Golden Needles DVD Review: Joe Don Baker Kicks Ass in Hong Kong

Golden Needles is one of those movies that could have been better — memorable, even — had any of its crew actually cared enough to give a damn. Co-penned by former television writer S. Lee Pogostin and helmed by Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse, Golden Needles is one of many motion pictures produced and distributed following the death of Bruce Lee — a time when American filmmakers and moviegoers were experiencing a sudden Asian craze. They even bring in Enter the Dragon co-star Jim Kelly — who was in the middle of his short but unique career — for an extended cameo during the middle of the film.

The real star here, however, is none other than Joe Don Baker. Still riding high from his brilliant performances in Walking Tall and Charley Varrick the year before (and a year away from Framed and Mitchell), Joe Don stars as an American in Hong Kong who enjoys drinking, gambling, and wooin’ the ladies. His play time hits a snag, though, when an old pal of his asks him to help a troubled (and loudmouthed) American lass (Jennifer Ashley) retrieve a legendary golden statue — an item that reveals seven secret acupuncture points on the human body (as well as seven titular pins). Use them correctly, and the recipient will achieve great sexual vigor. Use them incorrectly, and the would-be Casanova drops dead!

Yup, it’s that strange. The first and final of the film’s three acts showcase Joe Don Baker in Hong Kong, kicking the ass of one henchman after another, and bedding Jennifer Ashley in his spare time. But it’s the second act of the film that shines the brightest. The scenes of Joe Don Baker and Jim Kelly together as old friends who aren’t afraid to get into a fistfight are definitely highlights here — and there’s a certain chemistry present between them that would have been far more interesting had they been together onscreen the entire film. Alas, they only share a couple of moments together; one wonders if Kelly was unable to fly to Hong Kong on account of filming another feature.

The great Roy Chiao is the main Chinese villain here, and an extremely hammy Burgess Meredith handles the role of the American adversary in a part that’s small but nevertheless proves dangerous to the scenery around him as he devours it whole. Believe it or not, Ann Sothern is also in this movie as the owner of a Hong Kong bar who resembles Mae West. Frances Fong and Pat E. Johnson (who also doubled as a stunt coordinator) also appear in this strange and unbalanced combination of classic noir films and modern comedies. Other Enter the Dragon alumni include composer Lalo Schifrin, cinematographer Gil Hubbs, and producer Fred Weintraub.

Previously only available via cropped pan-and-scan VHS releases (usually under video-generated aliases), Golden Needles finally gets a widescreen presentation on home video as part of MGM’s Limited Edition Collection. While a bit on the noisy side, the anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer here is nonetheless commendable, as it preserves whatever vision Bob Clouse might have thought he had. A more-than-adequate mono soundtrack accompanies, and there are no special features to be found here. But, when you’re afforded the opportunity of seeing Joe Don Baker and Jim Kelly fighting thugs in a fitness club, you don’t pass it up.

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Luigi Bastardo

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