Saturday, April 14, 2018

Wuxia Wonderland

Last Tuesday, at bar trivia, I received some fantastic news from one of my teammates- the Yonkers location of the Alamo Drafthouse will be showing one of my all-time favorite films, the 1978 Shaw Brothers classic Five Deadly Venoms. As soon as the trivia competition was over, my friend bought a bunch of tickets so we could see this film on the big screen. Five Deadly Venoms is a classic martial arts film, beginning with the dying master of the Venom Clan tasking his last student, Yang Tieh, with protecting the clan's reputation by investigating five former pupils, ascertaining whether they are using their skills for good or ill. The beginning monologue, accompanying a montage of the five 'venoms' displaying their animal-inspired fighting styles, is a classic moment in the kung fu genre:

Trained in the rudiments of the five venom styles, Yang Tieh is informed that he is no match for any of the 'venoms', so his best course of action is to determine which, if any, of the former pupils has remained righteous, and to team up with them to defeat the malfeasors. Dissembling as a smudge-faced bumpkin, he starts his investigation, which is complicated by the fact that the five deadly venoms wear animal-themed masks while they are practicing their fighting arts.

The great appeal of Five Deadly Venoms is its combination of mystery movie with martial arts action. Yang Tieh has to use his wits to suss out the situation, and risk his safety by placing his trust in one or more of his predecessors. The martial arts in the film are fantastic, with each fighter practicing a highly distinctive, outlandish style of combat, each with its strengths and vulnerabilities (the discovery of the weaknesses of the fighters is a major plot point of the film). The movie has its emotional moments, with the death of one of the 'good guys' being especially tragic and most memorable. It even has a mild political subtext, with corrupt magistrates being just as much of a scourge on society as rogue martial artists.

As often as I've seen the film, I've never seen it on the big screen before, so I am excited for the opportunity to watch it with good friends in a well-appointed theater with a good beer selection.

EDIT: It's funny how the mind works- I remembered seeing the film on the big screen before while the manager of the theater was mentioning other Shaw Brothers films- he mentioned the film Dirty Ho and I immediately recalled going to Lincoln Center in Manhattan to see this remastered version of Five Deadly Venoms. I've seen the film enough to not even recall having seen the clean print projected on a full-sized silver screen.

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