The world of martial arts has inspired some fantastic films and Five Venoms is one of the best. It combines a classic clash of martial arts styles with an intriguing story line and some excellent fighting action. From the famous Shaw Brother´s studio this movie was originally released in 1978 and from the opening titles it has a nice classic feel and look to it. It tells the tale of Yan Tieh, as he is ordered by his dying master, the head of the Poison Clan, to go and make sure the skills he has passed on are not being used for evil.
Each of the main characters has been taught by the Poison Clan master and each in a different style. Together they would form an invincible force, the Scorpion, the Lizard, the Toad, the Snake and the Centipede. Naturally they all have their own weaknesses and strengths including some nifty (if daft) special moves. Yan has to first discover their identities and then suss out which of them he can afford to trust and which have been corrupted.
The action is directed by Chang Cheh and with 100 films to his credit he does a nice job. While the majority of the film is conventionally shot, the action choreography is great and there are some long combat scenes, which contrast the various differing fighting styles. Martial arts instructor and author, Leung Ting, developed each of the styles especially for the film.
The main actors involved are Chiang Sheng (Yan Tieh), Lu Feng (The Centipede), Wei Pai (the Snake), Sun Chien (the Scorpion), Lo Meng (The Toad), and Kuo Chui (the Lizard). You may not recognise the names but if you have watched many martial arts films before you will probably recognise some of the faces, needless to say that each of them is highly skilled and very dangerous looking. They manage to bring the styles to life and with some excellent choreography have created some really entertaining action sequences.
The script and story line are fairly standard but the element of intrigue and disguise makes this film more interesting than many other releases in the genre. The dialogue is quite good and well acted and the sets are vast and full of bustling life. Some of the main characters, especially Yan Tieh, are very likeable and you´ll naturally find yourself rooting for them. The baddies do tend towards cartoon evil, with no hint of empathy or mercy and their scenes are generally quite dramatic, especially the scene where they capture the Toad.
The action in this film is great, big set piece fights involving lots of people and different styles of combat. The story is engaging and it builds to a conclusion with no sweetening. The characters have personalities, which are developed to some extent and they each have their own motivations but they retain an air of mystery which keeps you hooked right through to the dramatic ending of the movie. Essential viewing for fans of the genre.