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The Five Venoms

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 10/26/2006
Summary: One bite is never enough

When a dying kung-fu master tells his last pupil Yang De (Chiang Sheng) that his “Venom House” hasn’t always been strictly righteous, he instructs the youngster to go looking for the former members to bring about some kind of justice. He tells him to befriend those that are living a good life and to learn from them, and to destroy those that have taken the path of evil. In all, there are five former students – going by the name of the Centipede, the Snake, the Scorpion, the Lizard and the Toad, according to their particular kung-fu style. Yang faces the daunting task of finding them all, including the most elusive of them all – the Scorpion.

FIVE VENOMS was a huge cult hit in the US, but over on this side of the pond it never really made much of an impact. Nevertheless, it’s a great film for all fans of 70’s kung fu action.

Unusually, the plot of this Chang Cheh film is pretty damn easy to follow – and holds the viewer’s interest. The story of Yang De as he wanders around looking for the brothers is reasonably compelling – even if he tends to find the elusive Venoms right from the word go. In fact, they’re everywhere!

Although the “good” Venoms and the “bad” Venoms are stereotypical and there’s never really any doubt about which ones are which, there are a few twists and surprises along the way. Enough to make repeated viewings interesting, anyway.

Good film – but you probably already knew that!

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 08/05/2005

At its most basic level, “The Five Venoms” is a morality play. The thieves fall out as the evil Venoms turn on each other, interested only the great wealth at stake, while the good Venom and the student finally triumph. They could not have won, though, if the other four Venoms had stayed united—it was only when they began to attack each other that the final battle turned.

Snake was the only character who showed any development. He was from a wealthy family and joined the Poison Clan only to learn a unique form of kung fu. He found out that life after training was nothing but killing and more killing—this is after he killed and tortured several innocent and some not so innocent people—and was tired of it. It was his odd betrayal of the rest of the bad guys that changed things.

“The Five Venoms” shows off many of the strengths of the Shaw Brothers studio. Excellent sets, crowds of extras, all of them costumed, wigged and made up—some heavily made up. The entire physical part of the movie is first rate. The costumes themselves are a bit over the top. Snake and Centipede could have gone onstage with Liberace in Las Vegas and fit right in—lots of shiny fabric and sequins.

Terrible sound on this transfer—the dubbed dialog was between difficult and impossible to understand for much of the time. Even turning the volume way up didn’t really help—much of it just wasn’t there. As others have mentioned, get a subtitled transfer if at all possible.

Torture scenes were pretty graphic, especially one in which a prisoner is suffocated by layer after layer of thin cloth dipped into wet plaster and placed over his face. Scenes which involved gruesome death for those caught in the Venom’s network of murder and lies were a bit less explicit. Much of the torture was ordered by the local court—the defendant had to confess before he could be found guilty and executed and torture was used to elicit the confessions. A few continuity problems—at one point the Justice says “we can’t do that—torture is illegal”, not long after ordering guards to use a wooden vice on the feet of a different defendant.

“The Five Venoms” has stood the test of time very well. It is not only an important artifact from the golden age of the Shaw Brothers but remains an exciting movie in itself.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 08/01/2005
Summary: All time classic!

Probably one of the most popular kung fu movies ever made, Five Deadly Venoms is a classic film of martial arts mayhem. A dying master, dismayed by stories that some of his five former students have become criminals, begins to train his final student Yan Tieh (Chiang Sheng) in order to go and kill the evil students. Each one of his original five students were trained in one of the deadly venom styles: Snake (Wei Pai), Centipede (Lu Feng), Lizard (Kuo Chui), Scorpion (Sun Chien) and Toad (Lo Meng). The master decides to teach his final student all five styles, but only manages to give a brief lesson on each one. Yan Tieh must then find the other Venoms, but since he has never seen them, he is told that they will probably be going after the master's old partner, who has become very wealthy. Since he is hardy as powerful as any of the other venoms, he will need to form an alliance with any of good Venoms and try to destroy the other four, restoring honor to the clan. Thus begins an hour and a half of insane kung fu fights, mistaken identites, backstabbing and plot twists that make the film so enjoyable.

In terms of a pure, ideal kung fu movie, it doesn't get much better than Five Deadly Venoms. A great plot, cool characters, lightning-fast kung fu and a surprise ending all add up to one of the best movies ever to come out of the Shaw Brothers studios. Shaw Brothers was the predmoninant movie making force in Hong Kong during the 60's and 70's and pumped out hundreds and hundreds of martial arts films. The five actors that portrayed the Venoms became one of their biggest draws, and they subsequently made several more movies as a group, including Crippled Avengers (also known as Return of the Five Deadly Venoms). Director Chang Cheh was also one of the best directors for the Shaw Brothers, and made some of the most violent and popular martial arts movies of that period. If you loved and miss those days of Kung Fu Theater on Saturday mornings, see this movie. You won't be disappointed.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: PAUL MARTINEZ
Date: 01/13/2005
Summary: The most influential film of my life

This is it! This film is the culprit. People ask why Martial arts films have such a following in the west. It's because of The Five Venoms. This film started my obsession of asian films.

