FIVE DEADLY VENOMS
Considered one of the all-time great cult films (Entertainment Weekly's "Top 50 Cult Films") and having had significant influence on the careers of Quentin Tarantino and the Wu-Tang Clan, Cheh Chang's Five Deadly Venoms is a milestone in the pantheon of martial arts cinema. Cultural impact aside, this is by no means a masterpiece. The plot is convoluted and constantly meanders into tiring threads of espionage, yet remains a pleasant departure from the typical martial arts narrative. The true spectacle of the film lies in the launch of its stars, the Venom Mob (Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Lu Feng, Lo Mang, and Wei Pai).
Previously featured in Shaw Brothers films such as Chinatown Kid and the Brave Archer series, the acting/fighting group found mainstream success with Five Deadly Venoms as the Poison Clan: Centipede, Snake, Scorpion, Lizard, and Toad (as well as the Student who is assigned to track them down). Truly one of the coolest ensembles, the Poison Clan are as astute in deceptive techniques as they are in lethal combat. While the narrative fails to fully delivers on its potential, the fight choreography of the group - led by Ip Man student, Leung Ting - more than makes up for it. While the fight scenes are few and far between, the finale is nothing short of brilliant.
Overall, it's easy to see how Five Deadly Venoms cemented its place in the history of cinema, yet time has been unkind to it. As stated before, the plot is far too ambitious for its own good, thus dwindling the excitement of every battle. Films such as The Raid have obviously taken notes and improved upon the narrative structure: introduce the stakes, constantly raise them, but tell it through the action rather than elongated sequences of spying and/or conversation. The greatest character moments and revelations exist within the fights, so the lack of focus on them is upsetting to say the least. However, applause is still in order for Cheh Chang and Kuang Ni for attempting something different.
Regardless, Five Deadly Venoms is culturally relevant and fun enough that non-fans of the genre can still find enjoyment within its brisk running time. Ultimately, while it isn't the apex of the genre some claim it to be, the wild and gorgeous costumes, cheesy performances, and fight sequences make this essential viewing for any die hard martial arts fan.