According to the Wikipedia list, there are a ton of Venom Mob films, but to me, the true spirit of a Venom film is under the direction of Chang Cheh and that the story should in the martial arts/kung fu era and they should be after THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS. This means that films like SHAOLIN TEMPLE (pre-Five Venoms), NAVAL COMMANDOS (World War Naval genre), THE DAREDEVILS (19the century/war era), CHINATOWN KID (70s era) and RUTHLESS TACTICS (not directed by Chang Cheh) doesn't qualify to me as a Venom film to me. Also, HELL AND HELL or any of the BRAVE ARCHER movies are too "fantastic"/fantasy-based to be included - plus, just because a movie featured a cast of 100 characters doesn't mean it should automatically be a 'venom'-type movie.
I'm also banning any Louis Cha-written novels, those movies' trademark are all fantasy and features tons of characters. Movies under Cha are BRAVE ARCHER, ODE TO GALLANTRY, LEGEND OF THE FOX, and SWORD STAINED WITH ROYAL BLOOD. Those movies are often long and complicated - which I don't mind sometimes, but for a "venoms" type movie, I wouldn't recommend those movies.
So below are some Venom Films that I have seen and loved. If you're new to Venom, start with the original: THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS and its non-sequel, CRIPPLE AVENGERS.
FIVE VENOMS (1978)
This is the film that started it all. It's not by various alias, but typically, in America, it's known as THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS. This film featured five unique venom styles: The Centipede, The Snake, The Scorpion, The Lizard and The Toad. All five students were trained with masks under one master, so the identity to each student is unknown to one another.
Their master suspect one of his student used his Kung Fu for evil, so he sent a six student to find out the truth. Lots of great martial arts choreography with venom vs venom action.
Although the movie didn't do well in Hong Kong, it had a life of its own on poorly dubbed bootleg VHS across the country.
I actually own a DVD bootleg, the IVL (Region 3) version, but the best one to get your hands on is the Dragon Dynasty Blu-Ray version, featuring the English Dub and audio commentary by Bey Logan. DVD should be just fine, but since the Blu-Ray transfer look like it was taken from the DVD master. Considering that there are only ten Shaw Brothers movies on Blu-Ray, it's definitely worth it in your collection.
CRIPPLE AVENGERS (1978)
Although this was not a true sequel, it didn't stop distributors from re-titling the name to RETURN OF THE 5 DEADLY VENOMS. Despite the terrible name ('Cripple Avengers'), this is an all-around entertaining movie.
Five characters' limbs and eyes and ears were chopped off early in the movie by one evil master. The 'cripples' decided to team up to defeat their mutual enemy.
Lots of great fights, using a variety of different styles based on each character's deficiencies.
I have both a bootleg English dub DVD, IVL (Region 3), and the Dragon Dynasty version. This movie is not yet available on Blu-Ray, so for the money, the Dragon Dynasty is the best one to get because it includes the English dub and Mandarin soundtrack. The IVL version only has one track, but the print seems brighter. Maybe if I have time later, I'll post comparison shots for you.
INVINCIBLE SHAOLIN (1978)
I really like this one, if you've never seen it, it's worth tracking down. The movie pitches Northern Style vs Southern Style Shaolin, so you can spot some great styles and see the differences.
Typical of these type of films at the time, the characters goes to a master to train and learn how to counter the other styles. Anyway, after they realized they've been tricked to fighting each other, the two school team up to defeat their mutual enemy.
The film was eventually released officially on Funimation, which I don't have. I am assuming with many of these Region 1 release that they include the English dub. I only have the IVL version, which doesn't have any features - except a "behind-the-scenes" and comes in a slipcase.
KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1979)
It's a good movie, despite the stinker of a title.
Lo Mang plays Golden Arm in this Venoms classic. If you don't know who Lo Mang is, he is the Toad from Five Venoms. He's known for his muscles, and in the 70s, no one in Asia has seen anyone quite as buff as he was - think of when you first saw Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's unbelievable!
MAGNIFICENT RUFFIANS (1979)
This "comedy" Kung Fu movie was never released in the USA, although expect plans for its release by Tokyo Shock.
