The Five Venoms [五毒] (1978)
AKA The Five Deadly Venoms, 5 Deadly Venoms
Starring Chiang Sheng, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Sun Chien, Lu Feng, Lo Meng, Wai Pak, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Dick Wei, Ku Feng, Lau Fong-Sai, Shum Lo, Lam Fai-Wong, Suen Shu-Pau, Wong Ching-Ho
Directed by Chang Cheh
Expectations: High. It’s Five Deadly Venoms, c’mon.
Besides The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, The Five Venoms is probably the most well-known Shaw Brothers film in the West. I, and many fans like me, will always know it by its catchier US release title, Five Deadly Venoms, which is surprisingly a more accurate translation! The Chinese phrase 五毒 carries a connotation that a simple translation can’t convey, specifically referring to the five poisonous animals of Ancient China (snake, centipede, scorpion, spider or lizard, and toad). Beyond the killer title, these animals set the film apart, as only the snake style is a well-known, legitimate Shaolin style and kung fu movie staple. I can’t tell you if the other styles have their roots in the real arts or not, but I’m guessing they’re more fantasy than anything else. Chang Cheh was never interested in presenting realistic fighting styles, hence Lizard’s ability to stand on vertical walls and such.
The master of the Five Venom House (Dick Wei) is deathly ill, staying alive by soaking himself in a vat of wine and medicine… y’know, as you do. His only remaining student, Yang De (Chiang Sheng), tends to his needs when he isn’t training in the five house styles. Despite his noble soaking, the master’s time has come, so he tasks Yang De with killing the school’s previous five students (who he regrets unleashing on the world). One does not simply kill the five deadly venoms, though. They’ve assumed new names to protect their identities (apparently, vibrant colors and sparkly silver robes are still OK, though 😀 ), and Yang De’s martial skills aren’t good enough to actually kill any of them. Oh, and the five venoms are hunting for a hidden treasure, and will gladly murder anyone who stands in their way. Thanks for the impossible task, master!