Tan Dong (Alexander Fu Sheng) is a naive but skilled martial artist who arrives in Hong Kong to live with his elderly grandfather. Running afoul of a treacherous Triad gangster (Wang Lung Wei), he is forced to stow aboard on a ship to San Francisco to escape trouble. At the same time, a hardworking student Yang (Sun Chien) also arrives in the city. Finding menial jobs at a local Chinese restaurant, the two become fast friends. When Tan finds himself mistakenly helping a local Triad (Philip Kwok), he gets drawn, under false pretenses, into the life of a enforcer for the mob. Will Tan and Yang be able to remain friends while dealing with the hardships and dangers of the immigrant life?
Chang Cheh directs this film set in the modern day. Bringing his sensibility in period films, he uses themes like brotherhood and justice and successfully transplants that to the present while touching upon problems of immigrants in the United States. Organized crime, drug use, and the lack of unity are all referenced and while not the focus of the film, showed how relevant Cheh wanted the film to be.
Fu Sheng is excellent as Tan; his fights are absolutely terrific and feel more modern than his period films. More straightforward and hard-hitting, it is realistic and fits with the film much better than the showy techniques in much of Cheh’s other films. Philip Kwok is good as the main baddie and his movements are powerful and quick. Wang Lung Wei unfortunately doesn’t get as much to do this time around but he chews up scenery with the best of them; he and his awesome little bow tie.
Supposedly set in San Francisco, the majority of the film is shot on sets back in Movietown with only a few establishing shots done with different stock of the bay and surrounding landmarks. A couple brief scenes do feature Fu Sheng wandering around the streets but amount to perhaps 15 seconds of actual screen time and could have been shot at anytime. The use of Hong Kong road ready vehicles also ruins the illusion a bit but not enough to hurt the entertainment value of the picture. Music is actually quite good with the dramatic bits appropriately scored and some solid fight music for the many excellent fights throughout.
Fu Sheng delivers one of his best performances in this film which helped make him one of Shaw Bros’. biggest stars. It has multiple terrific fights; including a two one one street fight and the mayhem filled final showdown. With a mostly successful attempt to dramatize the migrant experience, the film does have more to offer besides the not inconsiderable prowess of the martial artists onscreen. Fast paced and solid entertainment, Chinatown Kid is a solid addition to Fu Sheng’s filmography and a more than solid addition to a fight fan’s move collection.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Life Gamble, Hong Kong Godfather, and/or Fist of Fury