Hong Kong Cinema

Killer Army

  • Made: 1980
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: 1 NTSC
  • Release Date: 3rd February 2000
  • Company: Ground Zero
  • Length: 90 mins (approx)
  • Picture: Widescreen (Cropped) 1.85:1
  • Language: Dubbed
  • Extras: Chapters
  • Classification: NR


Chang Cheh


Kuo Chi (Phillip Kwok), Wong Lik, Sun Chien, Chiang Sheng, Lo Meng, Lu Feng, Choh Seung Wan

Killer Army was another Venoms film churned through the Shaw Brothers in the early 1980's. Directed once again by the late and legendary Chang Cheh, this teams up all the 'regular' Venoms (i.e. without Wei Pai who was an original Venom, but he drifted away from the Shaws soon after to work with the likes of Sammo and Jackie). The character casting is not dissimilar to the Kid with the Golden Arm and Avenging Warriors of Shaolin, with Lu Feng once again playing a bad guy with a spear. Chiang Sheng and Kuo Chi (Philip Kwok) get to play the happy go lucky rogues, alongside Lo Meng. Plus Sun Chien once again gets a rather small and inconsequential role. The film took a modest return during its cinematic run. Venoms films had a consistent level of success at the box office which indicates their loyal but limited fan base.


In Killer Army, Chiang Sheng, Lo Meng and Kuo Chi play refugees who arrive in a town oppressed by warring generals. Kuo Chi (unsurprisingly) gets to work in a brothel, Lo Meng joins a martial arts school and Chiang Sheng gets to work in a gambling den thanks to the benevolence of Sun Chien. Lu Feng is one of the generals who through treachery, bribery and betrayal manages to dominate all that stand against him. Once he hears of the three insolent rogues, they begin to realise that they cannot trust anyone. There are many plot twists (albeit, very predictable ones) that support most of the action.


I can say without any reservation that Killer Army includes some of the best fighting that the Venoms have ever put to print. As could be expected, the three opera trained Venoms (Kuo Chi, Chiang Sheng and Lu Feng) put in the strongest pugilistic performances. Lo Meng was choreographed to be a Bruce Lee clone in both facial expressions and fighting style. The most obvious incident being his 'one-inch' punch to warp a sheet of metal. Chiang Sheng and Lu Feng must once again take a bow for the choreography that makes several scenes remarkable and compelling viewing.

Kuo Chi blew my mind with his three-section staff work. I had always put Sammo, Liu Chia Liang and Gordon Liu in their own league with this weapon, but after Killer Army it seems that Kuo Chi could hold his own against any of them. Likewise, Chiang Sheng excels with the sword and wicker shield. The only low point in the action is during an embarrassing skipping rope sequence where some assailants are trying to tie up Chiang Sheng and Kuo Chi. Chiang Sheng never thinks of cutting the ropes with his sword, he just happily skips through the flying ropes!

Some question marks must also be raised over the direction and set for Killer Army. The production seems quite rushed and the set looks as if it were assembled on a shoestring. The final scene at the harbour has a bunch of raised sails in the backdrop to indicate that they are beside some boats, but it looks more like a cheap theatre set that a film set! Chang Cheh's direction lacks the tension that he managed to create in Five Venoms, and the quick zoom effect he deploys looks pedestrian at times. The one interesting technique the use of slow motion shots during fights, but even these seem overdone. A more patient approach similar to King Hu or Chor Yuen would have helped develop greater character depth and empathy. Unfortunately the dialogue seems to act purely as a filler between fight scenes and any chance of feeling anything for the characters or their plights is quickly lost.


Once again Ground Zero have produced an unspectacular disc, with the only extras being a chapter menu. Fortunately the production is a cropped widescreen but the sound is fuzzy, soft and has gaps in the soundtrack. There is also a significant amount of missing footage that has been cut from the Ground Zero release. Most of this footage is from the final encounter which is a huge disappointment, and we can only wait for Celestial to release the film in its full glory. This is a budget disc that should only be purchased at budget prices.


This film will be aided greatly by the Celestial restoration work but many of its problems are considerably deeper than just a low quality disc. As mentioned, this film includes some of the high points for the Venoms in terms of action, and Kuo Chi puts in possinly his finest display as a Venom. However, Killer Army also reflects badly on the scripting, direction and production. This could have been a legendary movie, one of the best in the genre, but the Shaw Brothers conveyor belt system may have stifled much of this film's potential.