‘Crippled Avengers’ or — How To Even Begin Describing This One?
If you were to go by the title alone you’d be forgiven for thinking that ‘Crippled Avengers’ aka ‘The Return of The Five Deadly Venoms’ (1978) was a somewhat crass, insensitive and silly movie. And you’d be right! The good news is it’s also a film filled with heart, skill and a serious amount of energy. It is also wildly entertaining.
Kung fu master and boss of the town, Chu Twin, returns home one day to find his wife murdered (she has had her legs chopped off) and his son crippled (he has had his arms chopped off — can you see a pattern here?). Filled with anger and resentment at this act he does what any decent father would do — forges metal arms for his son and trains him in the ways of martial arts.
Years later this still bitter and resentful master and his son barge about town, picking fights with anyone who pisses them off or who, even potentially, mocks his son for having metal arms. If his son has been maimed then others shall suffer a similar fate! A travelling merchant looks at them the wrong way, so is blinded by the son’s iron fingers. A blacksmith who talks too much is rendered mute and deaf. Another man clumsily bumps into them when his footing slips, so he has his legs chopped off from the knee down.
One day a young kung fu master comes to town and swears to avenge them for these evil acts. He seems to be a smart guy and capable of defeating Chu Twin so things are looking good. However, Chu Twin defeats the young master, puts an iron vice round his head and crushes it until the young master is reduced to the state of an idiot. He still knows kung fu but is, basically, an idiot.
These four unfortunate men travel to the young kung fu master’s temple to return him to the safety of his kung fu school although on arriving the master of the temple decides that he shall teach them all kung fu, providing each of them with specific techniques to compensate, or even exploit, their individual injuries. Even the legless man is given new, iron ones. After they have all been fully trained they will be ready to exact their revenge on Chu Twin and with Chu Twin’s 45th birthday party coming up (this gets mentioned A LOT) the timing for retribution is looking good.
So ‘Crippled Avengers’ is utterly daft but it’s also far from stupid and despite many moments where I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at decisions the film was making it still has a clear and understandable story with a fine delineation between good and bad and, most importantly, with its heart in the right place. I found myself genuinely caring for these guys, even if these are characters painted in the broadest of strokes and engaging in acts that are extraordinarily ridiculous.
Yet the real draw of ‘Crippled Avengers’ is the action, of which there is a lot. It’s not quite the surreal, high-intensity mayhem of, say, ‘Five Element Ninjas’ (1982) or ‘Human Lanterns’ (1982) containing neither a supernatural or super-powered angle and being relatively grounded, and neither does it have the excessive bloodletting or brutal violence demonstrated by other martial art flicks. Instead, it’s a more wholesome, acrobatic style of fighting that thrives on constant invention than gore.
An excellent example of this is when Chu Twin’s henchmen disorientate the blind avenger by using gongs as shields which they can bash to confuse his refined hearing. It’s also a great piece of sound design which is dynamic and smart throughout the entire film, helping boost the already considerable energy levels even higher. Likewise with the editing, knowing just when to cut and when to hold on the action to show the fighting off to maximum effect. I found myself holding my breath between edits, always a sign a movie has me entirely entranced.
Don’t be put off by the offensive title, although it also accurately sums up the entire movie, as ‘Crippled Avengers’ is one hell of a ride. It’s got an honest heart behind it, an engaging story and tonne of talent on display. It’s maybe not the best Shaw Brothers movie but it’s up there and another excellent example of just how good their films could really be.