Web of Death
"You could consider Web a prologue to Venoms. It's about the Poison Clan, but whereas Five Venoms is a kung-fu mystery of the highest order, Web of Death is a high-brow swordplay/romance/B-grade horror movie."
Web of Death (1976)
Literally: Five Poison Web
Director: Chor Yuen
Cast: Yueh Hua, Cheng Lee (Ching Li), Lo Lieh, Guk Fung (Ku Feng), Wong Hap (Wang Hsia), Lily Li Li-Li, Wong Chung (Wang Chung), Angela Yu Chien
Running Time: 87 min.
Plot: The leader of the Snake Sect has an affair with the sexy ringleader of the Scorpion Sect to revive the "Five Poison Web". But there is also the Centipede Sect to contend with...
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JOE909'S REVIEW: I've loved these old school Shaw Brothers movies since I was a kid, and figured I knew a little about them. But I had never heard of director Chor Yuen. I had heard of one of his movies, though: 1977's Clans of Intrigue, and the only reason I knew about that one was because it starred the fucktastic Nora Miao. But it turns out that Yuen was one of Shaw's biggest directors. Unlike Chang Cheh and Liu Chia-Lang, Yuen delved into the esoteric world of swordplay films, with all-powerful characters, fantastic sets, colorful costumes, and complicated plots. He lacked the buckets of blood Chang Cheh doused his films with, but hey, no one's perfect. Re-introducing Yuen's body of work is just one of many things Celestial should be thanked for.
Praise aside, the only things hampering Yuen's movies were the byzantine plotting and cluttered cast. You can't entirely blame him, because the majority of his movies were based on convoluted Gu Long novels, a few of which I've read, and which themselves can be very confusing. But it can still be hard figuring out who's who in Chor's movies, and what's going on. Web of Death is no exception, even though it doesn't seem to be based on anything by Gu Long.
The sets are the most interesting thing about this movie. That's not an insult to the film; these sets are fantastic, even beyond the usual magnificent Shaws set design. There's a trap-filled dungeon, a clan headquarters that seems to be colossal, and fog-shrouded cauldrons with pools of acid. I can only imagine what martial chaos Chang Cheh could've wrought on such sets, but Chor Yuen's movies are more introspective, complex, and feminine than Chang's bloodthirsty tales.
Another interesting aspect of this movie is the similarity of its plot to the Shaw Brothers classic Five Venoms. Both of these movies came from the pen of I Kuang; Web of Death in 1976 and Five Venoms in 1978. You could consider Web a prologue to Venoms. It's about the Poison Clan, but whereas Five Venoms is a kung-fu mystery of the highest order, Web of Death is a high-brow swordplay/romance/B-grade horror movie.
The plot concerns the evil leader of the Snake Clan's search for the fabled Five Poisons spider, the most powerful weapon in the martial world. It's just a little spider in a weird box, but it glows red, screeches, and ensnares its victims in a radioactive cobweb. It can also apparently do all sorts of wacky stuff. The Poison Clan leader won't let him have it, as the spider was banned ages ago and is now hidden. So the Snake Clan leader devises a ruse to find it; he makes it seem that other martial artist clans are out seeking the spider. This causes all sorts of confusion, fatal mistakes, and plotting in the martial world.
In the middle of this, a love story brews between virtuous swordsman Fei and the Poison Clan leader's daughter, Hong. At times this part of the story takes on aspects of a kung-fu version of Three's Company. Lots of mistaken identity, holding of secrets, and misunderstandings. All the movie really needs is a topknotted Normal Fell as Mr. Roper, who could live upstairs from these crazy kids.
The two plot threads come to a head when Fei is framed for the massacre of an escort agency, and the Snake Clan leader, now in possession of the spider, comes after him. The final battle is good for a while, but then the spider is unleashed. The special effects in this part are entertaining solely due to the cheese factor. We're supposed to buy it when this fake-looking spider ensnares all of the master swordsmen in a radioactive web. Unfortunately, there is only way to kill the spider, and doing so gives the movie its requisite tragic ending.
Cheng Lee, as the clan leader's daughter, is the true star of the film, with lead-billed Yueh Hua mostly providing back-up. Lo Lieh is the black-garbed villain, and he's perfect as the power-mad leader of the Snake Clan. He also has the best outfit in the movie, though I did like the wiry Centipede Clan leader's "centipede" shield. I would've preferred to see more of these clan leaders in action, but when people do fight, it's generally along the fantasy side of things. Lots of leaping and bolts flying from fingertips.
Action-wise I didn't find this movie on par with Chang Cheh, though surely others will disagree. I guess it comes down to genre preference. For me, I tend to like just about anything which begins with that majestic Shaw Brothers logo, save for the odd movie or two. I do prefer kung-fu to swordplay movies, but it's not a hardcore preference. That being said, I still found the action scenes to be over too quick in this one, and would have loved to see the violent epic Chang Cheh might have created with these sets and costumes.
JOE909'S RATING: 7/10