The Kid With The Golden Arm Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: December 6, 2022 (as part of Shawscope: Volume 2)
Audio: Mandarin and English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 86:18
Director: Chang Cheh
Yang Hu Yun (Sun Chien) and his security crew are tasked with protecting a cache of gold from the ruthless Chi Sha gang. For added help, he enlists the services of a swordsman named Li Chin-ming (Wei Pai), his significant other, Miss Leng Feng (Helen Poon), and an aloof, drunken sheriff named Hai Tao (Phillip Kwok). Along the way, Yang’s forces fall victim to deadly traps and ambushes, and Sheriff Hai unravels a wider conspiracy.
Many filmmakers, including King Hu and Lau Kar-leung, set the standard for Shaw Bros. during their heyday, but no other director had a bigger impact on the studio’s output and reputation than Chang (or Chan) Cheh. Chang wrote and/or directed nearly 100 films for the company, produced enduring hits over (more than) three decades, and created/co-created long-running franchises. His films were steeped in a formula now known as ‘heroic bloodshed,’ which emphasized brotherhood, redemption, and violent sacrifice, but his style evolved with the times and helped usher in the Hong Kong New Wave styles that, in turn, took Hollywood by storm in the mid-to-late ‘90s. While he was not the first of his kind and though he borrowed heavily from other great filmmakers, Chang might still be the single most influential wuxia/kung-fu director of all time. Some might say his crowning achievement was cultivating the team of actors and choreographers known as The Venom Mob. The Venom Mob was so-named, because its members – Kuo Chui, Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Lo Mang, and Wei Pai – appeared in the massive 1978 hit Five Venoms (aka: Five Deadly Venoms). According to fan/critic estimates, Chang made 32 movies featuring at least two Venom Mobsters and most were released through Shaw.
The Kid With The Golden Arm was number eight on the list of movies directed by Chang himself and starred three or more Venoms, as well as the last of 1979’s five Chang-directed Venom Mob movies, coming in less than two months after Magnificent Ruffians (aka: The Destroyers, also included with Arrow’s Shawscope volume 2). While in no way a narrative sequel to Five Venoms, it does feature all five original Venoms – Sun Chien (Scorpion in the original film), Kuo Chui (Lizard), Lo Mang (Toad), Lu Feng (Centipede), and Wei Pai (Snake) – as well as Venom student Chiang Sheng and ‘second-tier’ Venom Mobsters Wang Lung Wei and Yang Hsiung. The theme this time revolves around naming body parts and weapons after different types of metal, i.e.: Golden Arm, Iron Feet, Silver Spear, et cetera. Casual kung fu fans may recognize the fact that Stephen Chow borrowed this gimmick for his kung fu/sports movie spoof Shaolin Soccer (2001), in which hasbeen Shaolin monks with nicknames like Golden Leg, Iron Shirt, and Steel Leg apply their rusty skills to a cartoonishly combative soccer league.
Cartoonish is a good adjective for late ‘70s Chang Cheh movies. Other directors looked towards the future of the format, but Chang was a movie-making machine who just kept chugging along, reusing the same formula, to the point that his movies felt like throwbacks to an older era – the last gasp of classic Shaw Bros. on the cusp of the Hong Kong New Wave. Sometimes, the slavish devotion to formula was to the detriment of the Venom Mob films. Fortunately, The Kid with the Golden Arm stands out against an often interchangeable series of movies, because it is so lushly photographed, relentlessly plotted, and confidently directed. Chang knows his costume melodrama and old-school antics are dated, but he also knows that, as long as he delivers pure entertainment value, it doesn’t matter. Best of all, the escalation in gimmicky weapons and graphic violence feels like a wind-up to the sublime Venom Mob-adjacent releases of the ‘80s: House of Traps (1982) and Five Element Ninjas (1982).
The Kid with the Golden Arm had some iffy stateside VHS and DVD releases over the years, but, besides a nice R3 anamorphic disc from IVL in Hong Kong, there weren’t a lot of good viewing options for US fans, pre-streaming. Like several of the most popular Shaw films, current rights holder Celestial Films’ own HD masters made the rounds on streaming services and that same transfer debut on Blu-ray via German company Koch Media. However, this Arrow Blu-ray, released as part of the Shawscope Volume 2 collection, is technically an exclusive 2K restoration of the original film negatives. It shares a disc with Chang’s Invincible Shaolin (aka: Unbeatable Dragon, 1978). I don’t have anything to compare against, besides other Celestial transfers, but would definitely mark this as one of the set’s stronger transfers. Grain and textures are a lot more complex than I’d expect from an older remaster and the comic book colors pop nicely without bleeding or blocking up too much. Most artifacts that I can see are related to lenses, rather than print damage or compression.
The Kid with the Golden Arm is presented with Mandarin and English dub options, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio mono. As per usual, the movie was shot without sound, so all language tracks are dubbed. Some performers seem to my eye to be speaking Cantonese, but the Mandarin track still has the more natural lip sync. That said, there’s a lot of nostalgia value in watching Venom Mob movies with awkward English overdubs, so I assume a lot of people will opt for that option. Just be warned that the Mandarin track is cleaner and better balanced. The audio editors include slightly more natural ambience than usual to keep things busy, though it’s mostly chirping birds and background chatter. These sounds are further muted on the English dub, but not by much. Once again, Eddie Wang is the credited composer, but I’m hearing quite a few reused library cues alongside new melodies.
Kung Fu Instructor (23:59, HD) – An interview with action director Robert Tai, conducted in 2003 by Frédéric Ambroisine. Tai talks about working with Chang, setting up an opera-style kung fu school to train actors, competition with Lau Kar-leung, the differences between the Taiwan and Hong Kong brands of martial arts movies, Chang sometimes not even being on set during the recording of action scenes, and becoming a lead director.
Poison Clan Rocks The World (26:28, HD) – A visual essay on the Venom Mob written and narrated by Terrence J. Brady, author of Alexander Fu Sheng: Biography of the Chinatown Kid (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2018). Brady discusses the local legends behind the idea of the five Venoms, the circumstances that led Chang to gather the talent that would become the Venom Mob, the making of The Five Venoms, a quick rundown of all the ‘official’ Venom Mob movies, and the backgrounds of each member of the group. A great primer on the subject.
Alternate cut (96:18, HD) – The theatrical cut of The Kid with the Golden Arm includes a continuity error and earlier video releases fixed the issue with an alternate version of a particular fight. For completionist sake, Arrow has included an approximation of that via seamless branching.
Two alternate English language opening credits (2:13 & 1:45, video-to-HD) and a textless version (2:03, HD)
Hong Kong trailer, US TV spot, and digital re-release trailers
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.