December 9, 2013

Movie Review: The Five Deadly Venoms

I am far from an authority on old school kung fu movies (well, add in new school kung fu and movies in general), but I know when I see something I like. So, I felt like watching some martial arts and I wanted to be something a little to the old/classic side. This led me to my Blu-ray copy of The Five Deadly Venoms. Now, if you like martial arts, your face probably lit up at that title. If you didn't, you just don't know and you owe it to yourself to get yourself a copy, maybe some beer and pizza, and make a might of it. It is one of those movies that is just truly worth spending a couple of hours with.

The Five Deadly Venoms, or simply The Five Venoms (or a few other variations on the same them), is one of those movies you are either going to love or just not get. For as much as I think everyone should love it, it is not really a movie for everyone. It came from Shaw Brothers studio and was unleashed way back in 1978. It has that distinctive look and feel of the Shaw kung fu output of the era, a style that is comforting, welcoming, and just gets me. So, if you dig the low budget feel and like the sching-smack dubbed sound effects, you must make this one part of your collection.

It had been quite some time since I spent some time with these old friends, plus I had never seen it looking quite this good. This isn't a Blu-ray review, but the disk looks amazing. The film appears to have gone through some restoration and while it still looks like low budget 70's era kung fu, the colors are sharp, there are no marks or scratches, and is just great to watch. The English dub isn't half bad sounding. Yes, I watched with the dub on, old school kung fu is one of the rare times that dubs feel right for. Of course, I like having the option.

The movie begins with the master of the Poison Clan realizing that he has made a mistake with his students, he charges his final student with checking up on them and making sure they aren't evil. Of course, only a couple of the five new each other, they all wore masks during training, and all took new names when they left. It isn't going to be an easy task. The one tip the student, Yang Tieh, has is the clan banker and some clan treasure.

Yang Tieh finds his way to a small town to find the banker is dead, no one knows where the money is, and surprisingly, all five of the Venoms are in the same town. What follows is an intriguing blend of kung fu and intrigue. Who are the Venoms? Who can Yang Tieh trust in his efforts to stop the evil Venoms? Where is the treasure? Is the judge really corrupt? There is a lot going on as we watch, learning which side of the grey line each of the Venoms fall, not to mention their actual identities.

So far as movies of this type go, this does not have an overabundance of fight sequences. There is enough, and they are a blast, but the overall movie is definitely more balanced than a lot in having an actual story and character. Despite this fact, it is not a boring movie, it keeps you involved and wanting to see what will happen as the fights line themselves up, leading to the climactic free for all.

I quite liked the various styles employed by the Venoms. They are immediately identifiable and are introduced by an iconic opening where the dying master describes them and their styles. We see them in their Chinese opera-style masks performing signature moves of the various styles. The styles are Snake, Toad, Lizard, Centipede, and Scorpion. You have to love these styles.

The movie was directed by Chang Cheh, the legendary director who helped usher in a new era of martial arts movies with The One Armed Swordsman and would give us other movies such as The Brave Archer and The Kid with the Golden Arm. With this movie he brought action and intrigue and gave us a cult classic.

The Five Deadly Venoms is a blast. It has some great fights, actually delivered a story, and had some great fights. Seriously, what are you waiting for?

Highly Recommended.

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Dell said...

This is one of my favorite martial arts flicks of all time, a true genre classic. Great review.

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