"I'd say this movie is the least violent Venoms movie of them all. But if you're seeking a showcase of the Venoms' acrobatic talents, look no further."
AKA: Daredevils of Kung fu, Kings of Kung fu, Magnificent Acrobats, Venom Warriors
Director: Chang Cheh
Producer: Sir Run Run Shaw, Mona Fong
Cast: Lo Meng, Chiang Sheng, Wong Lik, Sun Chien, Lu Feng, Phillip Kwok, Chui Tai Ping, Chan Shen, Wang Han Chen, Yeung Hung, Tam Jan Dung, Walter Tso Tat-Wah, Ng Hong Sang, Paul Wong Kwan, Wan Seung Lam, Lam Wai, Lau Fong Sai
Running Time: 101 min.
Plot: One of the Venoms is killed, and the other four plan an elaborate sting operation to get revenge.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JOE909'S REVIEW: Daredevils was one of the first Venoms movies I saw, and hence was an early favorite. Unfortunately, it doesn't hold up, these days. The Venoms give it their all, the acrobatic kung-fu is as great as ever, and the story's different than the usual "vengeance for my dead dog" routine, but what kills the movie, I'm sad to say, is Chang Cheh's directing, which for lack of a better word is just plain lazy.
Chang Cheh could have become the Hong Kong Sam Peckinpah, creating movies that dealt with social issues while at the same time delving into hardcore violence. Boxer from Shantung, Duel of the Iron Fist, and especially Vengeance all prove that Chang was a gifted director. But as the years progressed, he instead fashioned himself into a workhorse, and his directorial skills began to wane. But then again, the man directed around a hundred films in his lifetime, most of them made in the 1970s. The occasional misfire was only natural, as was the fact that his later films all feel like they've just come off a factory line.
There are long shots in Daredevils that are made up of nothing but Chiang Sheng, Kuo Choi, and Lu Feng doing backflips and other acrobatic tricks. In fact, you could just watch this movie and save yourself a few bucks, the next time a Chinese acrobatic troupe comes into your town. You'll see most of the same stuff here in this movie. The three main Venoms had a Peking Opera background with a focus on tumbles, leaps, flips, and the like, and this movie serves as a display of the skills they learned. Apparently Chang was happy to just let them show their stuff, and either fell asleep behind the camera or let the boys block out the direction on their own.
The story concerns Lo Meng's quest to avenge his father's murder. That's the starting point for the story, at least. As usual, Chang gives Lo Meng short shrift, and he's barely in the movie. It's no wonder Lo was soon to leave the Venoms crew. Anyway, it's the early 20th century (Daredevils takes place around the same time period as two other Venoms movies: Killer Army and Magnificent Ruffians), and warlords are taking over China. Lo's dad is a military chief who's murdered by a ruthless general, played by Wang Li. Lo is the only survivor left in his family, and he hooks up with his pals Kuo Choi, Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, and Lu Feng, hoping they can help him figure out how to get revenge.
The only problem is, his pals are all starving acrobats, who put on street shows to raise eating money; they don't have much help to offer. While they goof off and get drunk, Lo sits in the corner and sulks. Viewers hoping to see Lo Meng show off his superb comic timing will be let down. Lo gets the straight role in this film. And speaking of role reversals, Lu Feng, the shifty-eyed Venom who was always the villain, is actually one of the good guys in this movie. It's kind of hard getting used to seeing him smile and joke around with the others, as you keep expecting him to stab one of them in the back.
Lo takes off on his own to confront Wang Li. The two square off in a nice fist-versus-swords fight, but the problem is, Wang employs a few bodyguards who also specialize in martial arts. Lo breaks out a pair of nunchucks, something uncommon in a Shaws film, but since we're only about thirty minutes into the movie, it's obvious how this fight is going to end.
The remaining Venoms find that Lo left them access to his bank account. Learning of their friend's demise, they plan on gaining vengeance. Here's where the movie differs from the norm. Ordinarily, the heroes would train for a while, then assault the villain's headquarters. In Daredevils, the Venoms instead devise to get themselves into Wang Li's confidence, so that they can just take on him and avoid the army at his command.
The Venoms break into an armory, steal a few guns, and use them to make Wang Li believe they are envoys for a high-ranking warlord. Using Lo's money to make themselves appear important and influential, they successfully dupe Wang into believing they've been sent here by their master to offer Wang a new position in the army. (This matter of warlords and weapons shipments is similar to Chang's 1971 movie Anonymous Heroes, which also took place in the same time period).
The middle half of the movie is made up more of intrigue and subterfuge than kung-fu chaos. There's a great nighttime raid on an armory, when the Venoms steal the guns. Chang films it so it's just a long shot of the boys rappelling down a rope, as a guard tower looms behind them. When you realize all of this is being filmed in an indoor studio, it's very impressive.
Eventually, of course, the Venoms are discovered, but not before they're able to corner Wang and his bodyguards and take them on in combat. The final fight brings the movie back into the normal Venoms oeuvre, but it's strange to see Lu Feng fight WITH Chiang Sheng and Kuo Choi, instead of against them. This alone makes the movie unique. Here the Venoms use poles, ropes, and axes to fight their enemies, who themselves rely on short swords and throwing knives.
I wouldn't rank Daredevils highly on a list of best Venoms movies. In fact, it's now one of my least favorites. Not only for the reasons above, but also because the Venoms' ruse to fool Wang is so paper-thin, you have to scratch your head that it even works as long as it does. Also, the movie doesn't feature the outrageous weaponry and bloody violence that's seen in other Venoms movies. I'd say this movie is the least violent Venoms movie of them all. But if you're seeking a showcase of the Venoms' acrobatic talents, look no further.
As for availability on DVD, as of July 2004, Celestial has not remastered this movie. You can find it either as a widescreen NS DVD release that has fair picture quality, or as a recent Panmedia release which is also widescreen, but apparently doesn't have the best picture quality. Regardless, you want the Panmedia release. Like most other Venoms movies released by NS, the NS version is taken from a European edit of the movie. It's missing several minutes of footage, most of which is exposition, but a lot of which is integral to the story. In fact, one of the scenes cut from the NS release is very important: it's the scene where the Venoms discover that Lo's left, and given them access to his bank account! It seems that the Panmedia release is uncut, so go with that one.
As a closing note, I'd like to mention that this movie has the strangest music cues of all time.
JOE909'S RATING: 6.5/10