Cinapse is all about cinematic discovery. This Shawscope Volume 2 column is, therefore, a watch project for our team, and guests, to work through this phenomenal set from Arrow Video. These capsule reviews are designed to give glimpses of our thoughts as we discover these films for ourselves. Some are kung fu cinema experts, some less so; all are excited for the adventure.
The Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers Studio cranked out a staggering number of feature films over its lifetime. With worldwide influence continuing to this very day, their contributions to cinema are myriad and undeniable. Arrow Video has curated a second volume of titles; an intentional way to wade into the deep waters of the Shaw Brothers. Beyond capsule reviews, our team also offers thoughts on the set curation and bonus features. Watch along with us, join us in the comments, or reach out on social media (linked below) if you’d like to submit your own
One of my earliest forays into cinephilia was when I started renting Hong Kong action films from my local mom and pop video store. This would’ve been in the late 1990s and I became a lifelong fan of John Woo’s Hard Boiled (which I still consider to be perhaps the greatest action film of all time). And so it was to my great surprise when we started watching all these Shaw Brothers films together for this project that I realized that Hard Boiled’s Mad Dog himself, Mr. Phillip Kwok, had gotten his start as a major player in the Shaw Brothers world. So with that in mind, I have to say that I did very much enjoy The Kid With The Golden Arm as, despite not playing the titular character, this really is Kwok’s film. Here we’ve got a fairly strong and propulsive plot, which is par for the course for the legendary Chang Cheh. There’s a security firm tasked with transporting a massive amount of gold, so they’re manning up to be a formidable force in case the Deadly Valley gang attacks… which, of course, they do. The titular kid is actually the villain of this picture, the most fearsome criminal in the gang (played by Shaw regular and super handsome Lo Meng). Along for the adventure is Sheriff Hai To (Kwok). Kwok leans into the role of a devilishly drunken lawman. Always laughing, drinking, and one step ahead of all the other players in the ensemble. There are mysteries, betrayals, and epic battles as this shipment of gold makes its way to its destination, and Kwok is the spark and lifeblood of the whole thing, having a blast with his larger than life character. As someone who knows him as the mostly silent and deadly Mad Dog, this is a big departure and shows the incredible skill set Kwok really had on screen. Invincible Shaolin probably edges this one out for me on this set, but I love Kwok’s central and starring role here.
The Kid with the Golden Arm is another Chang Cheh beat’em up starring the Venom Mob, and while still a bit overstuffed compared to other Shaw films on the set, this one fared better to me than Invincible Shaolin. The device of transporting 2 tons of gold to a famine stricken area definitely would bring out the worst in most, and this understandably brings out the whole Chi Sha gang and its four chiefs all named after their fighting speciality. The fights are bloody as expected, with Kuo Chui’s Agent Hai Tao and Lo Mang’s Golden Arm the clear MVPs here. While the drunken rascal has definitely become a well worn archetype on this set at this point, it’s how Kuo Chui interacts with Miss Leng Feng (Helen Poon) here that really gives the character a bit more depth than expected. That and his defiant relationship with Golden Arm never lets you stop guessing on where he stands.
Where the film works is the premise is just ambiguous enough to keep the morality muddy, and all the characters in play as possible double agents. I mean after all, that’s a lot of gold. I also think Cheh does a better job at juggling this ensemble and playing on the strengths to deliver characters that all have a memorable hook and a purpose in the narrative.
The Kid with the Golden Arm isn’t a new one for me… but that’s to be expected as I went on a crazy Venom Mob binge during the lockdown in 2020. My Letterboxd entry from my previous watch says the following:
Really all you need to know is that the final line of this film is, “Now I’m going to go get drunk”
I stand by this. It really is the only thing you need to know. But if I must say more, let me epand on Golden Arm himself. Lo Mang is probably my favorite member of the Mob, so it’s nice to see him get the shine here. Lots of familiar elements in the story structure and beats, but that’s not a bad thing. The Mob is best when they stick to their format. It’s not common, from my experience at least, that Mang gets to be the guy, so that’s the one thing that truly stands out.
This is my favorite film of this set so far for sure… and with this beautiful restoration, it creep sup my Shaw list – and my Cheh list, as well. Top tier stuff. Such a blast.
And We’re Out.