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One of the loopiest kung-fu movies ever made, a garish masterpiece of martial kitsch by the hard-boiled master of the genre, Chang Cheh. The five muscle-bound paragons of the title have fighting skills so hyperdeveloped that they border upon the occult, each modeled on the behavior of a different venomous beast: centipede, snake, lizard, toad, and scorpion. This "poison clan" is embroiled in a complex plot to lay claim to an ill-gotten fortune, but the story line feels like an afterthought. The nonstop wall-crawling action sequences, which match up the cast members in every conceivable combination, are the be all and end all here. This is late, decadent Chang Cheh, without the poise and sweep of earlier epics like Blood Brothers and Vengeance (the noble David Chiang-Ti Lung team ups that inspired John Woo), but it's great fun on its own terms. The painted masks worn by the Venoms, which make them look like berserk extras in a wrestling film, are based upon the belligerent warrior face paint of Chinese opera.

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