Leaping from the pages of the comic strip by Yuen Wo-Pan comes The Kid, a 1950 Hong Kong film featuring a ten-year-old Bruce Lee in a starring role. Although Fist of Fury was Lee’s first breakout motion picture as an adult, in truth, the now legendary icon starred in about twenty Hong Kong-made films as a youth before eventually relocating to the United States at the age of eighteen. In this, his fifth movie, Lee plays Ah Cheung, the title character.
Raised alongside his two younger siblings by his Uncle Ho (Yee Chau-Shiu), Ah Cheung is an orphan boy living a life of poverty in the slums of Hong Kong. His life takes a dramatic turn when a wealthy factory owner named Hung Pak-Ho (played by Lee’s real-life father, Lee Hoi-Chuen) moseys into the ghetto to look for a proper place to build a new school - a political promise he actually has no intention of honoring.
It’s during this little bit of sightseeing that both Hung and his young daughter are pick-pocketed by a local rascal named Flying Blade Lee (director Feng Feng). While fleeing the scene of the crime, Flying Blade takes refuge in Ah Cheung’s cramped little dwelling. Instead of turning the thief in for a reward, Ah Cheung helps him escape, a gesture which immediately garners Flying Blade’s respect and friendship.
When the thief departs, he leaves behind a stolen necklace, and Ah Cheung and Uncle Ho immediately return it to Hung. That expensive piece of jewelry actually belongs to Hung’s young daughter, and thanks to some earnest convincing on her part, both Ah Cheung and his uncle get rewarded: Uncle Ho becomes Hung’s private secretary and the young girl’s tutor, while Ah Cheung is allowed to enroll in a good school. Unfortunately, Ah Cheung is teased by the other students and gets expelled for fighting, a turn of events which eventually leads him to join up with Flying Blade Lee’s band of merry men. Uncle Ho is disheartened by Ah Cheung’s descent into thievery, and the two have a terrible falling out.
Meanwhile, at Hung’s factory, the workers (mostly women) decide to strike in order to get better working conditions. Hung’s duplicitous son, Chiu (series creator Yuen Wo-Pan) has other ideas and decides to disrupt the peaceful sit-in by hiring Flying Blade Lee and his den of thieves to vandalize the factory. Not only is Chiu planning to set up the workers to take the blame, but he also wishes to double-cross Flying Blade Lee as well. In this world of adult problems can ten-year-old Kid Cheung help save the day? Well, the movie is named for him, after all.
Regarding the film’s larger themes, The Kid is largely about class conflict, with the filmmakers clearly siding with the struggling poor over the ever-greedy and petty rich. Those stuck in poverty are invariably depicted in a positive light - the diligent female workers, the long suffering teachers (e.g., Uncle Ho), and the innocent children (e.g., Cheung and his siblings). But even the thieves in this film have honor, something the “respectable” rich do not. This isn’t a film that romanticizes poverty, but it does portray the “have nots” as possessing a kind of inherent decency and heroism, a common representation not just in Hong Kong, but cinemas worldwide.
Although Uncle Ho’s advice to Ah Cheung provides the first clues to the filmmakers’ intent, it’s in The Kid’s final reel where the underlying message of the film becomes apparent. The story essentially boils down to a morality tale about taking responsibility for your life, leaving a life of crime behind, and getting a real job to become a useful person in society. It’s a message that hasn’t gone out of style: those who have seen Stephen Chow’s CJ7 will immediately recognize its kinship with The Kid, even though the two films are separated by a gulf of almost sixty years.
The main attraction of the movie, of course, is “The Kid” himself, Bruce Lee. Although his role is more limited than you might expect (considering the title), whenever the ten-year-old Bruce Lee is onscreen, he’s quite the little charmer. While there are some mildly amusing bits scattered throughout the picture, one standout scene occurs when Ah Cheung entertains his little siblings with a comedy routine that pokes fun at his grade school experiences. Although only a child, Lee’s ineffable charisma is surprisingly present, not to mention his trademarked gestures – the compulsive thumbing of the nose and the jutting out of his lower jaw to look tough; it’s all there. He also overacts a bit, a bad habit that he wouldn’t exactly shake, even as he matured into adulthood.
But is The Kid really any good? Certainly, the presence of a young Bruce Lee gives the film a certain novelty value. And as a surviving piece of 1950s Hong Kong cinema, it definitely has some historical value as well. But actual entertainment value? The Kid shows a national cinema that hasn’t quite matured just yet, but (with the benefit of hindsight) shows a tremendous amount of potential - a potential perhaps best embodied by its pint-sized leading man and a future international superstar in the making. (Calvin McMillin 2008)