Thursday, February 2, 2017

Short Attention Span Review: The Five Deadly Venoms (1978)

Short Attention Span Review: The Five Deadly Venoms (1978)

Two utterly magnificent things happened in 1978: I was born and Chang Cheh gave us The Five Deadly Venoms, which may just be the coolest martial arts film of all time.  Bruce Lee's catalog aside, this is undoubtedly the definitive karate flick, and it will also appeal to fans of the horror genre--and perhaps even fans of superhero movies.  The Shaw Brothers gave us an abundance of kung fu gems marked by great sets and even better choreography, and I think most fans will agree that The Five Deadly Venoms was their best offering.  Additionally, no one was better suited to helm these bodacious flicks than Chang Cheh, and this is surely his finest hour.  This is also the film that gave us the Venom Mob (Shen Chiang, Chien Sun, Phillip Chung-Fung Kwok, Meng Lo, Pai Wei, and Feng Lu), and while each of these considerable talents would shine in other pictures, the whole gang would never join forces again in a single picture--and I think this one may represent each performer's best work with the exception of Shen Chiang.  He is the lead here and he's absolutely terrific, but I rank his work in Crippled Avengers a little higher.  The groovy plot revolves around a master who has trained the fearsome Venoms of the title in five distinct styles, each of which comes equipped with something akin to a super power.  These warriors are the Toad, the Lizard, the Centipede, the Scorpion, and the Snake.  They train under this master (Dick Wei) in masks, and thus their identities are kept a secret.  Later, the master trains a new student, Yang Tieh (Shen Chiang), and while he is not a master of any of the five styles, he understands a little of each.  As the master nears his end, he begins to fear that his five original pupils may be too dangerous for this world, so he sends young Yang Tieh to try and figure out who the Venoms are, determine if they are good men or bad men, and eliminate any who are using their skills for nefarious purposes.  This sets the stage for a supremely badass film brimming with secret identities, desperate alliances, epic brawls, and a nifty twist or two to keep everyone on their toes.  Of course, the highlights of the movie are the bloody showdowns, but there's also an abundance of gore on display and I love the sinister mood that permeates the piece.  Finally, The Five Deadly Venoms concludes with a five star showdown where all bets are off, and this amazing setpiece showcasing all of the characters who have yet to perish is easily the most stupendous final reel in the history of martial arts cinema outside of Enter the Dragon.

Final Grade: A+

Bruce Lee's catalog aside, The Five Deadly Venoms is the ultimate karate flick.  As such, it is the best offering from the Shaw Brothers, who gave us a wealth of kung fu treachery to enjoy.

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