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The Kid with the Golden Arm

Director:
Cheh Chang
Release Date:
02 Nov 1979
Genre:
Drama / Action
Country:
Hong Kong
Runtime:
75 min

Jin bei tong opens with a group of escort/guards preparing to move a shipment of gold from the local government to an area stricken by famine. One of the guards informs the escort chief, Yang Hu Yun (Sun Chien) that two mercenary fighters named Yen and Fang, are ready for them on the road and will act as scouts. Yang Hu Yun says that the local governors are relying on them to make sure the gold reaches the famine-stricken area, as the people there need it desperately to obtain food. They are awaiting the arrival of a special government agent named Hai To, but he has not arrived yet.
One of the guards suddenly comes rushing in, mortally wounded. On his back, in his own blood, are painted the characters for the party responsible for the killing-- the Che Sa gang, a ruthless group of bandits. Yang Hu Yun orders his men to notify Yen, Fang, and a swordsman named Li (Wei Pai) and his girlfriend, who will also be assisting with the gold escort. The Che Sa gang are sending the guards a message that they are after the gold and intend to steal it for themselves.
Yang Hu Yun orders his men to prepare to move out. He warns everyone that their group, and the mercenary fighters who will be aiding them, are very powerful, but the Che Sa gang is as well, and are partcularly ruthless. They are led by four Chiefs.
The opening credits begin with a montage that shows the fighting style of each Chief. Number 1, Golden Arm (Lo Meng), is muscular and stocky, a master of unarmed hand and arm techniques. Number 2, Silver Spear (Lu Feng), has an acrobatic fighting style and wields a specially crafted spear in battle, which appears to be sculpted out of a single piece of solid silver. Number 3, Iron Robe, wields a steel fan with razor edges in battle, and his robe is covered with iron studs that act as armor against sword-slashes. Number 4, Brass Head, fights unarmed and wears a brass plate over his forehead, which makes his head butts lethal.
The Chiefs are ranked by skill, not age. All of them are relatively young, and Golden Arm is the youngest of them. Despite this, all of them are infamous for their success. has also heard that the Che Sa have recently acquired some mercenaries of their own... a group known as the Seven Hooks, who are known for their cruelty and viciousness.
Yen and Fang are scouting ahead on the road. They encounter the Seven Hooks, so named for the hook-like weapons they wield. But Yen and Fang prove superior in their teamwork and use of the weapons they wield; Yen uses a heavy poleaxe, while Fang wields paired hand axes. This has given them the nickname of 'Longaxe and Short axe.' Yen and Fang kill all Seven of the Seven Hooks.
Miss Leng (Helen Poon), Swordsman Li's girlfriend, is walking ahead on her own when she encounters Iron Robe. He questions her on why she has been sent ahead alone. Leng says nothing, only holding her sword at the ready. But Iron Robe says he will not attack women, and says that he is letting her pass. But Iron Robe quickly shows his true colors, as a few of the Che Sa grunts are waiting in ambush. They strike at Leng as she starts to move past, but she slays them with a quick sword-draw maneuver, calling Iron Robe despicable. Iron Robe is unrepentant, caring only about winning. Several more Che Sa grunts come out of hiding as Iron Robe himself engages Leng in battle.
But Iron Robe's fan is pushed aside by a hurled wine jug. The owner of this jug (Kuo Chui) quickluy leaps out of nearby bushes to catch it. He complains, mostly to himself, about only having drank three jugs of wine so far, and he couldn't be drunk. Unamused and not caring about drunkenness, Iron Robe attacks the man, who fends him off and slays the henchmen using only the wine jug as a weapon. No sooner is Leng safe when the mysterious man who saved her leaps back into the bushes, leaving her once again alone.
Yang Hu Yun is leading his main body of men with the wagon containing the gold. Several of the escort service's scouts report in to say that Yen and Fang have slain the Seven Hooks, and that Leng was ambushed by Iron Robe, when a mysterious drunken man rescued her and promptly disappeared. Yang is thoughtful for a moment and realizes that the man must be Hai To, the government agent they'd been awaiting. Hai To is a drunk, who regards wine as his only friend, and that he fights best when he's intoxicated. Thinking another brief moment, he signals to the wagon driver and the convoy begins moving again.
