Spittin’ Venom

With a fairy-tale like concept, The Five Venoms imagines a small Hong Kong village beset by murder, and a young idealist is sent on a mission to uncover the killer(s). There’s mystery here, as the title characters all come from the same school, and some (if not most) fell to corruption.

It’s not out of sync in terms of Shaw Brothers’ usual kung-fu outings, still a story concerning morality. Some use their skills for evils, others for right, as old-fashioned a fable as possible. Add in a lost treasure and it’s more so a derivative take on classic mythology.

Five Venoms finds a unique angle into the crowded genre

In this genre though, there’s added color. Five Venoms predicts decades of fighting videogames by defining the former students, all unknown to one another, by their skills and weak points. Certainly, this isn’t the only kung-fu flick to do so, but it’s a prominent story beat in Five Venoms, down to costumes, hair styles, and even color coding.

Five Venoms outwits itself though. The young Yang Tieh (Sheng Chiang) begins as the plot’s focal point, yet it is soon relegated to a background role behind endless political bribes and blatant corruption. There’s so much illicit activity, it becomes tiring, and blatantly obvious. From judges down to individual police, all fall to quick cash in an effort to gain power. Soon, the pacing wobbles, and the need for a breakout fight becomes overwhelming. A few skirmishes aside, Five Venoms saves itself for the climax, finally letting Yang Tieh showcase his fighting prowess.

Faults aside, Five Venoms finds a unique angle into the crowded genre, as colorful as it is enthusiastic – at least when it peaks. Flat as the routine good-versus-evil methodology is, the anticipation to see wrong undone and exposed keeps the tension high.

Taking a shot in the final moments, the two heroes consider what to do next. One wants to expose the courts for their crimes, the other taking a defeatist approach, saying another will likely be worse. In a world like Five Venoms, no one wins, rather others need to do right, counterbalancing the crime. It’s the right way to send off this well-considered genre flick.


An outstanding, organic transfer from Arrow brings Five Venoms into the modern HD era with care. Thin, easily handled grain lays over the image, sustained and consistent for the entire runtime. It’s a spotless print, devoid of damage or other anomalies. While certain films in the Shawscope Blu-ray set waver in quality, it’s clear Five Venoms was given personal attention, plus a high-resolution scan. Fidelity is tremendous. It’s easy to see the glued on wig lines when in close-up.

Pure color offers spot-on flesh tones and the occasional pop, like red belts in a gambling den, or the Venom’s training lairs. Banners and signage around markets also display accurate hues. This all looks absolutely true to the film stock.

No surprise then, the contrast and black levels do their best, one perky, one dense. This provides Five Venoms dimension that’s nothing less than impressive given the age. There’s no crush or clipping either.


Mandarin, Cantonese, and English – take your pick. Each is DTS-HD. It’s standard mono in all cases. Sticking with the original Mandarin, there’s enough clarity to get by, especially in the score. A little range seeps out too, drums hitting with slight kick, or as much as expected given the source. Dialog inherits scratchiness indicative of age, if not unexpected or overly impactful.


Simon Abrams opens this portion with his commentary track. A 2003 interview with Lo Meng follows, as does a brief featurette (17-minutes) on director Chang Cheh. Trailers and images follow.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Five Venoms
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As a kung-fu fairy tale, The Five Venoms plays with the genre in unique ways, if stifled by meandering political and judicial corruption.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 37 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray:

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