Rising Through the Crime Ranks

Whereas Shaw Brothers kung-fu movies often hid their political machinations under turn-of-the-century fables, Chinatown Kid takes a direct approach. In casting the charismatic Sheng Fu as the lead, Chinatown Kid becomes a contemporary commentary on Hong Kong’s economic expansion, or more notably, those left struggling for scraps as the few find success.

However, Chinatown Kid dismisses the American dream too. It’s critical of western culture as Sheng Fu moves to San Francisco to escape a criminal element, then finds himself surrounded by the same on a different coast. There he also meets an immigrant student (Chien Sun) who works for dismal wages, studies for school, and soon needs drugs in order to do both. Beyond criticizing the lifestyle forced on people, Chien Sun offers little else to the story; Chinatown Kid needs him to balance Sheng Fu, who’s soon dealing among underworld syndicates.

Fun as Chinatown Kid is, this is also a tragedy

There’s comedy in culture shocks. Sheng Fu is a delight, as he always was before his untimely death, here failing to grasp a hot dog isn’t actually made from dog meat. He’s awkward, as anyone stepping into such a sudden change would be. This is a smart kid though, realizing how easy it is to take advantage of suffering people, turning that into a ploy to take down two local gangs. He ceases drug distribution and prostitution from a position of power, infuriating the cartel’s bosses. Soon, the structures begin collapsing, and what seemed like a growing ego nearing Scarface’s gruesome ascent transforms into a Robin Hood-esque crackdown on the wealthy.

Chinatown Kid lets its characters breathe and emote. They have space to evolve as their well-written personalities begin to show. That helps alleviate the awkward editing faults and rapidly shifting tonality, allowing those uneven qualities some counter-action.

It’s a film made as society changed leading into the ‘80s, as much an olden gangster saga with its gory gunplay as it is looking ahead toward a decade succumbing to drugs and increasing inequality. Fun as Chinatown Kid is, this is also a tragedy given the ending’s morose elements. Sheng Fu fights as a hero, only because the rest are too weak to stand up against the mob. His sense of morality is a centerpiece that Shaw Brothers could hold high as one of the studio’s best.

Video

A rough, imperfect print brings Chinatown Kid to Blu-ray. Inconsistencies suggest a source pieced together from multiple elements. As Sheng fu first starts making orange juice, the image becomes pure grindhouse, the vertical scratches and discoloration significant. Reel markers confirm this is a release print. Luckily, the rest isn’t as damaged, although some odd spotting hangs over the right side of the frame for much of the runtime.

Resolution is adequate at least, the imagery soft, but precise enough to bring out some textural details. Partly, the lesser materials suit the grimy tone Chinatown Kid aims for. Plus, sufficient contrast and passable black levels help keep the depth high.

There’s a pleasing color base too. Flesh tones stand out, accurate and appropriately saturated. Scenes in Hong Kong cities push plentiful reds and golds. Other primaries find success too. All of the ’70s era decor bring oranges and browns in droves.

Audio

Cantonese or English mono – take your pick as both come in DTS-HD. The pure 1970s soundtrack allows a little weight into the mix, and it’s balanced well enough. While understandably dated with scratchy dialog and strained treble, fidelity is pure enough to not lose anything significant through the decades.

Extras

On its own disc in the set, Chinatown Kid includes two cuts of the film, one being the original international version, the other a truncated cut (slicing nearly 30 minutes). Afterward, there’s a commentary with Terrence J. Brady, a commentary/interview with star Susan Shaw, and a profile of actor Fu Sheng produced in 2005. A trailer and image gallery follow.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Chinatown Kid
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras

Movie

A mix of contemporary culture, fish-out-of-water comedy, crime, and kung-fu, Chinatown Kid is an entertaining Shaw Brothers offering.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 34 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: