Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Sun Chien, Shirley Yu, Susan Shaw Yin-Yin, Kuo Chui, Lo Meng, Wang Lung-Wei, Jenny Tseng
Directed By Chang Cheh
I’m afraid that this review was a little bungled from the start. This is what happens when you wind up with a bad copy of a film slated for review and are left with no alternatives but to move ahead…
Any true old school kung fu movie fan has no doubt been in sustained elation since the Shaw Bros catalog had been obtained and dramatically restored by those fine folks over at Celestial Pictures almost ten years ago now. It’s been a nice decade of film viewing for fans of the legendary studio, no longer forced to waddle through 7th generation muddy pan & scan copies of their favorite martial arts classics. It’s a win-win situation for all parties involved, as I think nobody can complain about the work done on preserving the integrity and beauty of these fine films.
Then we have Chinatown Kid, which proves to be the proverbial one that got away when this whole deal went down. Not to say that the film doesn’t look amazing, the restoration here is every bit as beautiful as Celestial’s other remastering efforts. The problem is that Celestial went through its arduous, painstaking lengths only to wind up remastering THE WRONG FILM!
The dwarfed version still remains interesting because it contains snippets and extended scenes that are missing from the full-length cut, but it comes at the cost of entire subplots and characters being completely excised. While the film contains what is probably the immortal Alexander Fu Sheng’s greatest performance, this movie is also chock full of interesting characters played by a who’s who of Shaw’s finest at the time, most of who are reduced to mere cogs of the plot device machine in this 86 minute cut. Fu Sheng’s real life wife Jenny Tsang is introduced as a potential romantic interest, only to never be seen again in the film. Imagine my surprise when looking at Chinatown Kid’s IMDb entry and seeing the charismatic Kara Hui listed in the credits! I bet she was great… too bad she was missing from my copy. Probably the greatest tragedy is in Sun Chien’s character, whose story was obviously intended to be every bit as significant as Fu Sheng’s in the film. He plays a naïve, bookwormish student who nearly becomes a drooling cocaine addict when faced with the harsh realities of being a struggling expatriate in a strange land. Sadly, the jumpy nature of this truncated print tosses his near tragic skirt with addiction into the realms of ham-fisted preachiness usually reserved for afterschool specials.
Now listen, I understand the essential reasoning behind these malignant cuts. If you are faced with the task of trimming this sucker down for repeat screenings, you have to go with the bread and butter, that being Fu Sheng’s interesting bumpkin-turned-triad character and his magnificently diverse performance. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is a really great kung fu film under the surface here that is sadly obstructed by erratic cuts and half-developed characters that ends up presenting only a slice of the whole pie.