Image Not Taken From DVD Reviewed, Review Based Upon NS Video ReleaseThe Plot: When a young martial artist is attacked and stabbed multiple times by a gang of gold-masked killers, he manages to barely escape with just a few moments left of his life. He makes it back to his brothers at their school and informs them of the gang and what little he can recall to them to help them in their journey. He unfortunately is yet another victim from this school who has fallen to the gold masked killers, who have made sport of ambushing all who wander off from any large groups. So, with the knowledge that this group of masked-men are attacking within a confined area and that their are three bosses within their ranks, the leader Chen Cheung, sets the school off on their a path of justice by checking the nearby city which is home to a group who may just fit the bill for being the leaders of this masked-killing gang. There are three chiefs in this gang but as it turns out neither three knows the others’ identity. So tracking them down is going to be a tougher proposition than at first thought. Who are the three chiefs and what will it take to find them?

The Review
For future reference, I’m writing this review as part of our annual Kung Fu Christmas here at Varied Celluloid. This particular year’s films have been… shall I say, less than spectacular. Not without purpose mind you! Even though I have plenty of other really great martial arts movies on my shelf, I thought I’d go with the cheaper and more exploitation oriented stuff. Simply because it seemed like more fun for me as the writer. So, after all the Brucesploitation and crazy stuff I think it’s time to go out on a high note. Although Masked Avengers surely isn’t the very best of Chang Cheh’s work and it’s not the best team up between the Venom clan and Chang Cheh, but it is a Shaw Brothers production and with that talent in one gathering it at least is going to be interesting. After all of the low brow, low budget and cheap garbage cinema I’ve rolled around in this month (I’m particularly thinking of Bruce Lee’s Fists of Vengeance and Dragon Lee Vs. The Five Brothers), we might as well go out with some class like only Chang Cheh could dare deliver. Well, when I say class I am of course picturing guys biting their own tongues off and spitting them out in a puddle of blood. That’s just the sort of flick Masked Avengers is.

I don’t want to talk over anyone’s head here, I’m just assuming everyone reading knows who Chang Cheh is so if you’re unfamiliar with the man’s work I’ll just say that for the old school martial arts movie – he’s one of the most important names out there. He directed a lot of seminal movies and had such an outrageous output that it would really take some serious devotion to go through his entire catalog. The movie he’ll likely be best remembered for would be The Five Deadly Venoms, a real classic of the genre and what many would argue as being the perfect blend of storytelling and Kung Fu action. Masked Avengers is one of a number of films that feature several of the actors that appeared in Five Deadly Venoms. They’re often reffered to as the Venom Mob, Venom Clan or any handful of other aliases. Anyway, Masked Avengers was one of their final team-ups and certainly has it’s moments of pure brilliance but by and large I don’t think it’s one of their best. There’s certainly worse out there, but Masked Avengers just doesn’t match the fun or excitement of a Chang Cheh outing. With these movies you can usually count on some kind of gimmicky device to push the story, such as characters with Golden Arms or a wandering band of recently Crippled warriors who each have their own technique, but Masked Avengers really doesn’t deliver in that respect. More or less, it’s your average martial arts movies with some artistic flourishes such as the great set decoration or the costume design on the masked killers. The masked killers, one could argue that they take the place of our gimmick this time out but unfortunately these villains are all about equal to one another so there just isn’t that feeling of something unique that could be found in so many of these other movies.

Masked Avengers might be best known as being one of the most violent of Chang Cheh’s films. Cheh was never afraid to show some of the red stuff, certainly in comparison to what was coming out at the time. Masked Avengers sits high up there alongside Chinese Super Ninjas as Chang Cheh’s bloodiest martial art movies. Although I don’t think it quite tops …Ninjas, I do have to say it gets pretty nasty in its violence. The tone for the rest of the film is really set within the first few minutes as we get repeated stabbings of this poor guy who we the audience have not even been introduced to yet. Then, in one of the few moments of gory special FX, he gets a pretty convincing trident impaled in his arm. This is all literally with the first… minute or two? Then, it’s not three or four minutes after that we get blood drinking and arterial spray. If it weren’t for the torso ripping in Chinese Super Ninjas, this would hands down be Cheh’s bloodiest movie that I have seen. With that said, modern fans of Hong Kong cinema, please do take heed of my warning. Like I said, this isn’t really “gory” violence as in Ricky Oh, this is just bloody violence. There’s a difference to be sure.

The masked-killers are definitely an interesting element in the movie. They’re very thinly drawn (What do you want? This is a Kung Fu flick!) and I actually like that. They’re so inconceivably evil and ruthless. A favorite moment of mine popped up right in those introductory moments as the gang interrogates a captured enemy who claims that his brother escaped their clutches. His hope is that this brother will return for vengeance on the masked killers and put a stop to their evil ways. How wrong he is, as our evil captors so love to point out. They reveal the missing brother to be just another victim hanging on their wall waiting to be killed. The reveal isn’t just a simple “look over there at that wall your brother is on!” either. The man is hidden behind a wall on a hanging gurney which flips around like a trap door. Then, of course, our killers proceed to murder one brother in front of the other. It’s almost a kind of shocking little moment as the idea behind it is so brutal and callous. Yet, the way it plays in the movie just seems like an incredibly childish and cocky thing for these murderers to be doing. This probably plays out that way thanks to the terrible English dubbing, but it’s a moment that actually endears me to the movie.

Like most of Chang Cheh’s better work, as crazy as it tends to be there’s still a certain amount of story to go with all of the action. The plot tends to lead the action, instead of the other way around. A route that so many other movies of the type seemed to a take. You could say that the plot here tends to be a bit heavier than what a movie such as this really calls for, and you might be right. Unlike Five Deadly Venoms, Masked Avengers doesn’t have the mystery surrounding its story to really carry it over. Nor the really great gimmicks that keep your interest during the slower portions. The movie tends to drag because of this, especially for the first two thirds, where the plot just sort of meanders a bit around this back and forth questioning over who the three chiefs are. It eats up so much time and even on repeat viewings, I never find myself as absorbed into the story as I have with other Venom films. Still, there are a couple of key ingredients that make it so interesting and the third act is really the best piece of the puzzle to be sure. The final fifteen minutes to Masked Avengers really makes the movie. The fight sequences are remarkable for one thing, the violence is amped up another eleven notches and the set pieces are at the top of Chang Cheh’s career. There’s all this technology that really shouldn’t exist during this time period (like that hidden gurney sequence mentioned above) that comes to focus in the back end of the movie, and I just love that. This strange science fiction element that is added to the mix, right in the midst of all of this martial arts mayhem.

The Conclusion
There are truthfully a lot better places to start with for Chang Cheh and there are are a lot better films to start with in terms of Venom stuff. However, if you are already familiar and just looking to expand into their catalog, it’s probably a “can’t miss”. The bloody Kung Fu might be what sells the movie overall. It’s probably why anyone might read this review and decide to check this one out. I can’t say I blame you, as it’s the same way I ended up buying it. However, I must say, be prepared for a good bit of plot to go with your zany martial arts. I give the movie a three out of five. It’s definitely watchable and an entertaining flick – but it’s far from perfect.

You might also be interested in: