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  Five Deadly Venoms Hide In Plain Sight
Year: 1978
Director: Chang Cheh
Stars: Chiang Sheng, Philip Kwok, Lu Feng, Wei Pai, Sun Chien, Lo Meng, Wang Lung Wei, Ku Feng, Sun Shu Pei, Liu Huang-hsi, Shen Lao, Lin Hui Huang, Wang Ching Ho, Wang Han Chen, Chien Szu-ying, Dick Wei
Genre: Thriller, Martial ArtsBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: The ageing master of pupil Yang Tieh (Chiang Sheng) is dying, and as he instructs him to attend to his illness with arcane methods, he recognises there is a mission he must bequeath to the young man before he expires soon. The treatment over, buying the master a little more time, he tells Yang of the pupils who went before him, five of them, known as the Venom Clan thanks to their deadly kung fu, all based around the styles of various poisonous animals. After making it clear precisely what these men can do in their techniques, the mission becomes clear: Yang has to track them down which is easier said than done since every one has an assumed name now...

In the West at least, there were a few key martial arts titles out of Shaw Brothers studios in Hong Kong which made more of an impact there than anywhere else, and one of those was Five Deadly Venoms. It was directed by one of the company's most reliable participants, Chang Cheh, and something about it not quite fitting the expectations of what most Westerners decided a kung fu movie should be, even if they hadn't seen one or only a couple at least, had Chang's efforts sticking in the mind. In fact, rather than a tale of a young pupil learning at the feet of a wise old man to defeat a heinous villain, we didn't even get to see a training sequence at all in this case.

You had to take it for granted that Yang had received some form of coaching if he was going to go up against five absolute killers, though his master admits the boy probably hasn't learned enough by the point he exits the picture ten minutes in, which doesn't exactly give you much hope for his future. Also, Chiang Sheng (who died too young just over ten years after filming this) portrays his character as a wide-eyed innocent more interested, or just as interested, in food as he is in his quest, another reason you tended to latch onto one official played by Philip Kwok as Mr He, a cheery, firm but fair type who Yang suspects correctly is one of the Venoms. Actually, although it takes much of the movie to identify them all, Yang's instincts are pretty savvy.

But before he can go up to various people and say things like, "You are Gecko Venom and I claim my five yuan" there's the small matter of murder to consider as in the search for treasure the Venoms are fascinated by a bunch of locals get killed. We think we know whodunnit, but such was the complex nature of the plot that there were mysteries remaining, though the chief one about who exactly was the Scorpion Venom was somewhat disappointingly the only character it could have been. Whisper it, but in spite of this film's strong reputation there are those who leave it feeling let down by the whole thing, mainly because they were expecting a martial arts flick and what they got was something more different than they were prepared for.

If it was wall to wall chopsocky you were geared up for in the Five Deadly Venoms, or Wu du as it was economically titled in its native land, then no wonder you were left pondering when someone was going to make with the kung fu moves. This was more of a mystery thriller, so much so that the main action did not occur until the final ten minutes of the movie, though when it arrived, with five characters beating seven bells out of one another simultaneously, it was worth the wait. Certainly there were the occasional bursts of frenetic violence, but in the main it was following Yang and He in uncovering the subterfuge of their fellow clan members which concerned us here, with various items of outrageousness such as finding the vulnerable pressure point of the supposedly invincible Toad Venom (Lo Meng) with what can best be described as unseemly dedication, especially when he turns out to be less than invincible in the process. Really, if you wanted a spot of intrigue akin to a Sunday night television mystery, this was the kung fu movie for you. Music by Chen Yung-Yu.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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