I stopped importing IVL movies since I got screwed by shipping costs. Pre-2007, I would often buy $100+ worth of DVDs and to save money on shipping - unfortunately one time they broke up shipments in several parts and Senasian charged me extra $ for each shipment! After that, I stopped importing movies altogether because the US market started releasing Region 1 Shaw Brothers movies on DVD. The unfortunate thing is: Blu-Ray is here and releasing DVDs (at least to me) felt like they were releasing things on cassettes or a format that I don't want to invest in.
I'm waiting for Tokyo Shock to just release them directly to Blu-Ray, as they have done so with DEADLY DUO or FIVE ELEMENTAL NINJAS.
Having said all that, I actually haven't seen this movie because I'm still waiting for its official release in the US. I understand there exists bootleg DVDs, but I think I'll just wait for the remastered edition. Right now the only version that exist is the Region 3 Celestial Pictures/IVL edition that was released in 2007.
TWO CHAMPIONS OF SHAOLIN (1980)
I like this film, but since I already own the IVL Region 3 version, I didn't exactly hop on the US edition by Well Go USA. Unfortunately, I ended up owning TWO version of the US edition because I bought the Tin Case: Epic Heroes and the Shaw Brothers boxset. To be honest, I much prefer to buy boxsets because they often give better value and I'm interested in the unique boxes (after owning over 2,000 DVDs in their standard case, they take up too much space!)
Anyway, there were a string of these "two" theme going with early Shaw pictures (DEADLY DUO, HEROES TWO comes to mind), and TWO CHAMPIONS OF SHAOLIN was about two Southern Shaolin fighters, Tung and Wu and their struggles against the Northern Wutang. Lots of great "flying daggers" technique and its counter. Worth checking out if you haven't seen it, and since it's available in the US market, there's really no excuse.
If you ever seen the Chemical Brothers' music video for "Get Yourself High", they used clips from this film to funny special effects.
FLAG OF IRON (1980)
I have a bootleg of this DVD, the transfer is absolutely terrible. It looked like they got the master from an old VHS copy, at least it is the English dubbed.
I know the movie's officially out on Tokyo Shock, but please see my comment about waiting for them to eventually release it on Blu-Ray. Look, I just don't want to buy the movie twice (or thrice in my situation). I wouldn't mind picking up the DVD if I found somewhere really cheap (under $5), but considering that their movies aren't even available at my local Best Buy, I probably won't see the remastered edition in my collection until the BD version comes out.
Anyway, if you haven't seen this movie, it's pretty enjoyable. This is a typical Venoms movie: a very simple plot of "who killed the master". One of the more memorable "Iron Flag" clan uses these long spears with flags to create some great visual effects (often slow motion videos were shot during their sequence). Unfortunately, if you're like me, you wonder: don't the flags slow down the spear works? Who cares, it looks awesome.
The setup is pretty simple, there was a big fight in the Iron Flag clan and their master is assassinated. Iron Flag was forced to elect a new master/leader and get revenge for the people who killed their master. No one could find who the killer(s) are, and eventually broke up the clan.
I believe the actual movie really doesn't start until "years" later and you found one of the former member is now a cook at a restaurant and is a the target of "the 10 deadly killers". By this time, I suspect all the viewers would already know who really killed the master… but the "mystery" is never the strong point in these action movies.
TEN TIGERS OF KWANG TUNG (1980)
The box overview basically said this movie is like "Expendables", only with good directions by James Cameron. So, yes, all the big Shaw stars are in this movie.
The movie starts off with a murder at a gambling establishment. They quickly cut to a flashback leading up to why the murder took place. About 75% of this movie is told in flashback. After an hour into the movie does the "modern" day kick in, with a tit for tat plan to draw out the murders' group. Speaking of kicking… there is a great beheading by kick at the last battle.
Ten Tigers had the stars, but it's too complicated and epic for my liking. Too many characters with the flashbacks, it was really confusing on the time structure. If you want epic and stars, this is one worth tracking down, otherwise, I would stick to something more entertaining, like MASKED AVENGERS.