Plot wise this movie was far superior to others made at that time. Instead of the revenge for my murdered teacher/ Father/ Brother story we usually saw. There were not a lot of fight scenes for most of the movie as Chang Cheh told his story to build up to the final confrontation at the end. The sub-titled version seems to flow better than the dubbed.

Decent performances from all. Only Wei Pei's stood out for me. Which is probsably because he was given the most dramatic material of everyone in the cast. Interesting was that there was no female character in the movie at all. Usually we are subjugated to some woman who is shown throughout a movie like this with nothing to do but maybe be held captive at best. Chang just did away with that altogether, which made sense to me for this story.

Like I said not many fight scenes but when we saw the venoms perform they did so quite well. I would have liked to see the 6th student use more of the other venoms skills other than just Lizard.

For people like me in the west, this is perhaps the most important asian film of all-time. (Enter The Dragon was an American film) It spawned a love affair which still lives today.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 02/04/2004
Summary: 4/5

**** THE FIVE VENOMS: A classic storyline and characters, and pretty good direction, though the film looks a little "cheap", as with many of Chang Cheh's later films. The Celestial DVD quality is fantastic though

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 12/28/2003
Summary: Excellent, the best SB movie released yet

I was intrigued by the storyline of this movie and masking each of the 5 venoms so the audience had to guess who was what venom was a good idea.

Knowing who the last of the 5 venoms were was very easy. The styles of kung fu is very intriguing, i was most impressed by the TOAD kung fu which virtually made the fighter impervious to wounds. The gecko kung fu is a bit much but enjoyable to watch. the ending has long fight scenes which is enjoyable to watch.

Though the martial arts is not up to standard of modern day wire work, it's still enjoyable enough to watch. Recommended for anyone who likes old kung fu flicks!!


Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 01/27/2003

A grind house classic in the West "The Five Venoms" (aka "Five Deadly Venoms") would later inspire a Sprite commercial; secure a slot on Entertainment Weekly's Top 50 Cult Films; a point of reference in World of Warcraft; and oft-sampled by the nine members of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan. The praise is a bit gratuitous as there are dozens of more fulfilling entries in the Shaw Brothers library but if you were looking for an old school gung fu flick with an emphasis on plot, technique, and torture -- here would be a good place to start.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: CaptainAmerica
Date: 06/13/2002
Summary: Poison Clan rocks the world!

Recently, after getting my fill of more recent HK action films, I decided to turn to the classics. And THE FIVE VENOMS aka FIVE DEADLY VENOMS definitely fits the bill of classic! Even though dated in comparison to susequent films of its kind, this movie honestly has the appeal to stand up to any kung fu action fan's criteria today.

You already know the story: five member of the Poison Clan, hated and feared by society, have converged to find an old friend of their former teacher...this old friend happens to have a treasure trove, and some of the Venoms want it to redeem the clan in the eyes of society (create a non-for-profit foundation, maybe?), while others want it for pure greed. Meanwhile, the last student of their deceased teacher -- who knows all of the Poison skills and yet is a master of none -- does his best to find the Venoms and hook up with at least one of the virtuous ones so they can destroy the evil ones! The one wild card is the Scorpion who is waiting in the wings, but no one knows who he is...yet...

All of the leads are excellent, and while the action may get sparse for the sake of story development, when the action hits it hits hard! Of special mention are Kuo Chui aka Phillip Kwok, Wei Pai, Lo Meng, and Chiang Sheng, and what they bring to the screen! This may sound strange, but watching this movie of virtually superhuman heroes and villains, I could make the argument that this movie inspired another of my favorites: THE HEROIC TRIO!

ABSOLUTELY required old-school viewing!

Reviewed by: kurama_tengu
Date: 06/03/2002
Summary: The one that started it all! A must see!

"The Five Venoms" aka "The Five Deadly Venoms" introduced Chang Cheh's second stable of young kung fu actors. Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng, Lo Mang, Lu Feng, and Sun Chien were put together in this breakthrough film about a band of fighters with individual talents based on animals. This film's story and fight scene structure would be duplicated for many films thereafter using these five fighters and a number of recognizable secondary actors.

Although this is not my favorite of the Venom movies, it is a very enjoyable film with all of the great fights one can expect from any of Cheh's Venom films utilizing the five actors. This should be seen regardless due to its importance in the kung fu genre.

