One of the most iconic squads in martial arts history is the “venom mob.” Originally brought together by the legendary Chang Cheh for the Shaw Brothers classic FIVE DEADLY VENOMS, this team was unique in that they were childhood friends, mastered acrobatics together at the Peking Opera School, developed their own fight choreography for their films and were all strong actors to boot. As is often the case, especially in the fast and loose world of Hong Kong martial arts movie production, the ensuing years after a bone fide hit saw a flurry of variations on the theme, knock offs and legit sequels. NINE VENOMS is somewhere in between.
Directed by Chang Cheh but not for Shaw Brothers, NINE VENOMS features two OG venoms, Chiang Sheng and Lu Feng, surrounded by a squad of reasonably talented venom knock-offs sporting the signature slicked-back venom haircuts. A notable member of the ensemble is the hugely talented Ricky Cheng, fellow Peking Opera classmate of Chiang Sheng, a venom once-removed if you will, who plays the lead role of Joey.
An utterly bonkers kung-fu reimagining of the Faust legend, NINE VENOMS follows Joey who sells his soul to the devil both to avenge his father’s death and safe his best friend Gary from imminent decapitation. The Prince of Hell (played by Lu Feng) inexplicably enters scene (best to not dwell on the why too much with this movie) and consummates this soul transaction by giving Joey a necklace of nine skulls. When the time is right and sometimes when it is not-so-right, the nine demons skulls fly off of Joey’s neck and turn into nine truly disturbing, manic demon children with an unquenchable thirst for blood. And to be fair, even though there are remnants of a classic “venoms” movie with the actors, haircuts, style, amazing fights and such, the original title of this film was NINE DEMONS, named for the blue-skirted bloody half-pints. Slapping VENOMS on the retitling is merely a cash grab.
Nonetheless, the choreography is exceptional, the supernatural details are fantastic and Chang Cheh, as always, delivers the goods. (Tim League)