In 1967, Asia was cool. Sean Connery was putting on yellowface to infiltrate a Japanese volcano in “You Only Live Twice”, Adam West was dancing the Batusi in “Batman”. And in “Five Golden Dragons”, comedy star Robert Cummings was larking about with knife gangs in Hong Kong.
“Five Golden Dragons” is the latest release from Network Distributing as part of its five-year plan to make over 450 vintage British films available on DVD. Cummings is Bob Mitchell, an American playboy who becomes entangled in a gold-trafficking operation shortly after arriving in Hong Kong.
The film was shot at Shaw Brothers Studios, which would go on to popularise kung fu movies with cult favourites such as “Five Fingers of Death” and “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”. But being early in the cycle, there’s not much kung and precious little fu in “Five Golden Dragons”.
Instead, the film is planted in the crime caper tradition. Cummings is a comic actor and, at times, it’s like someone decided to redo “That Riviera Touch” in the middle of “Enter the Dragon”. He’s funny enough and there are some decent gags, but the “Road to…” shtick sits uneasily alongside the car bombings and backroom beatings that make up the local “colour”.
Though it soaks itself in Chinese trappings (including the sort of pipe music that makes you want to apologise for the Empire), everyone of importance in the film is white. That at least makes it reflective of British-run Hong Kong – and with no white actors cast in Asian roles, it’s practically progressive by the standards of the period – but it’s still uncomfortable.
History, however, can’t be blamed for the film’s other failings: the music is overly comical, robbing a couple of action sequences of their threat; the sound editing poor; and the final act appalling. What should be major revelations are delivered as titbits of conversation and the final payoff is horribly contrived. The last 30 minutes do at least see the arrival of Christopher Lee as one of the titular dragons, and he’s always a pleasure.
“Five Golden Dragons” has its quirks and its charms, but it’s cheap. Compared to some of the other films being re-released by Network Distributing at the moment (“The Terrornauts”, “Cape Forlorn” and the rest), it’s passable: but that’s a very low standard. Mainstream audiences, coming to it cold, won’t find much fun for their 10 quid. This is one for the die-hard kung fu fans (and Christopher Lee enthusiasts).
Five Golden Dragons is available on DVD now
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