Beware!!:Ground Zero Entertainment has marketed many movies as "Venom" movies, but some of these films only have a few of these five actors in them. Your best bet is to read the reviews on HKMDB.com and read the box label carefully before buying. [8/10]

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: 5elementninja
Date: 01/03/2002
Summary: classic

This is the movie that gave the crew of Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, Lo Meng, Sun Chien, Kuo Chui, and Wei Pai the name "Venoms". One of the greatest Kung Fu movies of all-time. I think everyone is familiar with the Centipede, Snake, Scorpion, Lizard, and Toad. The fight scenes are superb and this remains a kung fu cult classic. This film is probably THE movie that put me in love with martial arts.


Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: Ryoga
Date: 12/25/2001

Pick your poison! Chang Cheh is a genius I tell you. A dying master tells his last student about five students he had in the past. They are all experts in different styles which are the centipede, snake, scorpion, lizard and toad. The master suspects that some of the students may be doing some bad deeds so he sends out his last student to find the good ones so they can stop the bad students. This one shouldn't be ANY hard to find.

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 09/19/2001
Summary: I love it

A most intriguing and well carried-through plot, but little makes sense, contributed by the lack of more details and background info:

Before the master of the Poison Clan dies, he instructs his last pupil to find the Clan's 5 former pupils, each of whom is an expert in an "animal style kung fu." Not knowing anything about the 5 pupils other than their kung fu styles, the last pupil effortlessly locates them in time. Meanwhile, the 5 original pupils themselves try to eliminate eachother, some in hope to find gold from the master's friend, and others in hopes to bring these evil pupils to justice. Intentional portraits of corruption are evident.

There you have the basic synopsis. Do I think the plot is flawless? Of course not. It has less flaws than most other films of the era, but it's far from flawless. Do I still consider Five Deadly Venoms a classic? You bet. It's definitely one of the great classics of all time and one of the most reknowned in the west. I don't think it's overrated.

The fight scenes are highly innovative for the era. However, like the Bastard Swordsman, the promise was not delivered. Yes, Lu Feng moves faster than the Centipede for 2 seconds, but immediately after the demonstration of the style it's back to the ordinary, old school kung fu, like those you see in any other venoms movie. The only pupil who truly keeps up with his introduced crafts is Wei Pai the snake, which comes in sacrifice of the quality of his fights. Nevertheless, Wei Pai is currently my favorite venom, even though he only appeared in about 3 of the approx 13 venoms movies. His unique physical appearence the his usual roles of chilvalrous swords heros in that plain white "gawn?" gives him more class than the other venoms; it could have very well made him the next Andy Lau, too. That's speaking with the fact that Andy Lau was the biggest star when I was growing up. I do wish Wei Pai made appearences in more venoms movies. Without the other venoms, his talent is not quite as evident.

The Eng dub is not particularly bad. Perhaps slightly superior to Kid with golden arm or Chinese super ninja, but nevertheless chessy. Most of the time I had to turn the volume up real loud to hear the dialogues, and at times I simply could not understand what they were saying.

So it will not be argued that the first true venoms movie is also the best venoms movie. It is original, innovative, well-planned, and influencial to many films to follow.


Reviewed by: hellboy
Date: 09/04/2000

An intriguing kung-fu potboiler from Shaw Bros. veteran Chang Cheh. The plot is excellent and rendered with more style than usual for a 70's kung-fu flick. Five Venoms raised the bar for all HK films showcasing "animal style" kung-fu as a gimmick. The ensemble cast went on to appear as a group in many other Shaw Bros. films including Mortal Combat, Invincible Shaolin, and Kid with the Golden Arm. All good kung-fu flicks but none surpassing Five Venoms in either story or kung-fu content. 9.5/10

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: tygrdx
Date: 04/13/2000
Summary: Not as Great as Many Think

An OK movie, maybe it's because the version I saw didn't have that great a dubbing. I don't mind the bad acting, but the sound quality was what really got to me. If I had seen this movie 5 years ago, I would have thought it was awesome, but compared to movies such as Fist of Legend and Drunken Master 2, it's only average. Again, maybe it's because of the sound quality.

Reviewed by: battlemonkey
Date: 12/21/1999

A master has trained five men in secret kung fu styles--snake,centipede, scorpion, lizard, and toad. Fearing that some of the students are evil, he sends a sixth disciple to find them. None of them know each other. The 6th disciple, who has been trained in bits of all the styles, discovers some venoms are good, while others are indeed bad. They fight. A classic, as far as I am concerned. Lots of strange kung fu including the lizard running up walls.

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

The dying master of the infamous poison clan instructs his last student to find his old students and eliminate any that have turned to evil. The action takes place as the characters (anonymous to each other) descend on a city where an old friend of the master (the holder of the clans massed fortunes) is said to reside. The opening sequences explaining the different styles are cinematic magic, the constant bribery scenes ring out Chehs signature themes of corruption and greed, the fights are breathtaking and inventive and the plotting and narrative have never been better. Another point of small interest is that the role of the "snake" was originally intended for a woman.

[Reviewed by Andrew Best]