Nothing like some more old-skool Shaw Brothers Kung Fu flicks like the Five Deadly Venoms.
In classic Kung fu fashion, a dying master passes his final wish to his last pupil, Yang Tieh, to find the treasure of the Deadly Venom martial arts school and donate it to charity.
Yang’s final mission will require him to track down his 5 elders who were trained 5 different styles under his master – each student being extremely skilled.
The treasure is being guarded by an older man, who is killed by 2 of the elder pupils. Yang, as instructed by his dead master, must determine who is trustworthy enough to join him on his mission, while facing the other evil senior students of the clan.
Whilst watching everything unravel (as each of the elder students tries to determine who is who), an on-going series of twists and turns leads us to a final showdown between the good and the evil of the clan.
The Five Deadly Venoms
The five deadly venoms refer to the 5 elder students, each with a particular skill and style. The 5 are:
The Centipede - trains to deliver many strikes with extreme speed, earning him the name ’1000 hands’ (much like the many limbs of the centipede). He is the eldest of the students and teamed up with Snake to steal the treasure.
The Snake – Mimics the head and tail of the snake using both arms. A very powerful opponent with a lot of wealth and power. Snake is the behind the scenes controlling the courts and making things go his way, whilst being secretly controlled by Scorpion.
The Scorpion - The real master pulling the strings, the scorpion is unknown to everyone and reveals himself only at the very end of the movie. Using paralysing kicks, the scorpion proves to be one of the most deadly of the 5.
The Lizard – Uses his ability to scale walls and fight from difficult positions. The lizard is one of the local policemen who works with the Toad to try and defeat the 3 evil men of the Five venoms.
The Toad - known for being tough, the style as about defence and strength. He does have a weak spot though that once punctured, will destroy his power. He sides with the Lizard to help find the treasure.
An Intriguing storyline
It is revealed that many of these students have never met each other. This is how This is how Yang Tien and the Scorpion remain unknown to the others for most of the movie (Scorpi0n being unknown to the audience until the end of the movie). Also Lizard and Toad are unaware of who Centepide and Snake are until somewhat into the film.
After the treasure is stolen by Scorpion (who enters after Centipede and Snake have murdered the old master and his family), the police frantically try to track down the murderer/s.
With one witness spotting Centipede at the scene, he informs the police but is later threatened and instead accuses Toad of being the murderer.This whole back and forth and twist of events makes for a really intriguing story line that left me guessing what was next – something you don’t find in martial arts movies often!
In saying that the plot is still simple and easy to follow and actually overshadows the action in my opinion - using visual style and great storytelling to keep you guessing.
The Action & Martial Arts
Not bad, pretty run of the mill for it’s time in my opinion. All of the movements are pretty wavey and have a very set, even rhythm to them. Its not ahead of its time, its right alongside it.
I do like the distinct difference in each fighter’s style, and pulling apart the strengths and weaknesses to effectively defeat each other. This is something you usually find the underdog ‘good guy’ doing to defeat the more powerful villian, but in this case it is used by both sides as Snake destroys Toads power by attacking his weakness.
Each of the actors had a small handful of moves that distinguished their style. So I’d say the action is technically high in quality, but doesn’t give me the excitement of many other films made back then or since.
A cool movie, OK action and a must for classic Kung fuu movie fans – I stress the world ‘classic‘. It’s as old skool as it comes and is definitely a significant film in martial arts history, but not the most entertaining. Watch it for the good storyline!