Some things need no analysis. Like Keith Richards and socking people with pillows for no reason, their greatness is self-evident.
On one level, there's no need to say anything about a good kung fu movie besides "Yeah, a bunch of bad dudes punch each other silly, it's really cool."
On the other hand, they don't pay me to not say stuff about good kung fu movies, so here's 1978's Five Deadly Venoms.
As the master of the Poison Clan prepares to die, he sends his sixth student, Sheng Chiang, to stop his five former students from robbing a rich friend. But alone, Chiang will be no match for any of them. He must determine which of them is trustworthy, team up, and restore honor to the Clan by taking down the corrupt others.
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Oh, right, and each of the former students is the master of a discipline so tough it makes normal kung fu fighters look like Pikachu-shaped cupcakes with fluffy cloud frosting. The Centipede strikes so fast it's as if he has 100 hands. The Toad's skin is so tough it can't be pierced by weapons.
Seriously, kids at home, grab an axe, find a toad (after midnight on an icy lake is the best time), and give it a whack. The axe will break before the toad -- it's science.
Regardless, one conceptual head-scratcher is hardly enough to tarnish Five Deadly Venoms' treachery, intrigue, and especially its choreography. Each made-up fighting style is distinctively its own, embellished with superhuman abilities that give the brawls an extra jolt of awesome.
The movie is somewhat less flawless than its fighters. Why are they all going after this rich guy's money right now? Because ... well, because cowriter Kuang Ni sold 16 other scripts that year, that's why. So if Chiang's character -- you know, that hero guy -- goes missing for entire stretches of plot, hush up and enjoy how the Snake looks like he just wandered in from a Persian harem.
Or enjoy the generally solid plot, which, aside from a hole or two, coheres into a nice semi-cop drama of betrayal, greed, corruption and honor. Ni and director/cowriter Cheh Chang get a lot of mileage out of their concept, putting as much emphasis on the deceitful machinations of the Poison Clan as on their efforts to pound each other into hummus. Which would be poisonous. So don't eat it.
Between questionable translations and frequent plot issues, sometimes I have to be in the right mood to deal with the baggage in old kung fu movies. Five Deadly Venoms is the kind I'd watch any time, anywhere.
* Contact Ed Robertson at email@example.com