Return of the 5 Deadly Venoms (1978) dir. Cheh Chang
Starring: Kuan Tai Chen, Feng Lu, Philip Kwok, Meng Lo, Chien Sun, Sheng Chiang
By Alan Bacchus
I won't say I'm an expert in Kung Fu cinema, but this also isn’t my first kung fu film, and nor is it my first Shaw Bros kung fu film. I can see how this can be considered a classic and yes, it’s probably influential in the genre, and thus revered by hardcore genre-philes, but its the HK equivalent of a American B-Movie exploitation picture. If you embrace the silliness, brutality, politically incorrectness, awful production values, horrendous acting, makeup, cinematography and screenplay you might enjoy this.
It’s possibly one of the most brutally violent and cruel films I’ve ever seen. The opening is especially audacious and brutal. Rivals of the Tiger Kung Fu clan break into the home of master Chu Twin and proceed to chop off the master’s wife’s legs and his son’s arms. When the master returns he quickly kills them all in revenge and swears vengence by making metal replacement arms for his son in order for him to become an even greater kung fu warrior.
Years later, the son, Chu Cho Chang, is grown up and indeed has metal arms which can crush other objects and shoot flying daggers. Unfortunately he and father Chu have grown bitter and even more brutal than their original attackers, ruling their village like despotic madmen maiming and chopping of limps of innocent citizens for no good reason. A few people try to stand up to them, in particular four warriors, Mr. Wei, the town blacksmith who is rendered mute when he’s forced to drink a dangerous elixir, Yuan Yi tries to fight back but has his head squeezed so tight he's rendered an idiot, another one is rendered blind by Cho Chang’s metal fingers and another who has his legs chopped off.
You get the idea? The original Asian title of this picture translated to Crippled Avengers, a more appropriate title as the rest of the film plays out in traditional kung fu revenge cinema featuring four crippled warriors fighting for their vengence. Of course the cripples retreat to the company of an elderly and bearded kung fu master who teaches them how to use their crippledness to their advantage and defeat the house of the Tiger.
It’s full on Kill Bill cinema here, atrociously fake wigs, beards, sideburns, moustaches a plenty, overly accentuated sound effects, sparse studio sets, bad Shaw Scope lenses which create a weird and likely unintentional focus problems around the outside of the frame, bright red to the point of almost being orange blood and more. The only missing is the badly dubbed American voices. Instead, aghast, we get subtitles! How shameful.
But how are the fight scenes you ask? Well, they are good, for the day. Obviously the skill level and production techniques to make kung fu fighting more acrobatic, faster, energetic and thrilling are better now than then. And so taking that into consideration, their artistry and attention to detail the numerous fight sequences do not disappoint.
‘Return of the 5 Deadly Venoms’ is available from Alliance Films and the Weinstein Company via their kung fu label, Dragon Dynasty Collection.