Two films that allow me to totally geek out on the chop-socky kung fu genre. Released in grindhouses and drive-ins at the height of the 1970s kung fu craze, Chang Chen’s Five Deadly Venoms is like a superhero film run amok. This Shaw Brothers produced classic stars The Venom Mob, a group of childhood friends who’s talents ranged from expertise in Chinese weaponry to high-flying acrobatics. What’s more impressive is that this young group are better actors than most you will find in a kung fu film of this sort, especially the male lead Kuo Chui.
Here The Venom Mob portrays the Five Deadly Venoms, or the Poison clan. Each trained in a unique style of fighting, the team of killers has sinced been disbanded and many of the fighters have gone rogue. Their dying master deploys his most recent student (a man trained in all five forms of fighting) to track down the Venoms one by one and decipher which ones can be trusted.
Where many Shaw Brothers’ releases had high amounts of humor, Venoms is deadly serious. The film opens with a 20 minute training sequence and then there’s no action for nearly 40 minutes. Just a tough, slow build up where just hearing the names of the killers (The Toad, The Scorpion, The Lizard, The Snake and The Centipede) creates an unbelieavble tension for what actions to come.
“The Toad style is immensley strong… its’ immune to any weapon. When properly used, its almost invisible. Raw, I’m gonna give it to you.” —Wu Tang’s Da Mystery of Chessboxin.
Chia-Liang Liu’s The 36th Chamber of the Shaolin, the first of about a half dozen Chamber flicks, changed my life. This one’s like a kung fu Rocky with powerful training sequences and real deal sword-slicing action. The film follows a highly fictionalized version of San Te, a legendary Shaolin martial arts disciple who trained under General Chi Shan (portrayed in the film by the director’s adopted brother Gordon Liu aka The Master Killer). Kung Fu movies and, in particular, Shaw Brothers films allow viewers a chance to see and feel from a non-Western point of view. Theres a combination of Buddhism and psychology on display in the beautifully choreographed trainings sequences and the Monks’ moral teachings. “Without wisdom, there is no gain”.
Both of these films represent the finest in their respective genres. Old school, high-octane, bone-crunching, blood-soaked, ass-kicking mayhem.