The names Lo Meng, Lu Feng, Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng and Sun Chien may not ring an immediate bell with all martial arts fans. Most people know them by their collective name, the Five Deadly Venoms.
Typically shortened down to just “the Venoms” or the rather sinister “Venoms mob,” the name derives from the 1978 Shaw Brothers movie of the same name. Ironically, the film features six Venoms but Wei Pai (the Snake), who featured alongside the other five in many films, is not considered an official member of the team.
The five key members starred in thirteen films together with over a dozen others featuring two, three and even four of the collective. “Five Deadly Venoms” is far from their only gem. The group of choreographers, talented martial artists and acrobats have a truly legendary back catalog of films. Imagine the intricacies of a Sammo Hung, combined with the tumbling prowess of a Yuen Biao, all filmed through the lens of Chang Cheh’s infamous aesthetic and you have the Venoms’ cinematic legacy.
The Venoms officially went their separate ways in 1981, although Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng and Kuo Chui went on to form a production company together. With the death of Chiang Sheng in 1991 (he died of a heart attack at the age of 40) the individual members sought solo projects with some ending up more successful than others. Kuo Chui’s appearance as Mad Dog in John Woo’s “Hard Boiled” being a stand out performance. Together, they paved the way for dozens of martial arts stars and leave behind a filmography the extent of which is rarely explored.
So, here are eight memorable moments from the iconic heroes of kung fu cinema, the Venoms Mob.
1. Trident Brawl
One thing is for sure, the Venoms didn’t tread lightly when it came to weapons. In “Masked Avengers,” the crew adopted the rarely seen short trident as their weapon of choice which results in an insane free-for-all, the likes of which hadn’t been seen before and hasn’t really been seen since.
I can only imagine how many takes it took to capture some of these moves on film. The finished product is a testament to the precision and skill set of the entire team.
2. Kicks and Flips
This energetic scene from “Two Champions of Shaolin” shows off the spectrum of the Venoms’ abilities. While Lo Meng uses brute force and stylish shapes work to dispatch his sparring partner, Chiang Sheng relies heavily on his incredible acrobatic skills and…well…it doesn’t end well for his particular opponent at all. Not for the squeamish!
3. Wood Ninjas
“Five Element Ninjas” is the Venoms’ most accessible film by far. It’s a simple tale of Japanese fighters challenging Chinese fighters that’s action packed seriously heavy on the bloodshed. In fact, it’s safe to say that “Five Element Ninjas” is one of the most violent kung fu films ever made; a trademark of Chang Cheh and the crew’s cinematic style.
Beyond the gore, there’s a great balance of hand-to-hand combat, weapons work and some other quirky surprises along the way.
4. Rings and Things
The only film considered a pseudo-sequel to “Five Deadly Venoms” is the similarly toned “Crippled Avengers” (also known as “Return of the Five Deadly Venoms”). Far from politically correct, each character is forcibly maimed early on in the film, causing them to seek out very specific martial arts training in order to compensate.
The truly memorable, gimmick filled finale is as good as it gets, with each actor in their element as they exact revenge on those that caused their injuries.
5. Where It All Started
The introduction to “Five Deadly Venoms” is one of the most iconic scenes in kung fu cinema history. The unique styles on display, the anonymity of the characters and the dark, brooding cinematography introduced audiences to an entirely new aesthetic of martial arts movie.
The film is essentially a quiet mystery. Although it is interspersed with furious fights offering a unique take on animal style kung fu. Along with “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,” “Five Deadly Venoms” has become one of the few kung fu films recognized in mainstream cinema. A true classic of the genre.
6. Striking Gold
“The Kid with the Golden Arms” marks the rare occurrence of Lo Meng portraying the villain in a Venoms film. Due to his physique and boyish charisma, he was often seen as a tragic hero (spoiler: he dies in 90% of their films) but, surprisingly, he shines as a bad guy.
Using his Chow Gar Southern Mantis style (he was a real life student for thirteen years) to devastating effect, he squares off against Kuo Chui (better known as Phillip Kwok) in a finale that sees weapons and metallic limbs clash!
In “Shaolin Daredevils” the team (all good characters for once) play a group of street performers who find themselves embroiled in a military conspiracy.
A simplified plot is bolstered with the addition of flawless choreography that features jaw dropping timing.
Frequent collaborator Wong Lik joins the team as the villain and this results in a three-on-one fight that’s hard to forget.
8. Waving the Flag
Going back to their opera roots, the Venoms made “Flags of Iron,” a film where – as the title suggests – flag/spear hybrids are the featured weapon.
The choreography here seems much more performance oriented and is somewhat a departure from the intricacies of their earlier work. But, needless to say, it delivers some fantastic fights topped with the Venoms’ usual dosage of bloody death scenes!
So there you have it, a small sampling of some of the Venoms’ great movie moments. If you have a particular favourite Venom or even just a favourite film of theirs, drop us a comment below.
If you haven’t explored their filmography, I urge you to do so as you’ll surely come across some kung fu gold!