Viking Night - Shawtober September Part II: The Five Deadly Venoms
By Bruce Hall
September 13, 2017
Part II of Shawtober September concerns one of my all time favorite martial arts films, the 1978 classic Five Deadly Venoms. But before I tell you of its greatness, let’s make sure everyone’s up to speed on what we’re doing here.
The now defunct Shaw Brothers Studios produced some of the most exciting martial arts films ever made. If you were into that kind of thing during their heyday of the 1970s and 80s, you no doubt remember their logo. The famous Shaw Brothers “clamshell” not only looked like it was painted on someone’s office door, but it was modeled after the Warner Brothers Pictures logo. The Shaws picked the right people to emulate, as their work would eventually become just as enduring and significant.
Along those lines came The Five Venoms, exploding onto American screens toward the end of one of our most miserable decades. Nobody had ever seen anything like it, and the already red-hot “kung fu” craze shifted into overdrive.
One of the first things you may have already noticed is that so far, I've called this film by two different titles. Fun fact: it's very common for films released internationally to go by a number of names. For a variety of reasons, the title by which different people know a certain film could depend on what the print was called the first time they saw it. What I'm trying to say is that for the duration of this article, I'm going to stick with The Five Venoms, Five Venoms or Venoms for short, and perhaps D5VNMZ for my next license plate.
I hope that’s ok with you, because I’m totally doing that.
Like most martial arts films, Five Venoms is underpinned by various social and cultural themes, punctuated by sternum shattering chest punches. Of course, morality being something most only value under duress, there’s also an abundance of kickass, slow-motion fight scenes the likes of which Carter-era audiences had never seen. Compared to the wild haymakers and awkward drop-kicks seen in most American films, this must have seemed like outright sorcery. Also, like many martial arts films, this one is part of a series. In this case one tied together by broad set of ideas, rather than a literal narrative. In other words they’re not sequels as much as they are hyper-violent fables designed to present a unique moral dilemma to a new set of characters each time
The film's namesake is the once feared Venom Clan, which has fallen on hard times as the film opens. The school's Master (Dick Wei) is dying, and has grown concerned with reports that his former pupils have turned to evil. He dispatches his last student, Yang (Chiang Sheng), to investigate and if necessary to murder his former colleagues. Unfortunately each of the former pupils fought anonymously, making them hard to track down. Each code name represented their respective style: Centipede (Lu Feng), Snake (Wei Pei), Scorpion (Sun Chien), Lizard (Kuo Chi) and Toad (Lo Mang - and save your emails; science tells us that snakes are not lizards).