Leng meets Li at a tavern in a small town that the escort convoy must pass through. He is concerned about her being late, and she tells him that Iron Robe ambushed her and nearly killed her. The two sit, and the tavernkeeper and the head waiter are seen looking at Leng and Li intently. The head waiter signals to a table attendant who begins to pour wine for them, but suddenly grabs a sword from behind another table. But Li has anticipated this, quickly slaying the waiter with a single lightning sword stroke. The tavernkeeper feigns ignorance, outraged at the killing, until Li produces the sword the waiter used to try and ambush him. Continuing to feign ignorance, the tavernkeeper castigates the head waiter, who was responsible for the conduct of the lesser attendants. But as this is going on, the tavernkeeper is stealthily passed a spear which he uses to attack Li and Leng. The tavernkeeper and head waiter are Silver Spear and Brass Head in disguise, and the other attendants are all Che Sa grunts. As a battle breaks out, Silver Spear is seen glancing at a man standing outside the tavern.
Li and Leng fend off the grunts, slaying several in the process, but Li is slowly backed up against one of the tavern walls. When he is close enough, the hidden man outside bursts his hands through the walls of the tavern, striking Li in the back. The man's hands are covered with a sandy substance that have administered a contact poison to Li-- the Sand Palm. Li slays the Sand Palm but is wounded. He and Leng slay several more of the grunts and escape from the tavern. Silver Spear orders his men in pursuit.
But the grunt at the head of the pursuit runs smack into Hai To, who blithely walks into the tavern and seats himself as if having no idea what is going on. He gestures to Brass Head and orders a jug of wine. Brass Head glances at Silver Spear, who gestures to the wine racks, directing Brass Head to bring Hai To a jar. Brass Head does so, and Hai To quickly begins to guzzle it down. Growing impatient, Brass Head attacks Hai To, who parries the attack with the wine jug, causing it to shatter against Brass Head's metal headdress, which is covered with a cloth one to hide it.
Seemingly more annoyed at the wine jug being wasted, than anything else, Hai To nonetheless reveals Brass Head and Silver Spear for who they really are. Silver Spear, not recognizing Hai To but seeing that he is exceptionally skilled in combat, condescendingly offers him a place among the Che Sa gang. But Hai To presents some outrageous conditions, among them his being the Number 1 Chief and that all the grunts must be done away with. He starts to recite a third condition, but can't seem to remember what it is. Knowing he is simply taunting them, the remaining grunts attack Hai To, but he kills one and escapes from the others.
On the road, Leng is begging Li to rest while she finds a doctor to help him. But Li refuses the offer. He says his internal body control can fend off the Sand Palm poison for at least two days, which should be enough time for the mission to be accomplished. Fearful of losing Li, Leng accuses him of only caring about his own heroism, but Li again counters, saying he is willing to die for the sake of both Yang Yu Jun and the famine victims, while Leng wants to save Li only out of her own love for him-- who then, he asks, is being selfish.
The whole guard convoy is resting at the town. Several scouts report in to Yang Hu Yun. Many rival gangs know of the gold shipment, but none dare try to steal it because they all know that the Che Sa gang is pursuing it, and the other gangs, being no match for Che Sa, are afraid of trying to compete with them. Yen and Fang also have a prisoner, who they caught loitering around the area where the convoy is resting, and who they suspect of being a Che Sa member. They try to interrogate him, but the loiterer tells them to go ahead and kill him-- he is not afraid, and he knows that torture is against their morale code. Acknowledging that attempting to learn anything would be futile, Fang gives the loiterer a quick and clean death.
A secret panel in the floor suddenly opens up and Brass Head emerges, attacking the guard convoy. Yang Hu Yun realizes that the panel conceals a hidden tunnel through which the Che Sa have spirited the gold chests back onto the wagon and are preparing to spirit it away. He orders his men to stop them, but more Che Sa arrive in force, engaging them all in battle. As Brass Head and the Che Sa grunts battle the guard convoy, Iron Robe climbs in the wagon and starts to drive it off. Hai To stealthily stows away on the wagon, clinging to its underside and axles. When Iron Robe is out of both sight and earshot of his reinforcements, Hai To breaks the rear axle of the wagon, bringing it to a standstill. Iron Robe quickly lights a signal flare. Hai To comes out of hiding and casually taunts Iron Robe about nobody answering the signal flare.
