A dying teacher instructs his final student to check on the activities of five former pupils, each of whom he taught a unique and special style of kung-fu to: The Centipede, Snake, Scorpion, Lizard, and Toad (hence the title).
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Not nearly as elegant visually or narratively as the 36th Chamber of Shaolin, but still a fun Holmsian mystery with (some) beautifully choreographed martial arts. The finale is particularly interesting, as different styles intersect and characters shift allegiances. After seeing only one film from each director, Chang's style seems much more blunt and stolid compared to Liu's fluid, intuitive filmmaking.
This film has an almost insurmountable reputation to live up to, even amongst the Shaw Brothers catalog. I found the plot to be atypically dense and light on action for a Chang Cheh movie. I'll take "Five Element Ninjas" or "Five Shaolin Masters" over this any day, but it's still worth a watch. The opening 5 minute scene that displays each of the Venom's abilities is undeniably cool.
Although the FX might not hold-up, I still dig this film. It's not just nostalgia but that intro and the fight sequences are too good to be denied. It's more than just a martial arts movie, it's a mystery with elements of comedy. It suggests that the rich can get away with murder and let the good take the rap when the state sides with the corrupt rich. Align the state with the good and then justice prevails.
While this might be the film that started all for the venoms, it's clearly not the best one they made with Chang Cheh. Following movies like Crippled Avengers would raise the bar even higher. Still, you can see why this movie has become a classic in the Shaw Brothers universe.
6 - Showcases both the best and the worst among this director's traits; boasting dazzling athleticism, good pacing and sympathetic characters on one side, and a basic whodunit plot, superficial yet heavy-handed commentary and incomprehensible production errors (there was a particular panning shot that looked bizarre as hell, thanks to the use of what I believe had to be some sort of fisheye lens) on the other.