Saturday, May 11, 2013

#999. Five Deadly Venoms (1978)

Directed By: Cheh Chamg

Starring: Sheng Chiang, Philip Kwok, Feng Lu

Tag line: "Pick Your Poison!"

Trivia:  The "snake" role was originally intended for a woman

The Shaw Brothers Studio, a Hong Kong-based production company, churned out hundreds of martial arts flicks in the 1970s, some of which, due to their high-energy fight scenes, garnered a cult following in the United States. Released in 1978, Five Deadly Venoms is one of these films, yet as exciting as the action is, it’s the training sequence at the beginning of the movie that really stands out.

A dying martial arts master (Dick Wei), the head of the Poison Clan, is worried that his five former pupils might be using their skills for their own personal gain. So, he sends his final disciple, Yang Tieh (Chiang Sheng) on a mission to locate them. If Yang Tieh finds that any of the five have been abusing their powers, he’s instructed to kill them on the spot. This is easier said than done, however, because not even the master has seen their faces (during their time in the Poison Clan, all five wore masks, never once removing them). Instead, Yang Tieh will have to identify each one by way of their fighting style, seeing as they were all instructed in a different technique. Armed with this knowledge, Yang Tieh sets out to complete his task, hopeful that a few of the five are not corrupt, and will therefore help him track down and destroy those who are.

The opening sequence, where we get to see the five former students in training, is easily the film’s best. Presented as a flashback and narrated by the Poison Clan’s dying master, we watch as each of them, all wearing masks, go through their daily exercises. First up is the Centipede (Lu Feng), who moves extremely quickly (for practice, he breaks hundreds of falling plates, with both his hands and feet, before they hit the floor). Then it’s on to the Snake (Wei Pei), who’s as agile as he is fast, slithering along the ground on his back. Next is the Scorpion (Sun Chien), whose pincer move allows him to leap incredibly high. For me, though, the coolest of the bunch is the lizard (Kuo Chui), who possesses the ability to climb walls. Last but not least is the Toad (Lo Mang), a practically invincible warrior able to withstand incredible pain (to prove it, he lays down on a bed of nails).

Five Deadly Venoms has its share of exhilarating battles, and a bit of intrigue as well (not to mention a torture scene that’s difficult to watch). But as entertaining as the rest of the film is, the imagination on display in these training sequences is what makes Five Deadly Venoms truly unique.

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