Thursday, September 10, 2009

House of Traps (1982)

I'll start off by saying I'm not that familiar with the Shaw Brothers and had no idea who Cheh Chang or his Deadly Venoms were before watching this thing. The way I stumbled upon this one is pretty simple. I was browsing some used DVDs, found House of Traps in a bargain section, read the premise, and bought it blindly. My knowledge of kung fu films is fairly limited. I loved Master of the Flying Guillotine and have great affection for Crippled Masters. I watched several others when I was a kid but can't, for the life of me, remember which ones. Still, I'm always looking to expand my filmatic horizons so it was almost a no brainer to pick this one up for seven bucks. Also, I loved Tarantino's Kill Bill pictures but I'm not sure those count.

Anyway, the premise, as it's written on the back of the DVD case, seemed pretty intriguing: "a team of skilled fighters, unleash their fury in a bloody frenzy when they infiltrate a mysterious, treasure-filled house designed to entrap and destroy all those who enter it."

Unfortunately, there's also a story that's a little too convoluted. We've got an emperor (I think he was slain early on, but not really sure to be honest), we've got a traitorous prince who steals some valuables, a jade horse (reused from Crippled Masters, perhaps), a royal pearl crown, and a list which contains the names of all those loyal to the prince, we've got various fighters (Black Fox, Water Rat, Tunnel Rat, etc), and we've got some pretty tacky costumes (including some rather odd head dresses).

The prince stashes the stolen treasure inside his house (the one from the title). Early on, there's a scene where an accomplished kung fu fighter breaks into the house and dies a pretty quick death. The house is a wonderful creation. Upon entering, you face several of the prince's guards who come out of secret passage ways. If you prove to be more than a match for them, they retreat as cage walls slam down barring your escape. Suddenly, the floor lowers to reveal row after row of spikes. Clearly the only move is to jump onto the central staircase. Unfortunately, the staircase turns into a slide and if you're not quick enough you'll fall onto the spikes. If you're quick enough to evade the trick staircase (this first guy ain't) you become trapped in some net thing that binds you while the prince's men come back out and fill you full of arrows. That's just the first floor.

So, we got a great premise here for a film. It's like a fucking video game. Unfortunately, in this case, they treat the thing like Jaws and rarely show it (a little at the beginning, a little in the middle, and then a lot more for the finale). I was hoping for a story where a few kung fu fighters get trapped in the house and then spend the entire movie trying to fight their way out. What we got instead is a story involving that corrupt prince, some magistrate guy, lots of talking, and not one single woman in the entire picture. Sure, there were some pretty cool characters. I loved the Black Fox who was a bit of a comedian and started off working for the evil prince but it turned out he was just playing him for a pauper or whatever. Also, he was the best fighter of the bunch.

Lots of unique weapons in this thing as well. I particularly liked the umbrella that doubled as a drill. Liked the grappling fist and also the standard metal pole. Some weird nunchuckas work their way into the mix as well. This thing was a little too light on the fights but they were all masterful. The choreography in this picture is incredibly impressive and makes a viewing more than worth it (also, the house). It's like a ballet only I was watching it. It's easy to see how this Chang guy (and his venoms) probably had an influence on Kill Bill. Apparently, this is the last of the venom films and also the rarest. Not sure if what I saw was complete or not. To be honest, I wouldn't mind losing some of the dialogue. Perhaps, the footage with the women was permanently lost? The lack of budget is evident in the minimal sets but really wasn't a problem. I don't know, I'll definitely check out more from this Chang guy. House of Traps is pretty good, but I'm not sure it's the place to start.


elmo said...

How I long for my story-less trap-filled Nintendo games (silent weeping).

Dave said...

If this one hasn't completely put you off Chang Cheh films them 5 ELEMENT NINJAS, THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN and FIVE VENOMS are all well worth watching.

briankirker said...

It definitely has it. I have Five Venoms and The One Armed Swordsman in my netflix queue. Hope to get to them soon.