Story: The master of the Poison Clan is near death, but he uses his final moments to warn about an impending attempt to rob the clan’s gold stockpile. Yang (Chiang Sheng) is tasked to track down five of the master’s former pupils, each a master of specific, lethal martial arts style, to determine which are involved in the upcoming heist. This is no light mission for Yang, who must now risk life and limb to not only find these powerful warriors, but investigate the situation to discover who is involved and could be a potential ally in the final battle. Some are likely to remain loyal to the Poison Clan and defend the gold reserve, while others are rumored to be interested in taking the riches for themselves, dooming the entire clan in the process. But can Yang hold his own against such legendary fighters not only in the martial arts realm, but stay one step ahead of the various strategies in effect?
Entertainment Value: Five Deadly Venoms, aka The Five Venoms is not only Shaw Brothers classic, but an action cinema classic, one that continues to dazzles audiences. Chang Cheh directed a wealth of genre classics of course, some of which would influence countless filmmakers over the decades, who would borrow from his creative well. The narrative is fun and effective, pitting our lead against a gauntlet of colorful characters. I love the masks worn by the venoms, as well as the wildly different, over the top fight styles on showcase here. The visuals are memorable and often stylish, serving as eye candy between fight scenes, but also used to enhance the aesthetic of those sequences. Seeing two skilled martial artists square off is fun to watch, but watching some visually dynamic, wildly varied martial artists display high level skills, that is even better. The production values are solid, not super polished perhaps, but the funds went to the right places, which makes all the difference. I think the sets and locations do what they’re asked, giving a proper backdrop for all the chaos to unfold.
Chang Cheh’s direction in this one is rock solid, with his flashes of style held for the fight scenes, though that is never an issue. In other words, the martial arts showdowns provide the best visuals and technical execution, but that’s not a surprise, since this is an action driven movie. As I said before, there is a lack of refinement at times with the production, but I don’t hold it as a high crime, as I was so distracted by the film’s strengths to really notice. Perhaps the camera work or edits could have been smoother, but the visuals and martial arts work is so good, I doubt many will linger on the negatives. And the action is so good in Five Deadly Venoms, often over the top and with bursts of spectacle, but always a blast to watch and it all holds up to repeat viewing, over and again. Five Deadly Venoms is a martial arts masterpiece and of course, it earns a high recommendation.