Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Kid With The Golden Arm (Gam Bei Tung, 1979)

For this post, we are going with another all-time, yes ALL-TIME favorite kung-fu film from the Shaw Brothers, 'The Kid With The Golden Arm'! This film features the legendary group of actors known as the 'Five Deadly Venoms' (Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, Lo Mang, Sun Chien & 'sixth' Venom Wei Pei) from their rise to fame in the movie of the same name. (There will be another post on that flick & the history of The Venoms to come, I got you covered.) This Chang Cheh-directed film stands out because the villain gets top billing, but there is of course, so much more.

The story is, there is an area stricken by famine. The government directs a large shipment of gold to be delivered there and escorted by Yang Yu Heng(Chien) and his group. Joining in this effort are renowned swordsman Li Chin Ming(Pai), his girlfriend Miss Leng(Pai Pin-Chang), the darkly comedic fighting duo of Long Axe & Short Axe(Sheng and Sun Shu-Pei) and Sheriff Hai To(Chui) who hasn't seen a wine jug he didn't like. They all have a tough adversary in the Chi Sah Gang of the Deadly Valley, led by Golden Arm (Meng), Silver Spear(Feng), Iron Robe(Wang Lung Wei) and Brass Head(Yang Hsuing). As they confront the Chi Sah gang, there are a slew of bloody conflicts, twists and turns that have everyone on edge within Heng's group. Who is loyal? Can Hai To be trusted? How does the Chi Sah gang stay one step ahead? Can Heng and the rest defeat the Chi Sah gang and deliver the gold?

'The Kid With The Golden Arm' is undoubtedly in the top tier of Chang Cheh's films for Shaw. Clocking in at a shade under 90 minutes, it's fast-paced action served up in a 'whodunit'plot format. Lo Meng plays Golden Arm in magnetic form. When he addresses opponents, the restrained sneer is withering. Kuo Chui's Hai To character is the best out of them all, mainly because it utilizes Chui's knack for both his comedic acting talents and his phenomenal acrobatic fighting skills seen at great length here. Chien doesn't get a lot of burn until later on in the film, but when he does it's noticeable and a distraction from his wooden delivery of dialogue. Wei Pai's swordsman character is bullheaded, arrogant and almost brings you to the point where you want him to catch a bad one. Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng get to show off their amazing skills. This film is a gold standard for fight scenes, and has enough bloody instances to get you riled up.

Sure, there's a couple of things even someone who's watched this film a hundred times would notice. Iron Robe makes a well known film effect goof with the flare. And as much as Brass Head figured into the credits, homeboy got the early bird exit special. You also have to ask yourself how they made suede leather vests back in the warring period of China. In addition, the last scene of Golden Arm may be over the top for some out there. That said, 'The Kid With The Golden Arm' has subtle jabs in it. For one, Cheh seems to have listened to his critics about female characters being slighted. So Miss Leng, while still a foil for the plot developments between Li Chin Ming and Hai To, still plays a role in the penultimate scene. Also, Wei Pai's ire wasn't totally an act; rumor has it that he didn't get along with his Venom mates too tough. Cheh also seems to mock the role of the noble swordsman with his character. But make no mistake, 'The Kid with The Golden Arm' is a film with lasting impact. Of course you know it had an effect on the Wu-Tang Clan, with one of its members taking the name for himself. DJ Steve Aoki, son of the iconic Benihana founder has been referred to as the movie title here and there. And of course, Quentin Tarantino...take a look at the set piece scene with Hai To in the tavern and note how it bears a bit of resemblance to the setting for the fight scene with Gogo in 'Kill Bill Vol.1'. If you haven't seen this movie, STOP SLEEPING and see it. If you have, you know you can't go wrong watching it again.

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