But one of the Che Sa grunts, back in the town, has seen the flare, and hurries to inform Brass Head. He signals a full retreat, but Yen, Fang, Yang Hu Yun and the remaining guards cut Brass Head off and mortally wound him. The rear door to the meeting place is smashed open; Golden Arm has arrived. Brass Head tells Golden Arm that Iron Robe has driven the gold off, but has just sent up a signal flare. Golden Arm says he will go investigate, and then when the time is right, he will avenge Brass Head, killing all of the guard convoy. Brass Head expresses his gratitude for the promise before he dies.
Golden Arm almost casually begins to walk toward the other exit to investigate the signal flare. All of the guard convoy attack him... but fighting unarmed, he fends all of them off, blocking every shot thrown at him; his bare arms stopping the slashes of swords and axes. He reaches the front exit completely unscathed and continues on his way. The guard convoy is in awe of Golden Arm's fighting ability. Yang mentions that Golden Arm never uses weapons, having proven that he does not need any; his arms are the only weapons he needs. He could have killed all of them then and there, but let them go-- for now-- because of the signal flare that Iron Robe sent up.
And Iron Robe does have his hands full. He recognizes Hai To for who he is, knowing that only he would behave the way he is. Knowing that Hai To has arranged to catch him alone, he engages the agent in hand to hand combat. A group of Che Sa reinforcements arrive. Making quick work of them, Hai To seizes a spear to use as a weapon, but Iron Robe's metal-studded robe protects him from the spear's sharp point. But Hai To finally outwits Iron Robe, placing the wagon between them. Rather than allow Hai To to try and circle around for a rear attack, Iron Robe leaps over the wagon... but Hai To has gotten right under where he will land, bracing the butt of the spear on the ground with the point up, which gets under the metal-studded robe, dealing the third Che Sa chief a terrible death. Hai To quickly leaves the scene of the battle-- and the wagon-- after finishing Iron Robe and the last of his henchmen.
Golden Arm arrives, surveying the scene. Speaking to himself, he knows that Swordsman Li is hurt, and Leng is with them. Yang, Yen and Fang, and the remaining guard convoy grunts, are not a problem. Only Agent Hai To could have caused this much trouble. Nonetheless, Golden Arm is unafraid, and looking forward to fighting him at the right time. Knowing he cannot fix the wagon and take it away on his own, Golden Arm decides to let Yang Yu Hun recover it and keep it a few more days. As Golden Arm walks off, he is unaware of Hai To lurking among the foliage, having eavesdropped on Golden Arm's monologue.
Li encounters Silver Spear on the road. The two fight, and Silver Spear twirls his weapon around in a way that causes Li to become dizzy from the Sand Palm poison. Hai To arrives before Silver Spear can finish Li. Hai To and Silver Spear fight it out until Leng arrives, and Hai To warns Silver Spear to retreat, or Leng will be able to help finish him off. Knowing Hai To is right, Silver Spear withdraws. Hai To picks up the unconscious Li and carries him off, Leng following and yelling in protest.
Hai To brings Li to a blacksmith forge where some acquaintances of his are working. He pays them some silver and they place Li into the forge, locking him inside. Leng, outraged, tries to attack Hai To, but he fends her off easily, telling her nothing. She is forced to stand outside and wait.
The smith workers put more wood into the fire to feed it. Li comes to from the intense heat and tries to break out of the forge, but cannot. His fists hurting from the effort, he screams in anger and anguish.
Scouts are reporting in to Yang Hu Yun, who is leading the wagon again. The scouts have checked ahead ten miles and have found a small town where they can rest. Yang Hu Yun agrees, but says the convoy will also rest where they are now, for a while.
