3 Venoms plus one Spearman take on a corrupt gang boss in old China
FLAG OF IRON (1980, aka SPEARMAN OF DEATH) is a historical kung fu adventure starring three of the five actors-martial artists collectively known as the Five Venoms. The most versatile of the Venoms, Kuo Chui (aka Philip Kwok), plays a clan member who volunteers to go into exile to take the heat off his group after a fight with a rival gang. When he returns he finds that his old boss (played by Lu Feng, another Venom), for whom he took the rap, has merged with the rival gang and sent a group of ten killers after Kuo, who outfights all of them, sometimes with the help of another Venom, Chiang Sheng. He also finds an ally in the notorious Spearman, who had originally been hired by the corrupt gang boss. Eventually the three heroes take on their old boss in an extended battle involving flag-draped spears which the combatants twirl about in virtuoso displays of skill.
The plot is basically a variation on the old gangster plot about a gangster sent into hiding or to prison as a scapegoat for his gang who finds, upon returning, that things have either fallen apart or his old boss has turned on him. In kung fu films, we saw this before in DUEL OF THE SHAOLIN FIST (1971, aka DUEL OF THE IRON FIST), an excellent early kung fu work by director Chang Cheh, who also directed FLAG OF IRON and all the Venoms films.
FLAG OF IRON is a well-mounted production with lots of exciting fighting action shot amidst sprawling Shaw Bros. studio sets. It's not as intricate as other Venoms films and suffers from the absence of one key Venom, Lo Meng, but it's a worthy entry nonetheless. Beware the 85-minute cut version currently in distribution. The original running time is 113 minutes.
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