THE KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM – It’s been a while since we checked in on the Venom Mob here at Enter The Fist. As you may recall, the Venom Mob are a group of actors who gained prominence starring together in Chang Cheh’s FIVE DEADLY VENOMS but also through appearing together in various combinations both before and after that film in various productions of the Shaw Brothers. Despite having few, if any, direct connections, and despite varying widely in terms of quality, these films are known collectively as Venom Films, and for a certain generation of martial arts movie fans they are referred to in hushed tones, particularly as these actors never found major success individually.
Now, if you’re like me you probably need a refresher in order to keep track of who is who. No problem. Just think back to FIVE DEADLY VENOMS.
- Centipede (Lu Feng)
- Snake (Wei Pai)
- Scorpion (Sun Chien)
- Lizard (Kuo Chui)
- Toad (Lo Mang)
- Silver Spear (Lu Feng)
- Hero Li/Li Chin Ming (Wei Pai)
- Yang Yu Heng (Sun Chien)
- Sheriff Hai Tao (Kuo Chui)
- Golden Arm (Lo Mang)
From the title you might think that this KID with a GOLDEN ARM will be our main character/hero, but GOLDEN ARM KID (Lo Mang) is actually the villain of the piece, the youngest and most highly skilled of the Deadly Valley gang which also includes Silver Spear (Lu Feng), Iron Robe (Wang Lung Wei), and Brass Head (Yang Hsuing). The four, along with their lackeys (known as the Seven Deadly Hooks), are out the steal a shitload of gold being escorted by the Hu Wei Security Bureau. Now, just like how the Deadly Valley gang has their collection of colorful characters, the Security bureau includes Yang Yu Heng (Sun Chien), a supposed expert Swordsman, Long Axe Yan Jiu (Sun Shu-Pei) and Short Axe Fang Shi (Chiang Sheng), Hero Li Chin Ming, and the deadly Miss Leng (Pan Pin-Chang).
Not bad, right? However, the best character is yet to come. I’m going to be spoiling EVERYTHING, so if you want to remain in the dark regarding the film’s final ridiculous twist, I’d suggest you hold off on reading the final few paragraphs. Or don’t. I’ll let you know when we’re approaching it.
Short Axe and Long Axe manage to track down one of the baddies and – in a wonderful display of empathy – slash his throat when he protests against torture. But it’s really all just subterfuge, as Brass Head pops up from beneath the floorboards and things immediately go BONZO GONZO. Brass Head, who really should have though about the logistics of this plan, is mortally wounded. We’re introduced to Golden Arm Kid, who promises (the still living) Brass Head that he’ll avenge his death. The two Axes and Yang all attempt to attack Golden Arm, but he basically fights them off while barely paying attention. Yeah, Golden Arm is in a whole different category of awesome when it comes to kung-fu.
I really want to take a moment to mention the weird-ass soundtrack for THE KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM. While credited to Shaw Brothers regular Eddie Wang, it’s likely composed mostly (if not entirely) of stock music and there are some very odd, quite random choices. Wacky music is played during dramatic moments, and while it doesn’t distract too often – there really isn’t a lot of music in the film – it’s still noticeably at odds with the film.
Anyway, so Iron Robe has escaped with the gold in a cart, but meets up with the pursuing Hai To who makes short work of Iron Robe’s men before defeating the Deadly Valley leader by cleverly shoves a spear up his robe when he jumps over the cart. Hai To takes a powder before Golden Arm makes an appearance, pleased at the thought of an opportunity to face the legendary Hai To in a fight. Meanwhile Hero Li is tangling with Silver Spear and getting his ass kicked since the Black Sand Palm is rapidly sucking his life away. Once again Hai To comes to the rescue, battling with Silver Spear until Miss Leng shows up, sending Silver Spear retreating. Hai To takes the nearly dead Hero Li – despite Miss Leng’s protestations – and locks him in a crematorium. He tells Miss Leng that he’s going to burn Hero Li’s body to get the valuable poison, but he’s just being a dick. He’s actually helping Li sweat out the rest of the poison, and soon Li is back on his feet and right as rain.
Now, you might think that Li would be grateful for having his life saved by Hai To, but he’s actually determined to get revenge against To since – as his name suggests – he’s a Hero, and heroes should die in furious, violent combat. This Klingonian sentiment is dismissed by Miss Leng, who makes Li even angrier with Hai To by apparently flirting with the drunkard. Hero Li is quite a dick. The whole group all meet up with Yang and his men in a strangely unguarded settlement. Considering how devious the baddies had been up to this point – even poisoning well water miles away – the safety of the location seems suspicious. They were right to be concerned, as Hai To discovers that the torchholders eventually give way to spray out poison gas. Yeah, that was my reaction too. Anyway, they all decide to sleep outside. Good thinking.
First we get Long Axe and Short Axe vs Silver Spear and his men. This is a great, acrobatic fight, especially when we get Lu Feng vs Chiang Sheng. First Long Axe gets darts thrown at him, before getting pierced right through his stomach with the spear. Ouch. Then Short Axe and Silver Spear have a bloody stand-off which ends with the both of them dead. The playful interplay (and competitiveness) between Short Axe and Long Axe was some of the most amusing in the film, but it’s time to rapidly cut down on the supporting players. Finding the bodies, Hero Li – who is still pissed off about being saved by Hai To – rushes off to confront Golden Arm. You might imagine that this doesn’t go well for Li, and you would be correct. As Miss Leng quite astutely points out, “(Hero Li would) rather die a hero than be an ordinary person”. Well, he certainly gets his wish here, as Golden Arm makes him look like a chump, even wrapping Li’s blade around his own arm before killing him.
Yeah, it’s a pretty silly plan.
Yang, who really should have known better, is immediately kicked to death. Then we get Iron Feet vs a blinded Golden Arms, which really isn’t very fair. Golden Arms actually acquits himself quite well, sort of throwing a wrench in Hai To’s idea that he’s no longer dangerous, but eventually is overcome by Iron Feet’s ability to, uh, see. Hai To, who was thought to have been slashed, reveals that he was playing possum and hops into the fight, and we get some great action between Sun Chien and Kuo Chui, before Golden Arm lives up to his name by thrusting his arm THROUGH Iron Feet, immediately killing him. Brutal. Golden Arm promises to live a quiet life of retirement and then things end.
Just kidding! As if it wasn’t tragic enough, Miss Leng shows up and kills Golden Arm with Hero Li’s broken sword. Surrounded by death, Hai To tells Miss Leng to escort the gold the rest of the way as he’s “got to get drunk for 3 days”. One of my favorite closing lines from any film, and a pretty understandable sentiment considering the bizarre events he’s just witnessed.
This is also the first Chang Cheh film that we’ve discussed in ENTER THE FIST that seems to capture what fans most adore about him. The focus on machismo – particularly in the exaggerated nonsense of Hero Li’s sub-plot – the exaggerated bloodshed, the fixation on male physiques, the kinetic fight scenes.. it’s all here. The choreography by usual Venoms action director Robert Tai is much more classical and dance-like than the acrobatic and prop-centered fights coming out of Golden Harvest at the time, but still makes for thrilling fights which build appropriately to the final, almost Shakespearean, confrontation.
It’s really a must-see for fans of old school Shaw Brothers films, and fans of the Venoms in particular. While not the best of their collaborations – we’ll be featuring some of them in the near future – it’s a necessary piece to understanding the continued love and fervor for many American fans regarding these actors, and why they’ve remained a cult phenomenon ever since.
NEXT WEEK: THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN (1977)
Long live the fist,
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