I debated including this movie in my Kung Fu Fridays series. Not that it isn’t worthy of inclusion, that should be obvious BY its inclusion I would think, but because it almost seemed too easy. Sure, some of the movies I have covered have been popular to some degree. None of them has been so obscure as to be a complete left field choice. But this, Five Deadly Venoms, you know this movie. You may not have seen it but you know it. It has name recognition above all else and really always has. (It’s a great name to be honest) It is an absolute classic in the genre and watched alongside Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, makes for a fine evening of animal style Kung Fu. For my money, it ranks in the very upper echelon of Kung Fu cinema and deserves all of the praise thrown its way. Even Entertainment Weekly, those paragons of virtue, ranked it #11 on their all time cult classics list. If that doesn’t do it for you I simply don’t know what will.
The Venom Mob (such a badass name), is comprised of five fighters each with a unique style of fighting: The Centipede, The Scorpion, The Toad, The Snake, and The Lizard. Each fighter has a badass mask seen above. It is certainly not lacking in personality. Released in 1978 by the Shaw Bros., Five Deadly Venoms has gone on to be one of the more influential, and certainly more referenced, Kung Fu films of all time. A quick look at its cultural impact ranges from World of Warcraft to the Wu-Tang Clan, from Batman The Brave and the Bold to Kung Fu Panda. It’s even referenced in Waking Life, a beautiful film in its own right but not the first place you go looking for Kung Fu references. It has impacted comic books, video games, television, music, and movies. Basically, everything someone reading this site would care about. The film is played so straight, so earnest, that you cannot help but get sucked in to this world. The actors go all out on this flick. The Kung Fu on display is of the highest caliber. The dedication to styles, and to the showcase of those styles, is what really pushes this film over the edge. There is a certain amount of revelry to be had in giving yourself over to the world that is created where a man can fight like a centipede or a toad and not only does that make sense, but is really cool as well. It’s a movie that, in the hands of a lesser team, would have come off the rails in a big bad way. Instead, we get a little under a 100 minutes of joy.
The plot of Five Deadly Venoms doesn’t do much to push the genre forward. (and if you’ve been reading these articles you know that’s not uncommon) In fact, the plot is really the only area of complaint with this film. It is, to put it mildly, needlessly complicated. The master of the poison clan sends his final pupil after the Venom Mob. The master is concerned that the skills he taught them are being used for nefarious deeds. What follows is a series of double and triple crosses that are convoluted in their execution at best. Each of the five former students wore a mask during their training so tracking them down proves quite the challenge. Further confusing things is the nature of the relationships between members of the Venom Mob. Some of them trained together, some of them did not. Some of them knew each other before their training, some of them did not. Yang Tieh, the final pupil, is shown a little bit of everything by the dying master and sets off to bring the Venom Mob to justice. There are twists and turns galore and honestly, it takes a few times to truly make sense of the story. What the movie lacks in coherence it more than makes up for in style. Yang Tieh, lovingly referred to as Hybrid Venom, and the rest of the Venom Mob, have some truly spectacular fight scenes. The choreography for each style is so different, so unique, that it’s hard not to be in total awe of the work being done. The direction follows the fights perfectly. As a viewer there is nary a time where you wish you were watching from a different angle. It is simple in its presentation of the action. More films should be shot this way. Style and substance over flash are the order of the day. The fight scenes are varied and always interesting. Much like the other films in this series, Five Deadly Venoms is both beautiful and brutal.
I could go on and on about this film. There is so much to dissect that it deserves a nice, long look. That’s not the purpose of these articles though. My goal has been to introduce, or reintroduce, you the reader to a worthwhile movie experience. And even with its plot tomfoolery, Five Deadly Venoms is worth your time. Check out the trailer below, head here to catch the entire flick, and follow me on twitter or instagram, @geekadedan, to let me know what you thought of this cult classic. Next week, I will present to you the final article in our summer series and my personal favorite of the old school Kung Fu films. It’s one of the most interesting films I’ve seen regardless of genre and something I re-watch frequently. It really is quite brilliant.