Blu-ray Review: Golden Needles | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, September 16th, 2021  

Golden Needles

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Sep 09, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


In Ancient China, an emperor commissioned a one-of-a-kind statue. In the shape of a human, the piece provides instructions for seven forbidden acupuncture points passed through generations of the empire’s most skilled practitioners. If administered by the most skilled hand and in the exact manner prescribed, legend has it that the procedure will fill even the frailest of men with youthful, sexual vigor. However, if even the slightest mistake is made, it will result in an immediate and painful death. It’s said that with proper use, the “Golden Needles”—as they’re known—will offer the one who possesses them the next best thing to eternal life.

Dan Mason (Joe Don Baker, Walking Tall) is an American expatriate who settled in Hong Kong after the war. He works in the antiques business; or, at least, that’s his front. His job description is closer to soldier of fortune, and his specialty is in procuring—read: stealing—high-end artifacts for wealthy buyers. When fellow American Felicity (Elizabeth Ashley, Rancho Deluxe) wanders into his partner’s shop looking for help acquiring the Golden Needles from a slimy gangster, Dan Mason accepts her offer of $30,000 while taking a personal interest in both Felicity and her case.

Golden Needles arrived from American International Pictures in mid-1974, just as its star and director were riding high on some of the biggest successes of their careers. Joe Don Baker was able to use 1973’s Walking Tall as a springboard into an unlikely stint as a leading man; Clouse, of course, was coming off back-to-back cult favorites Enter the Dragon (1973) and Black Belt Jones (1974).

There’s a lot of charm to Golden Needles, a PG-rated adventure that tiptoes along the line of an R. Much of that is thanks to Joe Don Baker, whose affable earthiness here comes off as roguish and primal, rather than dopey and slovenly (see: 1975’s Mitchell). His Dan Mason is less-than-suave and easily fooled, yet bullish enough that we’ll believe he’d more than hold his own in the movie’s numerous brawls. There weren’t many Hollywood stars like Joe Don Baker; unfortunately Hollywood didn’t make all that many movies that were tailored for his sort of leading man. However, Joe Don Baker and Golden Needles are perfect for each other.

The rest of the cast is a rogues’ gallery of familiar faces and great character actors. Elizabeth Ashley is game to play the movie’s femme fatale, wily enough to pull one over on most of the men involved, yet suddenly helpless whenever it’s convenient for her to get snatched up by the bad guys and keep the plot moving along. Batman’s Burgess Meredith plays her boss: a superbly kooky billionaire who gleefully chews up the scenery throughout his minimal screen time. Chinese actor Roy Chiao—later, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s mentor in Bloodsport (1988)—plays the ruthless Hong Kong gang boss, and Ann Sothern has a supporting role as the grand dame of a backroom saloon and casino. Finally, the director’s pal, Jim Kelly, returns here for a role as Joe Don’s old war buddy, showing up to kick some ass for the movie’s LA-set middle act.

This movie packs in as many thrills as you could hope for from a modestly-budgeted AIP movie shot in Hong Kong and on the streets of Los Angeles (from the looks of it, possibly without a permit). From the opening scene in which two randos in Hazmat suits flamethrower-fricassee an underground acupuncture parlor, to the numerous battles that call for Jim Kelly to show off the moves he learned from Bruce Lee, and for Baker to plow through baddies like a human bowling ball. (Frances Fong, playing the equivalent of a Chinese CIA agent, conveniently shows up whenever there’s fighting to be done, and supplies some pretty cool kung fu choreography.) There’s a madcap scene through the streets of Hong Kong where what looks like one hundred extras chase Baker through narrow alleys and a crowded marketplace—with its ace location scouting, Golden Needles found ways to add production value and punch above its budget weight class. On top of this, Lalo Schifrin provides a well-suited score that brings to mind his work on Enter the Dragon.

Golden Needles is a fun and often goofy action movie that’s probably easier to appreciate today than it was upon release. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray edition looks great—and the slipcover artwork is just gorgeous. Extras include a new commentary by Howard S. Berger and Chris Poggiali, plus a photo gallery and a large number of radio and TV spots, which consistently hard sell the film on the success of Baker’s Walking Tall.

(www.kinolorber.com/product/golden-needles-special-edition-blu-ray)




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