I wasn’t sure what mood I was going to be in, whether or not I’d be likely to appreciate a film like Wu Du (known in English as the Five Deadly Venoms). Nevertheless, I started the film, and by the halfway point I knew I was going to end up liking it. Wu Du is a Hong Kong martial arts film that stars the eponymous Venoms as, well… as the Five Venoms. This was largely the film that gave them their fame (and probably their moniker), and I can see why; it’s not just a great martial arts exhibition, it’s a pretty darn good flick as a whole. Of course, the question pops up once again; is this really a “must see” experience? Well, I could be persuaded to make a case either for or against its inclusion, but I’d rather not; this was just a solidly entertaining film for me, and it hit me so well, I’d rather leave it at that.
The young pupil of a dying martial arts master is dispatched to make sure the master’s former students aren’t misusing their talents, as well as to make sure the fortune of the master’s older friend doesn’t fall into the hands of one of the more disreputable pupils. The students themselves are the titular Five Venoms, called as such because each has their own distinct martial arts style, named after animals; the Centipede, the Snake, the Scorpion, the Lizard (or Gecko), and the Toad. Of course, being a martial arts film, the primary showcase is the fights, which are pretty well choreographed – by the Venoms themselves, no less. What surprised me, though, was that the film was so entertaining even in between these fight sequences. Since the young pupil doesn’t know who the Venoms are, and must track them down with virtually no information, and the Venoms themselves don’t know who each other are, there’s a fantastic dynamic of intrigue and deception that plays through most of the film, both for us and for the characters. We try and look for each of the Venoms before they are revealed (and one, the Scorpion, is saved for last as a sort-of twist, albeit one I figured out rather easily), and they realize their counterparts are all in the same town, and thus step up their game either to solve the central mystery or to perpetuate it for their own ends. Now, this isn’t perfect by any means; there is gratuitous use of sound effects in the fight scenes, to where each strike and blow sounds virtually identical, and overdubbing was a bit of an issue (though not as bad as some other films I could care to name), but I was so wrapped up in the film that even these slight issues washed over me like a slight rain.
I don’t really know how to recommend this one. There’s some people that will be turned off by anything with subtitles, some people that won’t be able to take any “martial arts movie” seriously, and some people that won’t be able to get over the slight dated qualities of the film’s main selling points. To these people, I can merely say, Wu Du is definitely one of the exceptions to be had. If people like the ones I’ve described above are to watch any of the type of film that Wu Du falls squarely into, at least they’re watching one of the best, cause lord knows there are an awful lot of fizzles and duds out there that bring the whole genre down. I’m glad to have seen this, and even more glad that I seemed to be in the right mood for it. Hopefully, this one catches you at the right time as well.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10