The first 10 minutes of this actioner from Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse are wonderfully trashy. Over a shot of a primitive golden statue, a narrator explains hokey lore about how the statue’s design reveals secret acupuncture points—used properly, these points release incredible sexual pleasure, but used improperly, they lead to instant death. Hence the statue’s name: “The Golden Needles of Ecstasy.” Cut to a decrepit, wheelchair-bound Chinese man getting escorted into a modern-day acupuncture parlor for a session with the needles. Once the session is completed, the man rises to his feet, magically invigorated and ready for private time with his young female escorts—until two bad guys enter the parlor carrying flamethrowers. The assailants torch the old man, his ladies, and the acupuncturist before absconding with the statue. That’s how to get the cinematic party started, folks!
Although the remaining 80 minutes of Golden Needles pale by comparison in terms of energy and verve, the movie has an appealing quality of loopy escapism. The picture combines Far East exotica with mysticism, sex, violence, and a slew of lively performances that border on camp. Golden Needles is ridiculous, but that’s why it’s fun to watch, even though the overwrought plotting eventually slows things down. The gist of the story is that various parties in Hong Kong want to acquire the “Golden Needles” statue. Dan (Joe Don Baker) is a towering American who knows his way around the local underworld, so he’s hired by visiting American Felicity (Elizabeth Ashley) to steal the statue, in exchange for cash and sex. (Dan drives a hard bargain, wink-wink.) Eventually, Dan finds himself in the midst of a caper that involves a kooky American crime boss (Burgess Meredith) and various representatives of the Hong Kong mob.
Given his previous success with martial-arts pictures, Clouse hits the chop-socky button every so often, with kicks and punches thrown by Baker, Jim Kelly (Black Belt Jones), and sexy Asian actress Frances Fong. Yet Golden Needles is only marginally a martial-arts flick, because the action scenes tend to focus on bare-knuckle brawls and death-defying escapes—at one point, Dan gets trapped in a factory into which a bad guy has released dozens of snakes. (An exciting score by Lalo Schifin helps pull together the random story elements.) Golden Needles won’t meet anyone’s criteria for quality cinema, but for sheer silly excitement, it’s hard to beat a movie that features a pervy Meredith licking his lips while his giant black manservant receives potentially lethal acupuncture, or that features man-mountain Baker leading pursuers on an epic chase through an overcrowded Hong Kong harbor and the surrounding area.
Golden Needles: GROOVY