MASKED AVENGERS (1981)
This was a really good true Venom movie. The plot is dead simple: a group of young fighters are investigating highway robberies by the mysterious "Masked Avengers" spearmen.
Like FIVE VENOMS, none of the Masked Avengers knew each other's identities. Lots of people killed off in this movie, and there is a "one of these guys is a masked avenger" mystery. It's fun, even though you might have already guessed who the bad apple in the bunch is by the time the big reveal came around.
Overall a very entertaining picture… Shame that the movie is only available on bootleg and there is no official release for this movie. You may have to turn to importing it.
PS, why did they need to spin the guys before they kill them off? Made absolutely no sense to me.
HOUSE OF TRAPS (1982)
I had huge expectation with this movie. It sounded fantastic on paper: a group of heroes enters into a house… of TRAPS! However, watching it on rental, the production just wasn't there. I suspect it has more to do with the lack of technology to make the movie work, the "traps" are pretty awful and didn't make much sense. I thought the traps in MASKED AVENGERS worked better because they were quick and deadly.
It's been a while since I saw this movie (I rented it from Netflix), but from what I can remember, it wasn't that good that I rushed out to buy the DVD. Perhaps when I have extra cash and I see it at an affordable price, I'd like to get this in my collection.
SHAOLIN RESCUERS (1979)
Three kung fu friends, working at three different establishments, aid a Shaolin "Hero" escaping from the deadly Wudang clan (who slaughtered everyone at the Shaolin Temple earlier in the introduction).
The film had a little too much comedy for my liking, but when it came to the martial arts action, it's one of the best action films. Some of the deaths are pretty terrific - at one point a character is impaled in "the area", killing him instantly.
Surprisingly, the Wudang killers were colorful and unique - you had the "leopard kid", the "best student", and the brass-"hammer" wielding guy, etc.
The story of the three friends work - until they introduce "cutie pie", a fourth character. Almost really late into the movie, you're left wondering who this character is?
FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS (1982)
No one thinks this is a Venoms movie, but between you and me, I think it follows all the great formula of a Venoms movie.
This is, by far, my favorite Chang Cheh movie. You enter the film with demonstrations between two warring clans. Then the Ninjas were brought in and they basically slaughtered everyone…. Save for one lone survivor. He trained with a few other brothers and they soon challenge the ninjas to a big throw-down.
Around the same time, RUTHLESS TACTICS (aka NINJA IN THE DEADLY TRAP) came out, which had a very similar story. You can pick up a fullscreen transfer by Tai Seng with audio commentaries by Rick Meyers. The print looked pretty bad, but it's watchable. All Tai Seng DVDs are pretty low budget, but at least the price is right (cheap). While RUTHLESS TACTICS is automatically disqualified because it's not directed by Cheh, it does have a similar style - so if you like FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS, you'll like this movie.
Below are the so-called Venoms movies that I would skip.
LIFE GAMBLE (1979)
I actually ordered the Blu-Ray release of this, which was ultimately canceled due to poor sales/pre-sale? BCI did release the DVD edition, which I never bought. I have seen the movie before, but from what I can remember, it wasn't that stellar of a movie. Main star was Fu Sheng who was the gambler with this item that everybody wanted. I wouldn't really consider this a Venoms movie, it doesn't seem to follow the typical "group of heroes/gets defeated/train/revenge!" scenario.
ODE TO GALLANTRY (1982)
I was rather disappointed with ODE TO GALLANTRY, because I had no idea it was based on a Louise Cha novel when I bought it. The main character is a beggar named "Bastard" who accidently found an "iron clan" symbol in his thievery. A master of the Motian decides to rescue and teach Bastard kung fu. Bastard will turn out to be the son of some destiny-thing, who cares, right? We've seen this before.
Again, where I have a problem with the movie is it had too much comedy. Also, there is some fantasy-element throughout the film. The comedy kung fu thing, I can understand, because they had huge box office success - particularly films by Jackie Chan, but the movies I like are the martial arts films that take themselves seriously.
