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Original Title:
Wu du

Hong Kong 1978

Martial Arts, Thriller

Chang Cheh

Chiang Sheng
Philip Kwok
Lo Meng
Wei Pai
Lu Feng
Sun Chien
Ku Feng
Wang Lung Wei

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Five Deadly Venoms

aka Five Venoms

Story: Yang (Chiang Sheng) is the last disciple of his dying master. His master tells him that he had five specially talented disciples during his life, who he instructed in certain martial arts styles: the snake, scorpion, centipede, lizard and frog, the most venomous of animals in nature. Yang's master wants that his "School of Venoms" goes down with him. Therefore, he has a last wish, he wants his disciple to to take care of.
The master of the "School of Venoms" trained Yang only for a short time, but he taught him all of the poisenous martial arts styles. He wants Yang to travel the country and to search for his former five students. Among them, those who lead a dishonorable life shall be eliminated. Yang's master also has a clue were they might have headed, even though their identities remain a mystery, because they all wore masks during their training.
The "School of Venoms" has a secret treasure in its possession, which is protected by a man of whom the master only knows in which town he lives. Most likely, some of the disciples will try to get their hands on this treasure. Yang has the instruction to take the treasure and to donate it to charity for making up for the sins of the school. However, it proves to be difficult to unravel the identity of the disciples...

Review: "Five Deadly Venoms" is the movie that back in the day turned the martial-arts-movie-world upside down. Never before did a movie deliver so many well-elaborated characters, such a well-wrought story and so much tension at the same time. Naturally, the different unconventional fighting styles did also hit the right notes among martial arts fans. Therefore, for many this movie counts as one of the best Shaw-Brothers movies ever.
For many of the actors in that day the film was also a steppingstone to rise to stardom and in the following years most of them could even expand their status. So it's no real surprise that you will see some familiar faces here.
Actually, it has to be pointed out that "Five Deadly Venoms" is the ideal place for beginners to dive into the realm of Shaw Brother movies. The very well known studio produced some of the best old-school Kung Fu movies and "Five Deadly Venoms" definitely is one of them.

What's really standing out is the exceptionally good story. We are served with numerous intrigues, surprises, twists and the the viewer is always puzzling over who of the characters might be one of the five disciples. That's also what provides attraction. To unveil the true identity of the five deadly students is fun, and moreover we are also encouraged by the director to let our brain work, thanks to several inserted clues. However, in the end it is actually a little bit too easy for the mindful viewer to find out who is hiding behind which mask. Maybe my expectations were just too great, but somehow I missed one final genius twist. Wouldn't it have been great if behind the scorpion's mask the master himself had hidden, and did only sent out Yang to eliminate his other disciples in order to get his hands on the treasure, which he was denied to take into possession for so many years?
Nevertheless, especially when taking into account what year the movie was made in, the story proves to be very well written and leaves enough space for guess-work.

The different characters are very well done. Every one of them stands out because of an individual complex personality, which gets even more colourful thanks to the diverse fighting techniques they are versed in. They all have their own motivations, so that even though "Snake" and "Centipede" are working together at first, they still can be enemies at the end. "Scorpion" is like a maverick who always stays behind the scene and pulls the strings. Being one of the "bad guys" he remains a mystery until the end as it is with his true identity.
Among the good guys, there are "Toad", being the muscular daredevil who soon gets help from "Gecko", who works for the government as a policeman and is assigned to throw light on a murder case, which seems to be directly linked to the treasure of his master. These two are the main protagonists that the viewer can relate to, whereas "Gecko" is the main hero of the film. Nonetheless, the focus doesn't always lie on him, but shifts between the different characters. Yang also gets his time on screen, even if it is a lot shorter than what one might have expected. All in all the cast really can deliver a believable performance.

Let's talk about the fights. Being titled a masterpiece in its days, I somehow expected a bit more. The fights are all very solid, feature some nice acrobatics, but there is nothing really outstanding to be found. Concerning the fights, there are many movies that offer a lot more. It's even more unfortunate that the filmmakers didn't really take advantage of the various fighting styles. The fight sequences could have been more numerous and most importantly they should have been more tactical. However, the last fight can make up for most of the shortcomings.
Concerning the different special powers "Gecko" and "Toad" are the characters most exciting to watch. Latter did succeed in making his skin so resistant that weapons just bounce back from his body when he gets hit. But he also has a weak spot on his body which can make his skills inactive. This being said you should prepare for a pretty brutal scene involving an "iron mantle of 1000 needles".
At times, the movie can be really cruel. Some of the torturing scenes are disturbing, as it is the case with some of the killings. Definitely not for the faint-hearted.
"Gecko" has a power that enables him to walk along walls, whereas "Centipede" is also known as "Thousand Fists". "Scorpion" is a master of kicking and "Snake"... well, he is well-versed in the snake-style!

"Five Deadly Venoms" sticks out, because of the great work of martial arts directing legend Chang Cheh. The studios of the Shaw Brother as always provide some nice sets, the costumes like everything else look beauftiful and colouful and even the score is very fitting. Especially latter is one of the reasons why the movie doesn't feel like your typical martial arts flick. More than anything else "Five Deadly Venoms" is a thriller! The atmosphere always is very tense, there are lots of twists and it's really easy to imagine the story to be transfered to modern Hong Kong.
The film is somewhat of a poineer of its day. If you like action-packed tension and a good story then you shouldn't miss this one. "Five Deadly Venoms" certainly lives up to the hype, even though I expected something different.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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