of course the final showdown between drunk master Hai To (Kuo Chui) and the high-kicking Iron Feet (not going to tell you who he isÉ). All in all, maybe the Venoms' finest film, and one of the best martial arts movies of the late 70's.
PERKELE'S RATING: 9/10