Kid with the Golden Arm Review
Chang Cheh's Kid With the Golden Arm is a shortish fable of fights, bloodshed, and intrigue starring the Five Venoms. With a comic hero, Cheh's film sets up an arduous test for his heroes' chivalry and leaves the audience to pull for them against quite an assortment of villains. The set up is that Hua Wei is asked to transport government aid to refugees through the treacherous terrain of the "Deadly Valley", the clue is in the name, and he engages the help of local swordsman Li and his fiancée Feng along with the fighters, Short Axe and Long Axe. The "Deadly Valley" is the domain of the titular villain of this piece and his three lieutenants, Copper Head, Silver Spear and Iron Armour, who will certainly rise to the inviting bait of government gold. Soon Hua Wei and friends are besieged but a drunken fighter, Hai Tao, intervenes and so begins the skirmishes for the gold and, as per usual, dominance in the martial arts world.
Hua Wei's gang are introduced in a number of vignettes where they fight off the Deadly Valley's advances. Firstly, the axe fighters are ambushed by the Seven Deadly Hooks and the mute septet are soon cut down to size as the heroes ensure a fair share of victims. Next, Heroine Feng is tricked by Iron Armour and saved by the drunken antics of Hai Tao. We then join Feng as she meets Swordsman Li and he is tested by Copper Head and saved by Hai Tao again. Soon we have met all of the forces the heroes are up against and the element of mystery is heightened by the legend of a former confederate of the central villain, appropriately titled Iron Leg. The possession of the gold becomes the key battleground and the resourceful villains seem unstoppable.
The entertaining villains and the ongoing conflict between Hai Tao and the awfully proper Swordsman Li serve to make the plot interesting enough to not lapse into genre cliché, even though Hai Tao is a thinly veiled attempt to cash in on the previous years' Drunken Master. There is some location shooting but the majority of the story takes place in the studio as action sequence leads to action sequence as the film builds to the final battle and some interesting revelations. Pan Ping Cheng's role is a thankless task which leads you to wonder how she ever ended up a swordswoman given her inability to avoid traps or win a single fight, but Cheh never did spend much time on the women in his films as his attention is kept for the chivalry of the men.
The action choreography is first rate with many fights with axes, poles and swords, as well as hand to hand combat. The violence is a little muted by Cheh standards with only a double immolation and a castration with a spear sticking out in my mind! Cheh does seem to have some fun in the conflict between the two heroes as Swordsman Li proves an insufferable prig and the earthier, darker Hai Tao proves the man to be celebrated rather than the well turned out classical swordsman. The Kid With The Golden Arm twists and turns like a snake with convulsions and narrative sense is a little difficult to follow at times, but in terms of chivalrous drama and relentless action it delivers. Recommended
A poor PAL to NTSC conversion on a single layer disc which made getting usable screen shots rather tough for this review. The transfer is soft, with reds over heated, edge enhancement in excess and the standards conversion issues of combing and motion shake. It is though anamorphic and in the correct aspect ratio, and the conversions issues are less noticeable when the film is playing than in stills. The audio is Mandarin mono which is relatively spotless in terms of mastering or source problems, merely some distortion at the top end of the music. The English subs are clear and can be followed easily enough but the translation is far from perfect in terms of grammar.
The usual bilingual IVL extras are present with poster art, filmographies, brief production notes and trailers for other titles. The filmographies are for Cheh, Sun Chien, Pan Ping-Cheng and Lo Meng and they include details of other Celestial releases featuring those performers. The production notes are just two sentences long and include this strange phrase - "Kuo Che is artistically violent whilst being graphically artsy". If anyone knows what that means send your answers on a postcard to......
I have read elsewhere of a longer cut of the film but nothing seems to be missing from this 81 minute version in terms of story or obvious cuts to the action so I am not sure about that. IVL do their regular thing of botching the transfer from nice source materials and I do my usual thing of saying that if you can stomach that then at least this is a cheap way to own the film.