Turn Back The Clock
Five Deadly Venoms
Produced by Shaw Brothers Studio
Distributed By: Entertainment Programs Inc.
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I was a kid, my very first martial arts movies were watched on Black Belt Theater. At 3PM on a Saturday afternoon, while my parents went shopping, I was placed in charge of babysitting my little brother. Little did they know that babysitting included 2 hours of rock ‘em, sock ‘em martial arts movies and practicing newly learned karate moves on each other. That’s how my love for martial arts films began. Many of the films we watched began with fight scenes, ended with fight scenes and had tons of fight scenes in the middle, but no substance, but one particular film had a valid storyline and interesting new fighting techniques attached to it. I’m talking about the kung fu classic, Five Deadly Venoms, a movie that every martial arts film aficionado knows about and has seen at least a dozen times already.
The movie begins with a request from a dying teacher of the Poison Clan to his last pupil Yaing Tieh (Chiang Sheng). The teacher has helped trained five pupils in deadly martial arts styles. His first pupils, known as Number 1 (Lu Feng) and Number 2 (Wei Pei), were trained in the Centipede and Snake styles respectively. The Centipede style requires strength, agility and speed – strikes are superfast and often deadly in strength. The Snake style requires flexibility, agility and precise finger motor control, allowing the user the ability to fight from the floor if necessary, wriggling out of dangerous situations with speed, using one hand to strike as the head of the snake and the other as the tail. These two pupils trained at the same time and know each other. Number 3 (Sun Chien) was trained in Scorpion style – kicks are like the stinging tail of the scorpion and can paralyze or even kill, while the hands are like the strong pinchers of the scorpion. He was trained alone. Numbers 4 (Kuo Chui) and 5 (Lo Mang) were also trained together. They learned the Lizard and Toad styles respectively. The Lizard style requires great agility and speed, giving the user such control over gravity that he is able to walk on walls and fight comfortably from these positions. The Toad style is very much like that of the Iron Fist – every portion of the body is rock hard with strikes that can bend metal. As in the Iron Fist style, the Toad style presents a difficult target as you must find the elusive weak spot to have any hope of defeating him. All of his pupils were taught in secret and each took different names after leaving the clan.
The teachers of the Poison Clan spent many years amassing riches from the evil actions of their pupils. Now, at the hour of his death, Yaing Tieh’s teacher realizes the evil of his ways and wants to atone for his sins. Teaching Yaing Tieh a mixture of all five venom styles, it is this dying teacher’s hope that Yaing Tieh can find his former pupils, discover whether they are persisting in their evil ways, link up with at least one of them and bring the evil-doers to justice. To do so, Yaing Tieh must first find another Poison Clan teacher who is now in hiding, enjoying the riches the clan has earned for him. He would be the most likely target of the five pupils, spending the money they earned without ever considering turning any of it over to them – they would definitely want some revenge. If Yaing Tieh were to discover this man’s identity and persuade him to turn the money over to charity to atone for the sins of the clan, he would most definitely find the members of the Poison Clan as they came to claim their money.
Posing as a begger, Yaing Tieh does indeed discover the identity of the wayward teacher, only to find out that he and his entire family have been murdered by one or more of the members of the Poison Clan. Can Yaing Tieh discover the identity of the clan members? Will he ally himself with the right one and finally avenge the evils perpetrated by the Poison Clan all these years?
The fact that this early martial arts film has an actual plot that is easy for viewers to follow, along with incredibly interesting fight scenes, makes Five Deadly Venoms a cult classic among martial arts film fans. Part of the fun of this movie is figuring out the identities of the Poison Clan members along with Yaing Tieh. The mystery reveals itself slowly, with some hidden clues along the way and it is interesting to see the roles the members of the clan have chosen for themselves in society. But the greater fun comes from watching the various venomous styles in action. We see the various styles while the members were training at the Poison Clan school in a flashback scene and they seem interesting enough, but to watch them in action against other people – that’s quite a different story.
I loved the fact that this film didn’t employ a lot of tricks and wires. The only style that required some trick photography was the Lizard style as the user was able to walk up walls and fight from this position. Otherwise, this film was fairly realistic in nature. The sound effects were great – loved the way the Centipede’s strikes were made to sound even faster than they looked. The version of the movie I own is English-dubbed, as was the version I first saw in my youth on television. English-dubbed martial arts films are notorious for their bad dubbing – weird voices, mismatched speaking, etc. However, the story is so interesting, the action so engrossing, that you hardly notice the film is dubbed. I wasn’t even looking for the tell-tale signs of lips moving after the dubbed words were spoken. I was so captivated by the goings on in the film that I couldn’t be bothered to look for that.
For this film to have stood out for me all these years and still have the same effect each time I watch it is amazing. This is not one of those films that I’ve watched a hundred times and therefore feel comfortable having on while I do chores around the house. No, if Five Deadly Venoms is on, I have to stop everything and take a seat in front of the television until the very end. Everyone I have talked to that has affection for martial arts films of the past always lists Five Deadly Venoms among their favorites.
Five Deadly Venoms is a classic among martial arts film aficionados for several reasons. A well-devised and realistic plot, interesting fighting styles, great actors, terrific action scenes – this film has it all. This film is such a favorite among fans that I hear a remake of Five Deadly Venoms is in progress. It has been my experience that remakes are not always as well-done as the original, so if you are interested in checking out a classic martial arts film, hurry to the local video store and rent Five Deadly Venoms. My guess is that once you’ve seen the movie, you’ll want to buy a copy for your own movie collection.