With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

ACF 005: The Five Venoms

The Five Venoms / Wu Du
(Picture courtesy Celestial Pictures/Shaw Brothers & FSLC)

The new Heroic Grace film series will be starting at the Film Society of Lincoln Center tomorrow, Wednesday, June 12th. One of the first films to screen is this asian cult film classic from 1978. The Five Venoms was directed by Cheh Chang (a.k.a. Zhang Che) for the Shaw Brothers Studio, one of the most prolific studios in Hong Kong for many years. Its vast film library of hundreds and hundreds of martial art, Peking opera adaptations, and other genres has just recently begun being restored, digitally transferred and put out on DVD by Celestial Pictures. As I've mentioned previously, these DVD releases are encoded for Region III (Asian) DVD players.

Still, the best way to experience these films is in a dark theater with a knowledgeable and appreciative audience. The Walter Reade theater is a modest-sized venue, with comfortable stadium seating and a fantastic sound system. Some in the audience will undoubtedly be regulars from the usual art house and classic foreign film crowd, but I'm sure there'll be plenty of fervid fans of B-movie, chop socky, grindhouse cinema in evidence also. At least if attendance is anything like that for the films I saw during the first Heroic Grace series.

Briefly, The Five Venoms concerns the dying wishes of the sifu (teacher) of the Five Venoms House. He entrusts Yang De (Sheng Chiang), his only current pupil, to seek out the school's five prior students. From senior to most junior, they are practicioners of the centipede, snake, scorpion, gecko (lizard), and toad fighting styles. Each style has its particular attributes, which makes for interesting and diverse fight choreography. At least some of the former students are believed to be after a treasure taken by sifu's junior classmate. Yang De is a "jack of each martial art but master of none." He knows something about about each of the five fighting styles, but alone he is no match for his seniors, whose current identities are unknown.

Yang De must discover who the former students are, form an alliance with at least one whom he believes to be benevolent, take out the bad guys, obtain the treasure, and donate it to charity to absolve the Five Venoms House of its bad reputation! Whew! In the course of this quest, there'll be shifting alliances, corrupt civil servants, and, oh yeah, enough stylized fighting to knock yer socks off. Also be prepared for devices of death and torture such as The Throat Barb, The Brain Pin, The Red Stomacher, and The Thousand Needle Coat!

It ain't high art, but I love it! The Five Venoms is high energy, lethal entertainment. Go get poisoned!

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