But this proves a deadly mistake, as the Che Sa have anticipated that the convoy would pass through the area, and have set booby-trap poison needles everywhere. All of the convoy guards who have leaned or sat near trees and bushes are dead. Yen sweeps the ground with his poleaxe and finds a near minefield of poison needles sticking out of the ground. He has everyone break pieces of wood directly off the wagon and nowhere else, to attach to the soles of their shoes. Everyone must move standing completely upright and must touch nothing, and lean against nothing.
At the forge, Leng is vowing to exact vengeance on Hai To if it takes the rest of her days, and Hai To, guzzling wine again, simply laughs her off, saying he's right in front of her. Despite her anger, she is no match for him in combat and grows more and more frustrated.
Inside the forge, Li has ripped off his tunic and shirt, to find that the intense heat has caused his body to drive out the Sand Palm poison through perspiration. He understands now that he was not placed into the forge to kill him or cremate his body... but to save his life. Hai To signals to the workers to open the forge, and Li emerges, alive and completely healthy again. As Leng marvels at this, Hai To leaves again... without paying the workers. He tells them it was Li they saved, they should hand him the bill.
Golden Arm and Silver Spear confer at their headquarters. Silver Spear says that their poison needle traps have decimated a large number of the guard convoy, and when the convoy arrives at the next town to spend the night, the Che Sa will be ready. The convoy has sustained considerable losses, though the ones remaining are the toughest yet.
Golden Arm grows thoughtful as he remembers fending off Yang's forces the previous night when Brass Head and Iron Robe were killed. He had had time to observe Yang Hu Yun's fighting style and is sure that he is not a skilled fighter... which makes no sense to Golden Arm because he is famous as a swordsman. A little over a year ago, on a different escort duty, he killed seventeen would-be bandits, using his sword, in a single battle.
Silver Spear is unconcerned, feeling that Yang, like the rest of the guard service, will all be slain soon and the Che Sa will have the gold. Golden Arm concedes the point, and asks about rival gangs that might also try to get the gold for themselves. Silver spear says that all the other gangs are too scared of trying to compete against the Che Sa. Only one name is any cause of concern to either Golden Arm or Silver Spear... a fighter named Iron Feet, who was also renowned a short time ago, but simply disappeared shortly after Golden Arm formed the Che Sa gang.
The guard convoy has arrived at the next town and is preparing to sleep for the night. It takes very little time before several more of the grunts fall prey to the next Che Sa trap... they have driven off or killed all the town's inhabitants and poisoned the water supply for miles around. They must consume only the food and water rations brought with them from the start, and be doubly alert on guard shifts throughout the night.
Hai To arrives, guzzling wine from a jar as he is always doing. He knows the water has been poisoned, so he is fortunate he only drinks wine. He confers with Li and Yang, who understand that even the candles may be poisoned, so they are only using their own torches. But Hai To notes the iron bracket rings placed on the walls for holding the torches. He ushers everyone outside and pulls the windows shut just as the heat from the torches causes the bracket rings to release poison gas. Hai To notes that they will all have to sleep outside tonight, on the very streets of the town.
Later at night, the Wang Brothers, two of the senior guards in the convoy, decide that they can't stay with the convoy because they're sure to die if they do. They make an agreement to sneak into the building where the gold chests are, steal whatever they can carry, and hurry off. But it turns out that even the chests, themselves, are coated with contact poison, which kills the two guards, and baffles the rest of the convoy, including Yang Hu Yun and even Hai To. The Che Sa couldn't have possibly known that any of the escort convoy was going to turn coat. And even if they somehow could have known, why place poison on the chests? Yang and Hai To wrestle over the possibility of a traitor in the escort service.
The convoy leaves the town at dawn to get on the road. Hai To has already left. Silver Spear and his spearmen find Hai To at another tavern and quickly kill all its employees. Silver Spear tells Hai To that Golden Arm is offering him a deal: if he backs off from the convoy, they'll give him a 20% cut of the gold's value. Instead of answering, Hai To questions Silver Spear on the poisoning of the Wang Brothers. The blank look from Silver Spear, showing he doesn't know what Hai To is talking about, the answer Hai To expected.
Silver Spear tells Hai To that if he doesn't accept Golden Arm's terms, then Golden Arm wants to settle with him, hand to hand, in a duel. Hai To asks for the time and place, and seems remarkably unconcerned. Silver Spear withdraws, but Hai To tells the spearmen grunts that they are under arrest, and kills them all.
