The Five Venoms (1978)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-08-05
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