Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Tuesday Review: Golden Needles (1974)
In the opening narration for the kung fu thriller Golden Needles, we’re told of a set of legendary acupuncture needles that can bring about either the ultimate in ecstasy or certain death. We then cut to a Chinese healer using said needles to cure an invalid, right as a couple of guys in shiny hazmat suits with flame throwers come in and torch the whole place. Such is the utter lunacy of Golden Needles, and it only gets wackier from there.
The story concerns an American woman named Felicity (Elizabeth Ashley), who somehow or another has gotten in deep with the wrong people. She concocts a scheme to steal the much-valued golden needles of the title to pay off her debts, hiring the aimless grifter Dan Martin (Joe Don Baker) to seal the deal for her. Of course things don’t go as planned (and Felicity finds her way into Dan's pants, because no woman can resist Joe Don Baker's gut), as the plot takes one nonsensical twist after another and the film ambles on to its zany conclusion.
Joe Don Baker plays Dan, and although he’s far too pudgy to be believable as a kung fu warrior, it’s kind of hard seeing anyone else in the role. Baker’s got that hayseed charm about him, and although the film never really requires him to "act" per se, he gets by on general badassery. The rest of the cast doesn’t fair too well: Ashley is much too screechy to be the true femme fatale the role requires, and there’s also a smattering of Asian actors throughout who don’t really manage to leave much of an impression, although Roy Chiao makes for a pretty great villain. Throw in the “guest stars” Jim Kelly and Burgess Meredith (who each become a part of the plot for exactly twenty-five minutes before disappearing completely), and you have a really mixed bag of talent who wander in and out of the movie seemingly at the whim of the film’s budget.
Hot off of the success of Enter the Dragon, it’s easy to see why director Robert Clouse was eager to follow up with another helping of kung fu fighting. But that movie had the benefit of Bruce Lee, and without a similar force of nature to pick up the film’s slack, the movie becomes a bit of a shambling wreck. Which is not to say the film is without it’s pleasures: this film is batshit insane, no doubt about it. From a fight in a shower amongst bare-assed old men to Burgess Meredith’s impressive collection of multicolored bowties, there is plenty here to fuel several drunken MST3K-styled nights with your friends… and there’s still the loony ending, which sees quite literally the entire population of Hong Kong chasing after Baker and the fabled golden needles. Clouse also has the good sense to bring his Enter the Dragon collaborator Lalo Schifrin along, who delivers a suitably bitchin' score for the whole shebang.
Although it has a nonsensical plot and some rather mediocre kung fu, Golden Needles is still worth a view merely for how much insanity it's 90-minute runtime contains.