On the road, fear of the Che Sa has broken the morale of all the remaining convoy grunts. They approach Yang Hu Yun and tell him that they want to leave. Yang starts to pull his sword, but Li says to let them go. If they wish to run like cowards, it will catch up to them in time. The grunts are hurry off, and Li, Yen, and Fang are thoughtful. They understand the grunts losing morale, as all their co-workers and friends are dead. As for the three of them... their loyalty is to Yang, to the end.
Yen and Fang go ahead on the road to scout, leaving Yang, Li and Leng with the wagon. Arriving at a clearing, Yen and Fang are thoughtful. The Che Sa must know that the convoy's strength is nearly broken, and Yen has also seen that Yang is barely competent as a fighter. He and Fang wonder if he is injured, but they are too mindful of his feelings to ask.
The ambush that they are expecting strikes at that moment; a contingent of spearmen under Silver Spear. Separating Yen and Fang, Silver Spear takes Yen down with several thrown darts just after Yen finishes off all but one of the spearmen. Fang and Silver Spear fight it out until Silver Spear gets Fang in a grapple and the last spearman skewers Fang from behind. Breaking free of the grapple, Fang swings his axes over his head, killing the spearmen, and then, as Silver Spear is off-guard, Fang grabs the spearhead that is poking through his chest, and with his last breath, pulls the spear completely through his body and drives it into Silver Spear, taking the Che Sa Chief number two, with him.
Yang Hu Yun, Li and Leng arrive at the site of the battle. That Yen and Fang managed to kill Silver Spear is small comfort in light of their also being lost. Only Yang, Li, Leng and Hai To remain... and Li thinks poorly of Hai To as an escort member. He stalks off alone, Leng realizing he probably is going to seek out and challenge Golden Arm.
Hai To is leaving the tavern, hauling a small wagon loaded with wine jars. He happens across Li and tries to warn him from proceeding where he's headed. Li pays no attention.
Hai goes to meet Yang and Leng on the road. Finding out about the loss of Yen and Fang, Hai To says that he was set to meet Golden Arm at Chi Li Hill, but he suspects that Li figured this out and has gone there himself. Leng is outraged that Hai To didn't try to stop Li, even though Hai To points out that if he tried, Li would fought to his own death trying to get through Hai To. Li's sense of duty and honor mean far more to him than anything, including Leng's love for him.
Just as both Leng and Hai To predicted, Li finds his way to Chi Li Hill and challenges Golden Arm. The lead Che Sa chief sees no threat in Li, even allowing him to recover his sword after disarming him. Good as Li's swordsmanship is, Golden Arm's unarmed technique is better. The bare skin of his arms does not yield to the razor edges of Li's steel sword. Golden Arm finally tires of the bout and kills Li.
Leng arrives in time to see Li struck down. Drawing her own sword, she starts to advance on Golden Arm, but she knows she cannot hope to take him and starts to backpedal when he advances on her in return. Golden Arm gives her three days to leave the area and give up her role in escorting the gold shipment. After that, if he sees her again, she admits defeat.
As Golden Arm turns away, Leng notices a bamboo pole poking against her ear; it is Hai To, using the pole to discretely whisper to her without Golden Arm hearing. He tells her to leave the area and return in two hours, whereupon she will be set to take revenge for Li's death.
Golden Arm meets up with Hai To. He tells Hai To that his men are giving Li an honorable burial, and that he gave Leng three days to run. Hai To is unafraid of his own death, shrugging it off as a risk of his work.
Yang Hu Yun arrives with the gold wagon. He is now alone in escorting it. Seeing Golden Arm, he removes his cloak and draws his sword... in a manner that even Golden Arm, trained only in unarmed fighting technique, can see plainly that Yang barely knows how to use a sword, despite his fame as a swordsman. Hai To tells Golden Arm to forget about Yang. Golden Arm acknowledges and they begin their duel.
