Three kung fu-fighting refugees get swept up in a brewing conflict between rival Republican-era warlords in this kung fu actioner from writer-director Chang Cheh and the five-man acting and action directing team known as the Venoms Mob. This is one of the Venoms’ more satisfying features where generous amounts of diverse fighting action is balanced by a measure of broad comedy, adventurous intrigue and the always enjoyable onscreen camaraderie of leads Philip Kwok, Lo Meng and Chiang Sheng. The trio is among a flood of refugees displaced by war between rival warlords following the fall of the Qing Dynasty. After finding different jobs in a town run by Colonel Chen (Lu Feng), they meet each other during a gambling house brawl and subsequently become blood brothers. By chance, they happen upon the assassination of another colonel who Chen was ordered to serve under. They end up killing the assassins, one of whom is Chen’s brother. It turns out they stumbled on a plot by Chen to side with an enemy warlord intending to invade the region. The three heroes are publicly blamed for the assassination. In an effort to seek revenge and cover up his traitorous act, Chen marks them for death. They’re forced to go on the run in an effort to reach rebels in the south as Chen and his kung fu-fighting militia attempt to stop them. The film is similar in theme to Chang’s ANONYMOUS HEROES which starred David Chiang and Ti Lung as unlikely heroes on a suicide mission to deliver guns to rebels in Republican-era China, although it would be hard to see many similarities on the surface. By this point, most of Chang’s films had become studio-bound, low-budget productions cranked out on a virtual conveyor belt that recycled the same sets, costumes, props, and actors regardless of the story or period in which it took place. As a result, this film doesn’t look anything like Chang’s early Republican-era films where budgets were bigger and greater effort was made to match the production’s look to the actual period in Chinese history. But as established in THE FIVE VENOMS, the Venoms films exist in a fantasy world all their own despite their plots often referencing specifics of Chinese history, martial arts folklore or wuxia fiction. As such this film is consistent with the rest. Fighting action has each of the Venoms actors playing to their established strengths as usual with kicker Sun Chien and southern fist expert Lo Meng supporting while the acrobatic and weapons-handling expertise of action directors and stars Philip Kwok, Chiang Sheng and Lu Feng taking center stage. The combat is well staged with elaborate group fighting and gory highlights but with too much repetition and reliance on stagy Chinese opera elements, it’s not up to their best fight work as seen in CRIPPLED AVENGERS and THE MAGNIFICENT RUFFIANS.
Chang Cheh • Cjiang Sheng • Lo Meng • Lu Feng • Philip Kwok • Rebel Intruders (1980) • Shaw Brothers • Sun Chien • Venom Mob