Find out where the Five Venoms came from, how they evolved in subsequent fight films and why they ruled drive-ins and cable television in the 1970s and '80s.

We all love martial arts movies. Right now, let's test your knowledge of one part of this vibrant genre: kung fu films. Your first task is to name the Five Venoms. For extra credit, tell me how many films the actors who played them made together. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I bet most of you didn’t get the answers right. If that’s the result of a lack of interest in Chinese martial arts movies, all I can say is you don’t know what you’re missing. If it’s the result of the confusion that was created by the way the movies were marketed in the United States, you have a valid excuse. But let's continue. It all started in 1978 when cameras rolled to make a Shaw Brothers kung fu film titled The Five Venoms. It also would be known as The Five Deadly Venoms and Five Poisons, the latter being a direct translation of the movie’s Chinese title. Now here’s the rub: Five Venoms actually featured eight venoms. So if there really were eight venoms, why are only five reflected in the title? The answer is complicated — and confusing. The five venoms and the actors who played them were Scorpion Gai Ji (Sun Chien), Toad Liang Shen (Lo Meng), Centipede Zhang Yiao-tian (Lu Feng), Snake Qi Dong (Wei Bai) and Gecko Meng Tian-xia (Kuo Chue). The other three venoms didn’t have associated animals. They were Yang De (Chiang Sheng), the head of Venom House (Dick Wei) and the bookkeeper (Ku Feng). The actors who portrayed the five venoms appeared together in only three other films: The Kid With the Golden Arm (1979), Invincible Shaolin (1978) and The Brave Archer II (1978), the last of which was shot before Five Venoms. Yet an additional 16 movies were released in America under the banner of “films that featured the five venoms.” Keep reading to find out how that came to be. Read all about the Five Venoms and the other films mentioned in this article in Dr. Craig D. Reid's book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors. Order it now on Amazon.com! In the late 1970s, kung fu films were on the decline. After all, the king of martial arts cinema — Bruce Lee — had died in 1973, and no one had been able to fill his shoes. Furthermore, drive-ins — the outdoor theaters where kung fu films ruled — were waning. Then out of nowhere, cable TV appeared. Scores of just-launched channels began searching for programs to attract audiences, and they were willing to accept movies that network-TV execs would never deem acceptable. Cable distributors decided the solution to this problem lay with the studio that started the kung fu craze in the USA: Shaw Brothers. They immediately began asking which English-dubbed offerings were available. At the top of the list were Five Venoms, Golden Arm, The Master Killer and Chinatown Kid. Each one wound up getting lots of cable-TV airtime in the afternoon and late at night, but it was Five Venoms that had the biggest impact. Download a free guide titled “Jim Kelly: Martial Artist and Co-Star of the Bruce Lee Movie Enter the Dragon — A Vintage Interview.” Just click here! American video distributors quickly keyed into that popularity and began buying rights for films that featured those kung fu stars. The sixth venom actor, Chiang, became a replacement for one of the original five, Wei Bai. So the first follow-up film that was advertised as featuring the five venoms — Crippled Avengers in 1978 — was conveniently renamed Return of the Five Deadly Venoms. Wei suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, a disorder that causes uncontrollable motor and vocal tics. It was becoming increasingly difficult for him to control the outbursts on camera. Consequently, his last appearance with the four venoms was in Golden Arm, and even by then, his martial skills were fading. It was fortuitous that Wei used a sword during his fights in Golden Arm because it minimized the direct body contact he had with the stuntmen. That, in turn, lowered the frequency of tics on the set.


"Kung Fu TV Series Flashback: Behind the Scenes With David Carradine (Kwai Chang Caine)" is the title of a free guide that will transport you back in time. Get it here.

After Wei left the group, films that were shot after Five Venoms (featuring Chiang and the four original venoms) were initially branded in Asia as Five Weapon Guys movies. In the United States, the preferred marketing tactic entailed designating the productions as Five Venoms films and later as just Venom films. Later on, any movie that featured at least one of the Venom actors ended up being called a Venom film. Now, are you ready for the quiz? (Photo of Eric Lee by Rick Hustead) Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.
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When taekwondo master Rondy McKee gives a keynote speech, it's standing room only. Her tips on marketing and advertising are worth their weight in gold. Consider this update Black Belt received right before going to press:

"I just got home from Germany," McKee said. "In addition to teaching several classes, I was the keynote speaker at a large seminar in Munich, training attendees on marketing strategies and in how to implement new programs for martial arts schools.

"For the past 10 years, I've been advising and teaching various marketing groups and schools. I provide different services specific to the needs of the particular school or organization. One of the issues I worked on this morning in Germany was that many martial arts schools there can't get into public schools, so what can they do? I provided them with details and materials outlining how I overcame that same problem at my school in North Carolina.

"McKee is savvy enough to know that different countries impose different rules on the martial arts, which is why she advises her clients to review her presentations and then choose what works for them. It's a strategy that would make Bruce Lee proud.

Attesting to the depth of her knowledge, she recently conducted a clinic on how to build your own building using her school as an example. History: Seventeen years ago, McKee created one of the largest and most successful schools in the world. It is an immaculate 24,000-square-foot structure with a koi pond in the sitting area, situated on 3.5 acres. It became the headquarters for the 2,000 students of her über-successful White Tiger Taekwondo & Martial Arts.

McKee's journey to Germany wasn't the only update she had. "My husband and I decided to sell the building," she announced in her best news-anchor voice. "I had some realtors come in and tell me what they thought it was worth, then I added another million and it sold in three days. We downsized to a smaller school I'd built a few years ago.

"But I have more breaking news! My husband and I are moving to an exotic beach in Mexico. We decided that if my senior students can run the school, I can oversee them and run my marketing business on the internet. So why couldn't I do all that while sitting on a beach?"

McKee's new home is an old resort that resembles a castle perched atop a mountain surrounded by jungle, and it's accessible only by boat. She aptly dubbed her new digs "The Jungle House." The facility also boasts a gym with mats, making it perfect for training and private lessons.

"I've always said that someday I'll retire on an island," McKee said. "Now is that time. I don't think anybody ever regrets enjoying life early, but you will regret it if you don't enjoy life until it's too late."

Despite her apparent emphasis on running the business she built, the martial arts don't get short shrift under McKee. Her taekwondo students are certified through Kukkiwon, South Korea's headquarters for the art. And her hapkido students are recognized by the Korea Hapkido Federation, the nation's most respected organization for the style. If you're wondering how she crafted those Korean connections, know that she used to live in the East Asian nation, where she taught English while studying martial arts.

A few months from now when she isn't chasing pumas off her deck, you'll be likely to find McKee sprucing up the place in between teaching beach-view classes, all while overseeing her school and her clients on her laptop — and watching the sun set on a perfectly executed exit plan. As of today, that exit plan includes being named Black Belt's 2019 Woman of the Year.

— Terry L. Wilson

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