The Five Deadly Venoms (1978)

Yan Tieh (Sheng Chiang) is the last student of the Poison Clan’s dying master.  He is tasked by his master to track down the previous students who are only known by their kung fu style and the masks they wore: Centipede, Snake, Scorpion, Lizard, and Toad.  The fortune of the clan must be found and given to charity as well and it will be a great lure for the other clan members.  If it is found that they are bad then they must be killed but Yan must team up with at least one other because his hybrid skills will not be enough to prevail without another clan fighter.  

Centipede (Feng Lu) and Snake (Pai Wei) are known to each other, Scorpion (Chien Sun) does not know any of them and Lizard (Philip Kwok) and Toad (Meng Lo) trained together as well.  Yan must go to the small town where the elder clan member has hidden with the fortune and wait for the others to show themselves.  Then he must try to determine who among them is honorable enough to join him on his quest to make amends for the evil deeds of Poison Clan.

It seems like it might be easy to find five uniquely talented martial artists in such a small town but they are not to use their skills in public.  This seems counterintuitive considering that some of them are presumably bad guys now…why would they follow an order like that from your master when he wants them to quit their evil ways?  Yan Tieh acts the part of the uncultured buffoon.  He is always in the background and trying to get in the way until he has figured out who the Venoms are and which one he will reach out to for help.  

FIVE DEADLY VENOMS has some great action and amazingly choreographed fight scenes-especially Toad vs. Centipede and the five-way fight at the end.  But it does not have as much as is expected in a kung-fu flick.  VENOMS relies on story and if you haven’t seen it or are the one person who may not know the plot I won’t spoil it here.  It plays out as a great espionage film full of intrigue.  Slowly but surely Yan, called Hybrid Venom by some fans due to his training, figures out who is who. He also finds help when it turns out a pair of the Venoms seem to be fighting for good or at least not entirely for their own self interests but for justice.

The training sequences at the beginning are amazing to behold.  The plate breaking and candle extinguishing being the most impressive for this viewer.  Toad and Centipede are amazing as their fight goes on for a while Toad is virtually invulnerable to Centipede’s many blows and works to wear him down.  The final showdown is jaw-dropping in its choreography especially when Yan and his chosen partner fight in coordination.  There is no doubt as to the proficiency and skill of all of these fighters as they punch, kick and fly through the air.  This is the real deal, it isn’t wire-fu.

If you are a kung fu fan check out FIVE DEADLY VENOMS.  If you haven’t had the joy of being immersed in several kung fu films do yourself a favor and do not start with FIVE DEADLY VENOMS because it may put you off of the genre by making all but the very best seem weak in comparison.  You won’t get a better quality picture than the remaster on the Dragon Dynasty release from the Celestial Pictures library of Shaw Brothers films.  “Poison Clan rocks the world!”

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