The Five Venoms (1978)

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This classic kung fu film would unleash one of the greatest teams in the history of martial arts action films in Hong Kong.

Yang Tieh is the last student of the Poison Clan as the master of the clan is dying. Yang has learned that along with his dying master, there have been five main students who were masked and did not know each other. The five have mastered the styles of the Centipede, the Snake, the Scorpion, the Lizard, and the Toad. Yang has studied elements of the five styles but has not mastered any of them as there has been no time. Yang is on a mission to find the other master of the Poison Clan, who is believed to have a treasure. He also must find out which of the former students are good and which ones are bad.

Disguised as a beggar, Yang heads into town and comes across the likes of police constables He and Ma along with local strongman Li Hao. While Ma is a local righteous officer with a sharp eye, He and Li are actually working together as Li is revealed to be the Toad. Meanwhile, aristocrat Hong and a man named Tang have learned the location of the retired master and when they confront the man, who is disguised as scholar Yun, Tang is revealed to be the Centipede and Hong is the Snake stylist. When Yun is murdered by the duo, an investigation reveals the dark secrets that plague the Poison Clan, and one that will change everything as Yang soon will learn who he can trust and who will try to kill him.

When it comes to classics in the kung fu genre in the late 1970’s, this is one of the greats as it would make stars out of five major actors in the Shaw Brothers canon after appearing in smaller roles in earlier films. Perhaps director Chang Cheh felt that after the likes of making superstars like David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai, and Alexander Fu Sheng, it was time to bring in a new generation of action stars and the film’s success made superstars out of Philip Kwok, Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Lo Meng, and Lu Feng.

The film has quite an interesting story that will have viewers guessing who is who with the exception of Chiang’s Yang Tieh, who gets the viewer joining him in investigating the Poison Clan with a murder investigation becoming the catalyst for guessing who are the good members and who are the evil. Ku Feng makes a pretty good cameo as scholar Yun, whose murder leads to guessing who is who. While Wang Lung-Wei does quite well as a corrupt judge whose dirty deeds may lead one to think he may be one of them, it is clear that he’s only doing his job for the money while some intricate gags such as the Iron Maiden, a coat of a thousand needles to find the Toad’s weak spot, helps drive the film as well.

The action sequences are the focal point as well as the viewer engages in rotting for the titular Venoms. The Venoms each have a different style to utilize and it makes all for the better. The team of Leung Ting, co-star Lu Feng, and the late great Robert Tai do a superb job with the action scenes. The Centipede unleashes some fast hand and foot work. The Snake used both his arms as the head and tail of the reptile. The Scorpion is a kicking genius with the Lizard being able to climb up walls to his advantage with the Toad having impervious skin, making him able to withstand any weapon with Yang learning a bit of this and that, forced to team up with the good ones to combat those who are evil.

The Five Venoms is one of the great classic kung fu films, with director Chang Cheh leading the charge and bringing in a group of supporting actors and propelling them to superstardom.

WFG RATING: A

A Shaw Brothers Co. Ltd. Production. Director: Chang Cheh. Producers: Mona Fong and Runme Shaw. Writers: Chang Cheh and I Kuang. Cinematography: Cho Wai-Kei and Kung Mu-To. Editing: Chiang Hsing-Lung.

Cast: Chiang Sheng, Philip Kwok, Sun Chien, Lo Meng, Lu Feng, Wei Pai, Ku Feng, Wang Lung-Wei, Dick Wei, Lau Fong-Sai, Suen Shu-Pau, Lam Fai-Wong, Shum Lo, Wong Ching-Ho, Tony Tam, Yeung Hung, Chow Kin-Ping.

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