House of Traps
"One thing that harms the movie is that Chang Cheh's fetish is just way overboard. You know what I mean. Not only are there no women in sight, but every guy wears a chest-baring, tight-fitting, sequined costume that would make the Village People proud."
House of Traps (1981)
Director: Chang Cheh
Producer: Shaw Brothers
Cast: Kuo Choi, Sun Chien, Chang Sheng, Lu Feng, Cheng Tien Chi
Running Time: 90 min.
Plot: An evil man hides incriminating evidence inside a pagoda that's booby-trapped to the teeth, and some heroes brave the bizarre death-maze to get it.
JOE909'S REVIEW: There's a lot of interest on the Web over House of Traps, as it was the last Shaw Brothers movie to feature the Venoms line-up (save for muscleman Lo Meng, who'd already flown the Venoms coup). Apparently House of Traps was also never released in the US or UK, and I've read conflicting reports on if it was even dubbed into English. All I know is that my copy is in Mandarin, with tiny English subtitles that crop off of the left and right of the screen, leaving 80% of the movie unintelligible. This seems to be the only version of the movie afloat: low quality video and audio, badly subtitled, and in Mandarin.
What makes the botched subtitles such a shame is that the majority of this film is dialog. It has less action than most Venoms movies, though not as little as their earlier film Sword Stained with Royal Blood. And much like that film, the Venoms are mostly underused, save for Kuo Choi and Lu Feng. Sun Chien, one of the greatest kickers in film history, doesn't even lift a leg in this, as he plays a judge. Chiang Sheng shows up an hour into the movie, pretending to be a traveling magician alongside the sadly-underused Cheng Tien-Chi (who went on to star in one of my favorite movies ever, Five Element Ninja, AKA Chinese Super Ninjas). Only Kuo Choi, who plays the hero Black Fox, and Lu Feng, as the villainous Butterfly Chua, get to spar throughout the movie.
Speaking of Cheng Tien-Chi, I've always liked the guy, even though this and Five Element Ninja are the only movies I've seen him in. I wish he'd gone on to greater success. For the viewers out there who love Five Element Ninja as much as me, be on the lookout for familiar faces in House of Traps. Just about every actor who appeared in Five Element shows up in this film. Being that House of Traps was the last Venoms film, it almost comes off as a changing of the guard.
The movie starts off with a bang, as Lu Feng wastes a dude and escapes with a jade horse type of thing. From what I gather, he's working for corrupt government officials, and they're weeding out the rebels. Kuo Choi flits through the film's first half, disguising himself behind a ninja-like mask. Sun Chien apparently is a judge caught in the middle, who employs a swordfighter who makes an assault on the House midway through. Finally Chiang Sheng shows up with Cheng Tien-Chi, and the two of them hook up with Kuo Choi and some other heroes, and enter the House. Lots of bloody deaths ensue. The ending is especially bizarre, with one of the heroes hacking open a corpse, to root out the contents of its stomach.
One thing that harms the movie is that Chang Cheh's fetish is just way overboard. You know what I mean. Not only are there no women in sight, but every guy wears a chest-baring, tight-fitting, sequined costume that would make the Village People proud. I know this is the case in most other Chang Cheh movies, but House of Traps takes it to the extreme. Add to this that Lu Feng looks like Little Red Riding Hood, wearing (for some reason) a knit cap that covers his ears. Kuo Choi wears one, as well. Actually, now that I think of it, Kuo and Lu are the only ones who look goofy, and it's mostly due to the stupid caps they're stuck with.
The House itself is great, though the set used for it is minimal. The bottom level has spikes that come out of the floor, and a steel staircase that will clamp shut and chop off feet. Spear-tipped nets ensnare those who make it high enough, trapping them while guys on the bottom floor come out and shoot up at them with arrows. The set-up is interesting enough, and we're given a few tantalizing glimpses of the place throughout the movie, leading up to the final assault at the end. The choreography is good for the most part, though it's mostly swordfighting instead of the usual acrobatics. The heroes also tend to take on traps or fight inferior, yellow-outfitted guards, instead of matching their skills against equally-talented enemies.
As usual for a Venoms movie, the weapons are interesting. One guy fights with a pole that has a metal claw at one end. Another fights with jagged hoops. Cheng Tien-Chi uses an umbrella that hides blades. Kuo Choi and Lu Feng use regular swords, and do most of the killing. The film is pretty bloody, but not Five Element Ninja level. The tone is significantly dark, and I'm anticipating a Celestial remaster to clear up several things. As a final note, animal rights activists beware: you see a live chicken actually get dropped onto a bed of nails!
JOE909'S RATING: 7/10 (this will surely improve once I see a copy with legible subs)