Appropriately, The Five Deadly Venoms is an awesome old-school kung fu movie, easily the best such film I’ve reviewed here. Five martial arts masters whose identities are unknown have emerged from the Five Venoms house, each proficient in a particular animal-related fighting style. The centipede, snake, toad, lizard, scorpion. Hence the name “poison clan”. The master is telling this story to his pupil Yan Tieh who actually has a small role in the film even though his role is rather important because it actually sets things in motion. The reason is the master has taught all of the tecniques to Yan but he doesnt know anyone technique very well and therefore he can be easily beaten by anyone of the 5 previous pupils. His mission is to check up on the 5 pupils to see if they are doing good deeds with their skills.
This was one of the first Hong Kong kung fu movies to feature the furious over-the-top fight scenes that we’ve become accustomed to over the years. Creative torture is part of the fun of 70s’ kung fu. At one point one of the suspects is stabbed in the nose with an iron knitting needle. Despite not having as many fights as some of the other Venom classics, the story is so engrossing it doesn’t matter. However, the fights that do occur deliver the goods.
I sometimes wonder if director Chang Cheh’s wicked weapons, traps, and other pain devices also had an influence on torture series like Saw and Hostel. You find yourself really falling into ancient China and feel as if you were there. Yes, todays movies are more elaborate and much faster, but the purity of the Venom movies are timeless, the styles, the combat, and the characters. Anyone who grew up in the late seventies and early eighties probably had the pleasure of seeing this great Kung Fu classic on late night television. That was back in the good old days before the greedy television networks and local cable companys sold very last bit of late night air-time to infomercials. It is a real shame but the good news is you can own this on DVD.
When you hear a Wu-Tang song from their first album you hear the sound clips from Five Deadly Venoms. This film captures the essence of a Classic Kung Fu film. This is a definite cult classic, campy enough in later viewing that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but with enough action to satisfy new viewers too. Admittedly, the film could use a bit more action, but then there wouldn’t have been time to develop the plot, which is thoughtful and conveys a solid and positive moral theme, culminating in a fine final battle. This is top notch stuff here, that has levels of philosophy, training, and meaning. If you’re ever in the mood for some good kung fu action, make this your next selection.