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Baroque Kung Fu – FIVE DEADLY VENOMS

FIVE DEADLY VENOMS is a genre classic, but not for the reasons you think.

Part whodunnit, part horror film, with a pinch of Mexican wrestling thrown in for good measure, Chang Cheh‘s Five Deadly Venoms (1978) is a film that’s earned a reputation as a must-see for people interested in exploring Kung Fu cinema. The tale of a Kung Fu Master who dispatches his last student to discover which of his past pupils – Centipede, Snake, Scorpion, Lizard or Toad – is putting the clan’s special Poison skills to evil use (imagine that!), it’s a movie which features more sidelong glances, suspicious ducking down alleyways, and guessing games than it does actual martial arts. But despite the fact that it fails to wow in the action department, Five Deadly Venoms ultimately proves to be a thoroughly entertaining affair which grows on you with repeated viewings, thanks to director Chang Cheh’s knack for “borrowing” from other directors. Here he seems to be channeling Mario Bava, creating a palpable dread whose color scheme feels like the Kung Fu version of Planet of the Vampires – at once both colorful and grey – and whose violent passages feel sublimely campy and overwrought. What little kung-fu there is is first rate, the pedigree and skills of the cast – tough guy Lo Meng, strongman Lu Feng, nimble Chiang Sheng, superkicker Sun Chien, and all-around bad ass Philip Kwok – never in question. It’s just that there isn’t that much of it, by Shaw Brothers standards. While the earlier films of director Chang Cheh (The One Armed Swordsman trilogy, Shaolin Temple, Heroes Two) were loaded with innovative martial arts, by the late seventies – following the departure of choreographer Lau Kar Leung to begin a directing career of his own (36th Chamber of Shaolin, Dirty Ho, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter) – the action began to dwindle and become over-reliant on weird machismo, cartoonish violence, and fancy acrobatics. But despite this, there are incredible sets, crazy costumes with iconic masks, and ridiculous plot twists to keep you occupied, and when the five styles of venomous animals are on display it’s as if you’re watching a heady mix of 1960’s TV Batman by way of Kung Fu Panda. It might not be the best martial arts film in “godfather of Kung Fu fimmaking” Chang Cheh’s career – which spanned nearly a hundred films – but Five Deadly Venoms is nevertheless a one-of-a-kind cult classic any fan of filmdom should experience.

And hey lookee here- the movie available in its entirety!

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