"If you've ever watched a Shaw Brothers kung-fu film and found yourself thinking: 'This flick is good and all, but what it REALLY needs is a bunch of blood-drinking, Satan-worshiping, mask-wearing villains and a whole lot more violence,' then Masked Avengers is the movie for you."
Masked Avengers (1981)
Director: Chang Cheh
Producer: Mona Fong, Runme Shaw
Cast: Phillip Kwok, Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, Chin Siu Ho, Siao Yuk, Lau Fong Sai, Chiu Gwok, Hon Lai Fan, Wong Wa, Chu Ko, Lam Chi Tai, Chan Hon Kwong, Tiu Lung, Wong Lik, Chan Shu Kei, Chui Tai Ping
Running Time: 100 min.
Plot: The insidious Mark Gang of hired killers have been terrorizing the countryside, with their mastery of the trident and an inherent brutality. But who are the men behind the mask, and what are the identities of the three chiefs in the gold masks?
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JOE909'S REVIEW: If you've ever watched a Shaw Brothers kung-fu film and found yourself thinking: "This flick is good and all, but what it REALLY needs is a bunch of blood-drinking, Satan-worshiping, mask-wearing villains and a whole lot more violence," then Masked Avengers is the movie for you. This is a dark, dark movie, and those who require comedic antics with their kung-fu need not apply.
Masked Avengers concerns a cult of masked killers who work as mercenaries, though the film never once addresses who exactly hires and pays them. None of them know each other behind their masks, which also raises more logistical questions: if no one knows who is who, then how in the world did the cult get started in the first place? Regardless, we discover that these guys are Satanic in everything but name: they thrive on debauchery, drink the blood of their victims, worship and frolic in pagan rituals, and rape and murder as they please.
Chiang Sheng, the Venom who normally played the goofy one, here plays the straight role of Chi San Yun, the reserved leader of a government-appointed party that's seeking out this cult. His group is made up of assorted fighters, some of whom have lost family members and loved ones at the hands of the killers. Two figures stand out in the group: Cheng Chung (Chien Hsao-Hao, in the type of role normally played by Toad Venom Lo Meng), a good-natured but naïve guy, and hotheaded Liang Yung (played by Chu Ko, who happens to be a dead ringer for Scorpion Venom Sun Chien).
Chi San Yun's group heads to a small town where the masked killers are apparently headquartered. They figure the leader of the cult must be a wealthy, powerful individual, and so their chief suspect is Lin Yung Chi (Lu Feng, the constantly-evil Venom). Lin claims he's never heard of a group of masked killers in his town, but does implicate another wealthy individual, Fong Su Kwong (Wang Li), whom he's heard employs a personal army of kung-fu fighters at his estate. Chi's men hole up in an inn to sort things out, where Cheng Chung strikes up a friendship with mysterious cook Kao (Kuo Choi).
Over the next several days, the cultists murder the members of Chi San Yun's group, sometimes in broad daylight. These murders continue unabated, until about an hour in it all comes to a head, as Kao finally reveals his story to Cheng. Turns out Kao was a member of the cult, in fact he was the second chief, but quit when he realized the cult was killing for fun, not profit. Now disguised as a cook, he keeps an eye on the two men he suspects of being the chiefs: Fong Su Kwon and Lin Yung Chi. However, Cheng is murdered by the three chiefs before he can impart this information to his superior, Chi San Yun.
Kao finds Chi San Yun and his remaining men and manages to convince them of his innocence. He's also able to unveil the second chief by devising a ruse that's brilliant in its stupidity. Discovering the cult will be gathering that night, Kao, Chi, and Chi's remaining men unleash an assault on their headquarters, which happens to be in an abandoned temple.
This final battle is one of the most amazing the Venoms ever did, complete with booby traps, countless cult members, shooting darts, moving walls, and streams of acid. If the heroes had just tried to make their way through this trap-fest of a temple, it would have made for an entertaining finale, but on top of that they're engaged in acrobatic, jaw-dropping kung-fu throughout. Those expecting the usually-bizarre weaponry seen in Venoms movies will be let down, though. Tridents predominate; be prepared for the excessive "clang, CLANG, clang, CLANG," sound effects in the final battle. Other than tridents, the occasional sword is used, and Chiang Sheng uses his fan to waste people, before unleashing a pair of metal hoops.
There are two problems that keep this film from being perfect. One, the fact that only three Venoms are present. Lo Meng would have been perfect in the role of Cheng Chung, in fact the part seems to have been written for him. But Lo left the Venoms crew around this time; who knows, maybe even shortly before production of this movie, which would explain why screenwriter I Kuang created a character so suited to him. Sun Chien was still a Venom, though, so his absence doesn't make any sense. But like I said above, Chu Ko looks so much like Sun Chien anyway, you could probably fool yourself into believing it IS him.
As for the second problem, it's related to the first. Much like the original Venoms movie, Five Venoms, the main actors don't see much action until the very end. Kuo Choi tries to avoid fighting for the first hour or so. Chiang Sheng doesn't do anything until the final battle, other than wave his fan around and look uncomfortable in a role totally not suited to him. Lu Feng sees more action than any of them, although most of the time it's from behind a mask.
Now let's move on to the violence. Five Element Ninja was a violent movie for sure, but it was cartoonish violence. Masked Avengers is equally gory, but the violence is more disturbing. In this movie you will see masked cultists drinking human blood, you'll see intestines draping from a bloody trident, you'll see so many guys impaled you'll lose count (in one case, a cult member actually pulls his trident all the way THROUGH his victim), you'll see a dude bite off his own tongue, and you'll see torture sequences that should make the most jaded Shaw Brothers fan squirm.
On top of that, the production values are high. The cult headquarters is a sight to behold, topping even the fantastic dungeons Chor Yuen gave us in his 1976 Shaws film Web of Death. The costumes are the usual Venoms cool, with the cult members getting the best. The foot soldiers wear identical outfits of black pants and red vests, with demon-like, horned masks. The three chiefs wear more regal clothing, and have masks that look more like dwarf faces, or something. These masks don't have horns, but they do have beards, and each chief wears a different color. All told, these cult members make for an appealing visual spectacle.
Masked Avengers is one of the top movies I'm waiting for Celestial to remaster, because the DVD currently out there isn't so great. The DVD release from NS is only marginally better than the nth-generation video dub I've had for the past ten years. The picture on the NS disc is too dark, and panned-and-scanned out of whack. The final battle begs to be seen in widescreen, but for now, this bungled DVD will have to do.
JOE909'S RATING: 9.5/10