Director: Chang Cheh
Writer: Chang Cheh, Ni Kuang, James Wong
Producer: Run Run Shaw
Cast: Alexander Fu Sheng, Shirley Yu, Siu Yam Yam, Philip Kwok, Lo Meng, Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Jenny Tseng, Wong Lik, Johnny Wang, Jamie Luk Kim Ming
Running Time: 120 min.
By Jeff Bona
After getting into trouble with both the Hong Kong police and the local crime syndicate (headed by Johnny Wang Lung-Wei), Tang Dong (Alexander Fu Sheng) heads to San Francisco to hide out and lead a normal work life. Upon his arrival, he gets a job at a Chinatown restaurant where befriends a co-worker named Yang Jian Wen (Sun Chien), a student from Taiwan.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for Tang Dong to find himself in yet another predicament. While on a routine stop at a laundromat, Tang Dong notices men extorting money from the owners. With extreme ease, Tang Dong fights them off and scares them away. As it turns out, the men Tang Dong took on were members of the Green Dragon gang (headed by Lo Meng).
When word gets around that Tang Dong single-handedly beat up a pack of Green Dragon members, a rival gang called the White Dragon gangsters (headed by Phillip Kwok) decide to recruit Tang Dong. What follows is saga of struggle, wealth, betrayal, friendship and morality.
Chinatown Kid is one hell of a movie. It’s paced just right with a little bit of everything: comedy, gangsterism, kung fu and even some violent shoot out sequences.
The charismatic Alexander Fu Sheng shines throughout. His boyish charm works perfectly for his character’s tough, but naive personality. As for Sun Chien? I like the guy, but he plays an odd character who feels a little out of place. I keep all my reviews spoil-free, so you’ll have to watch this movie to see what I mean.
Along with The Brave Archer, Shaolin Temple and The Naval Commandos; Chinatown Kid features cast members who would be widely known as the “Venoms” a year later. It’s only Sun Chien, Lo Meng and Philip Kwok who have chunky roles; Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng are barely in the picture; Wai Pai is the only member who is absent. On an interesting note, this is the only film where you get to see the Venom members sport bell-bottoms and shoot firearms.
Chinatown kid also features a lineup of groovy babes: Shirley Yu Sha Li (Life Gamble), Jenny Tseng Yan Lei (Boxer Rebellion), Shaw Yum Yum (Human Lanterns) and last, but not least, a cameo from Kara Hui (My Young Auntie).
Chinatown Kid has been compared to Brian DePalma’s Scarface (1983). In fact, it’s easy to imagine Giorgio Moroder’s theme playing in the background as Tang Dong rises to power. I personally doubt DePalma drew inspiration from Chinatown Kid, but the two movies do share a lot of the same qualities, both visually and in plot. But then again, this is DePalma we’re talking about (he’s often criticized for ripping off everyone from Alfred Hitchcock to Sergei M. Eisenstein), so who knows?
WARNING: The Celestial DVD has a completely different “happy” ending with a chunk of violence cut out, as well as other changes here and there. What sucks is the Celestial version is the only legit version available (although it’s currently out of print). The only other options you have is to find an old Southgate VHS tape or purchase the shady Pan Media DVD. I’m not the biggest bootleg fan, but It’s situations like these where I’m totally for them. For more details about the difference between the two versions/endings, click here. Watch out for spoilers.
The Celestial DVD is a good way of viewing the alternative ending as an extra if you’re curious, otherwise it’s an unnecessary version that only hurts the film.
Jeff Bona‘s Rating: 9/10 (Celestial DVD edit: 5/10)