Hai To and Golden Arm are almost evenly matched. They battle to a stalemate before Yang throws his sword to Hai To, who catches it and resumes the battle without missing a stride. Even Yang's sword has no effect on Golden Arm's arms, and he shatters the sword to pieces between his hands. Finally Hai To produces two metal hooks that prove to be attached to long chains. Getting Golden Arm's arms snared up in them, Hai To suddenly conforts and regurgitates a gullet full of wine, spewing it full force into Golden Arm's unprotected eyes.
Golden Arm is blinded by the attack; the one part of his body that Hai To knew had to be vulnerable. With the leader of Che Sa incapacitated, it seems that the gold shipment is safe for the short distance remaining for it to be escorted.
But it just seems that way. A man emerges from the interior of the wagon, having been in hiding there from the very beginning. He looks exactly like Yang Hu Yun (also played by Sun Chien) and wields an identical nine-ring broadsword. He strikes from behind, mortally wounding Hai To.
Hai To quickly pieces everything together. Yang's double and the true leader of the escort service, is also the traitor from within. He can easily kill Golden Arm, pass him and Hai To off as having killed each other, and then kill his stand-in, and everyone will think that the remaining Che Sa gang members have the gold. Yang stares in horror as his employer gives him a wicked smile, before advancing and killing him with a swift sword-stroke.
Hai To points out two weaknesses in the escort leader's plot. First, he didn't know about the contact poison on the chests, so he didn't have to kill the Wang Brothers. Also, his stand-in, although a near perfect resemblance to him, was not a competent swordsman, as the real Yang himself is famed as.
But the escort leader says that his swordplay is no better than his stand-in's had been. What he IS extremely skilled at, however... is a fighting style that makes heavy use of kicking techniques. He is extremely good with his feet. The last piece of the puzzle falls into place as he reveals that he is the missing fighter Golden Arm had been concerned about... Yang is Iron Feet.
Shortly before Golden Arm formed the Che Sa gang, he and Iron Feet had been equals. But after the gang was assembled, Iron Feet was sorely outnumbered and could not overcome them. He went into hiding, and began biding his time leading a crew of escort guards, waiting for a major job as this where he could finally see the Che Sa dismantled through attrition, kill Golden Arm, and turn coat, starting his own gang of outlaws. To hide his identity, Iron Feet even established a false reputation as a swordsman; the seventeen men he killed at a lake while on escort duty, died from his kung-fu kicks, and while the bodies were still warm, he then slashed them repeatedly with his sword so it would appear that he killed them with the sword. Nobody survived to tell the truth.
To finish his plan, Iron Feet must also kill Golden Arm. Golden Arm knows that Iron Feet has no choice in this. Straining his ears to listen, he is able to fend off Iron Feet's attack and counter effectively. Iron Feet happens to notice Golden Arm's ears twitching, straining to listen. Iron Feet backs off, stepping very slowly and carefully to deaden the sound of his footfalls. This allows him to seize the advantage and land a number of punishing kicks.
But before Iron Feet can finish Golden Arm, Hai To suddenly leaps into the fray. Iron Feet's sword slash never actually hurt Hai To... his wine flask stopped the blow. As he's always said, wine is his best friend. Iron Feet and Hai To battle it out until Hai To is able to knock Iron Feet back... right into a waiting Golden Arm, who lands a lethal blow from behind.
Golden Arm is still blind, however. He is no longer effective as leader of a criminal gang. Seeing no other option, and in a sign of gratitude for Hai To showing mercy to him, he tells Hai To he will find his way to the next town to live out the rest of his days quietly.
But Leng has returned, as Hai To has told her to, and she is ready to take her revenge. Coming up behind Golden Arm, she drives her sword through his back, the point crashing out through his chest. Acting on pure reflex, Golden Arm breaks off the front of Leng's sword, and she is in shock finding the bloody point at her own neck in a heartbeat.
But Golden Arm chooses to spare her life. The clean death Leng has given him, in the end, is much better than the fate he had been facing. He tosses the broken piece of her sword aside and accepts his death.
Hai To tells Leng that the famine-stricken area is close enough that she can reach it quickly. There are no further obstacles to her bringing the wagon safely there, even if she is alone. Bidding her farewell, he goes off to find more wine and get drunk. Jin Bei Tong closes with that simple note.
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