Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kid With The Golden Arm, The (1979) - 3/5

When a studio is pumping out a film every couple weeks like the Shaw Bros were accomplishing at the height of their career, you are going to have a pretty wide range of quality when it comes to their films. “The Kid With The Golden Arm” pretty much sits firmly in the middle of the pack. It’s got some great things going for it (hey, it’s a Venoms film), but its writing and story can be confusing and oddly structured.

A small village is in desperate need for assistance so a massive shipment of gold is to be sent to them for financial help. Unfortunately, a group known as the Deadly Valley lead by the illustrious Golden Arm Kid has made it very aware that they intend to steal the gold on its way there. Thusly a group of heroic individuals of various skill under the leadership of a legendary drunken kung fu master sheriff will have to fight off the villains to deliver the gold.

Some of the beauty behind these classic Shaw Bros kung fu films is how simple they are. A group of good guys must fight off a group of bad guys over some gold as they travel with it. Stock it with some great characters and really this is all that “The Kid With The Golden Arm” needs. This is what makes it so much fun too. Our drunken sheriff might be a caricature, but he’s witty and fun and our villains and heroes ably keep up the gimmicks that these films (particularly when directed by Chang Cheh) are known for. The fights are fantastically drawn out with highlights coming in the finale and a great ambush sequence with an armored fiend. Fans of Venom films will certainly find charm in this one.

Outside of the basics though, “The Kid With The Golden Arm” wants to throw in a few twists that don’t quite add up. It builds a few subplots (including a romantic one) that really fail to add a whole lot beyond necessary plot progression and the finale adds a twist that is only briefly hinted at a couple times earlier. These don’t necessarily pay off with the lacking focus of the film, but at least it tries.

“The Kid With The Golden Arm” is quite a gimmicky film with its over the top characters and very simplistic story. It’s hit or miss in execution and confuses with its awkward twists. Fans of kung fu films will enjoy it though and in the end that’s what counts.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

6 comments:

  1. This movie is the poster child for my "kung-fu flick as punk rock" conceit. It's the sloppiest of the Venoms films (that first fight - ugh!), but that sloppiness, when combined with the the movie's boundless energy, crazy costumes, characters rendered in wide brushstrokes (hell, maybe "drawn in red crayon" fits better) and relentless pace...this is a movie I've found even non-fu-fans enjoy. Add to that that its flaws are most obvious in the beginning, and the movie tightens up as the action and body count mount...I have to call this one a winner all around. I'm not sure why you say the twists don't "add up." SPOILERS follow, but look at it as a kung fu flick about kung fu flicks. It does explore a major theme of wuxia - REPUTATION. Every character but two is deeply concerned with reputation, or deeply affected by it. Our "hero" sees the carnage that results from the quest for a greater rep, and self-medicates throughout the movie over it. Remember his reaction near the final fight to the news that two of the heroes died? GLUG GLUG GLUG. The romantic subplot isn't what you think - if you look at it as a straight romance, you miss the depth. That said, the English dub leads you that way - the subs tell a better story. Hai Tao isn't flirting with Leng Cheng, he's too honorable for that...it's all about of the way she looks out for Li Ching Ming. He feels regret not that he doesn't have her, but that he has no-one to care for him that way. I think you'll enjoy KWTGA more if you realize it's not taking itself very seriously, and that it's spoofing many wuxia tropes.

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    1. I would quite agree with you on this. This review was written when I originally watched the film for the first time. With time, this has actually come to be one of my favorites. Yes, it's most certainly flawed and I think the writing could have been tightened, but dammit this film plays on its tropes so well (as you mentioned). I was able to see this in theaters last year and it might be one of my favorite theater viewing experiences I have ever had. So my issues with the film have been resolved by, like you said, not taking it quite so seriously. My initial expectations have certainly skewed this review. In hindsight, this is more than likely one of my favorite films from the Shaw Brothers just for its manic execution.

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  2. I'll say one m ore thing...don't miss the film's wit and comedy. There are quite a few subtle but intentional laughs. MORE SPOILERS Li Ching Mings' little soliloquy on how he's sacrificing his life (he's been poisoned and he only has 2 days two live, which he's decided he's going to spend fighting baddies rather than getting medical attention) to protect the gold - the look on his face is priceless: Even HE can't believe how AWESOME he sounds :D And then the eye-roll when his girlfriend insists she come with him to find an antidote (you can almost hear him thinking "chicks, man..."). And of course the double poisoning: "We drank the water - it's fine" while everyone else's eyes bug out - that busts me up every time. You gave it three stars, but maybe re-watch it knowing that it's winking at you during its most over-the-top moments. And then go get drunk for three days. ;-)

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    1. If I ever get around to re-writing a review for this, it's going to have a much different tone than this one for sure. This is a film that the more I watch it, the more I love it.

      Thanks for your comments! It's always great to meet another person dedicated to thoughtful film watching!
      I

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    2. Hey, thanks for READING the comments of a kung-fu fanboy. :) And yes, it's always good to meet a fellow fan. Wish I'd found your blog sooner!

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