Sunday 25 February 2024

The Five Venoms

Spied A Man
Fighting Venom

The Five Venoms
aka Five Deadly Venoms
aka Wu du
Hong Kong 1978
Directed by Cheh Chang
Shaw Brothers/Celestial Pictures
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Ninth up in the recent(ish) Arrow films ShawScope Volume 1 boxed edition is The Five Deadly Venoms and it’s one of just two of the films presented here which I had already seen. The last time I watched it was on my old Region 3 Celestial pictures DVD under the title which I personally think it’s still more well known as, Five Deadly Venoms. I think I quite liked it the first time I saw it but, I have to say, catching up with it again now I feel it drags quite considerably compared to many of the other films in this set.

This one starts of with an old master trying to cure himself of some unspecified illness by boiling himself in a large cauldron of medicine. He is alone in his house with his young student. However, that particular house he is the master of is the... drumroll... House Of The Five Venoms. The young student he has taken on recently is technically the sixth venom but, he is not fully trained up in martial arts yet. The old master is a villain and the Venoms have committed unspecified evils against martial artists over the years as they are ‘anti-martial arts’. All have since gone into the world under special aliases and continue to do things that some may find could be be considered regrettable.

And then we are shown each of the five venoms in training scenarios practicing martial arts as the master breaks down their special skills to the kid. Which, excuse me, makes absolutely no sense since they are an organisation opposed to martial arts but, who am I to argue with the ways of kung fu. So, in the training sessions, each of the five venoms wears an elabourately painted face mask that makes each one look like a member of rock group KISS. The only real difference being that each has the animal of his special skill stuck as a kind of 3D relief on the mask on the forehead (don’t worry folks... it looks sillier than it sounds).

So we have Thousand Hands... who practices the Centipede Style and can move his hands around very fast to make it appear he has lots of hands (kind of). We see him smashing lots of plates to somehow demonstrate this. We have Snake Spirit, who does Snake Style... his hands imitating the style of the head and tail of the snake (originally this was supposed to be a female character in the original script). I don’t think they needed to explain that one to me too much, I would say since, later in the movie, whenever he fights, his hands make hissing, snakey noises for emphasis.  We also have three more venoms practicing in Scorpion Style, Gecko Style and Toad Style. Yeah, don’t ask.

Anyway, the old master is repentant of running a house of evil masters and so he knows that an old man living in a town with the secret of the treasure of the five venoms, will be under threat from these five. He says that youngster venom number six would be no match for any of these guys but if he teams up with any of them who may show that they still have a sense of righteousness, if he can find them, he will be able to defeat the others and then get the secret of where the treasure is, so it can be used for charitable purposes. The old master then dies, leaving his new ward with his noble mission.

So we have a backdrop of a small town with a police force but the five venoms, some known to the audience and some not but, certainly, at this stage, unknown to each other (since none of them knows what each looks like or what name they have taken) are also in town. Two of them murder the old man and his servants but don’t get the location. The mysterious scorpion, whose identity remains hidden but... well... I worked out which one it was from very early on in the film, over an hour before he reveals himself... does have enough intelligence to discover where the treasure map is hidden. Then, when people who are mostly hidden venoms get implicated in the murder, he starts playing people off against other to whittle down the number of surviving venoms Meanwhile, the local police and magistrate, who are taking things very seriously... also have more than a couple of the venoms hiding within the system (yeah, saw through those right away too). In fact, the police take things very seriously indeed and I think modern policing could learn from this method. The officers are told they have ten days to solve the case. The first outstanding day where the case is not solved they will get ten strokes of the cane and the second day, twenty strokes and so on. If only Cressida Dick could have employed these same methods, she may well have had a more efficient police force and still be in charge of them today, I suspect.

There’s not much more to the story than that but I would say that the film is big on mystery, conspiracy and intrigue and little on actual action. There are a few small set pieces including the inevitable fight at the end between four surviving scorpions and the young novice (who has teamed up with one of them) and the action is good, especially the wirework which allows two of the actors to suddenly jump up and stand on a wall at right angles to everybody else like Spider-Man without showing the faintest trace of the wire work. So this stuff is very well done but... there’s just not enough of it to maintain any kind of pace for the movie and it feels a little uneven in that way. There are also some pretty mean spirited torture scenes in the movie which I could have done without.

So yeah, that’s my short take on The Five Venoms and, although the film is highly revered by many, I still can’t see what all the fuss is about on this one and personally I wouldn’t recommend it as a jumping on point for Shaw Brothers. Certainly not the best of the films in this set but still fairly entertaining if you’re not expecting too much from it, I would say.

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