I don't think this movie counts as a Venoms film, I would skip this on, in favor of FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS instead. Besides, it was never released in the US.
THE REBEL INTRUDERS (1980)
Haven't seen this one, but after reading its synopsis of "political charged thriller", I have absolutely no interest. Plus the era of "early republican" era doesn't sound appealing at all…. Plus the fact that it's not available in the US market, it might be a while before I eventually see this one.
Overview: The "Venoms" are back in action again! After creating an international sensation in 'The Five Venoms', Taiwanese Opera artists Kuo Chue, Chiang Sheng and Lu Feng reteamed with Chinese muscleman Lo Meng and superkicker Sun Chien for this politically charged thriller. Set in the early Republican years, some skilled refugees run afoul of a powerful traitor, and from then on it's one amazing battle after another.
LEGEND OF THE FOX (1980)
I wouldn't consider this a 'venoms' movie, it's really complicated, written by Louis Cha, and about 50% of the movie is done in flashback.
In fact, this should have been two separate movies: the flashback (this takes about 1 hour) and the fantastical-element/comedy training movie.
The flashback is a bit over-the-top (a three-day duel, some misunderstandings, poisoning swords), it had some great knife/sword fighting. Generally entertaining, although unbelievable.
The fantasy part of the movie is a little too much for me… they're based on legends - similar to what you'd find with the BRAVE ARCHER series. So this is one of the weaker movies for me. Don't bother trying to track it down, unless you absolutely must see all Chang Cheh movies.
SWORD STAINED WITH ROYAL BLOOD (1982)
Again, see my comment regarding originally written by Louis Cha.
Here's the overview, if you're interested in checking out the movie:
The "godfather of the kung-fu film", Chang Cheh, made this treasured and beloved adventure, featuring three of his five famous "Venom" film actors. The spectacular action and intrigue starts when Kuo Chue uncovers a sword, training manual, treasure map, and a secret message. The kung-fu which ensues is as impressive as it is glorious.
RUTHLESS TACTICS (1983)
I don't even know why people list this movie (known in the USA as NINJA IN THE DEADLY TRAP). It's not even a Shaw Brothers movie or a Chang Cheh movie! Still, if you like FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS, this is a pretty fun movie.
This is a list of Venoms movies, according to Wikipedia:
Shaolin Temple (22/12/76) aka Death Chamber
Naval Commandos (7/4/77)
Brave Archer (30/7/77) aka Kung-Fu Warlords
Chinatown Kid (2/12/77)
Brave Archer Part 2 (13/5/78) aka Kung-Fu Warlords Part II
Five Deadly Venoms (12/8/78) aka 5 Deadly Venoms, aka Shaolin Deadly Poisons
Invincible Shaolin (19/11/78) aka Unbeatable Dragon, aka Shaolin Bloodshed
Crippled Avengers (21/12/78) aka Mortal Combat aka Return of the 5 Deadly Venoms
Life Gamble (22/2/79)
Shaolin Rescuers (24/3/79) aka Avenging Warriors Of Shaolin
Shaolin Daredevils (29/6/79) aka The Magnificent Acrobats, The Daredevils
Magnificent Ruffians (20/9/79) aka The Destroyers
Kid With The Golden Arm (2/11/79)
Heaven and Hell (19/1/80) aka Shaolin Hell Gate
2 Champions Of Shaolin (12/4/80) aka Shaolin And Wu-Tong
Flag Of Iron (14/8/80) aka Spearman Of Death
Rebel Intruders (11/9/80) aka Killer Army, aka The Guerillas
Legend Of A Fox (15/12/80)
10 Tigers Of Kwangtung (20/12/80)
Masked Avengers (15/5/81)
Sword Stained With Royal Blood (Shaw) (3/6/81)
Brave Archer Part 3 (12/11/81) aka Blast Of The Iron Palm
House Of Traps (9/1/82)
Brave Archer And His Mate (15/2/82) aka Mysterious Island
Ode to Gallantry (16/12/82)
Ruthless Tactics (1983) aka Ninja In The Deadly Trap