The Venom Mob was a group of martial-arts actors that helped define the look and feel of martial-arts cinema under the Shaw Brothers banner during the 1970s and 1980s. I reviewed a few of their most notable films earlier this year as part of Arrow’s Shawscope: Volume 1 box set and will likely touch on them again as we see more Shaw Brothers releases this year from Arrow and, in this case, 88 Films, the latter of whom are still in the early days of releasing material in the United States.
88’s first forays into stateside Blu-rays included two Shaw classics: The Chinese Boxer and Disciples of Shaolin. Their fourth, The Flag of Iron, is the first of their releases to feature the Venom Mob, which makes it feel like a big deal: 88 Films is here and they’re not going to let up. Here’s another Shaw Brothers movie featuring the company’s most recognizable troupe of performers.
Now, it’s not one of the better Shaw films, but for fans of martial-arts choreography and the weird-weapons focus of the Venoms, it has a lot of very memorable moments. An abacus, for instance, never struck me as a potentially deadly weapon. As for the title? Well, flags definitely play a unique role in the arsenal, too.
The story is pretty boilerplate: A good clan and a bad clan come into conflict, with betrayals galore. A mysterious spear-wielding warrior named the Spearman plays a complicated role in the conflict before eventually siding with the heroes. Conflicts are solved through feats of acrobatic action. There’s not a whole lot to say about the plot, really: it’s a delivery mechanism for the show and lapses too frequently into dialogue and intrigue that distract from the main event. Humor helps leaven some of it, but stalwart director Chang Cheh and his crew don’t otherwise have a lot to work with here.
So, good fights, relatively mediocre story. As is the case with 88’s other releases, the new transfer is gorgeous and restored to its original aspect ratio. This release also features new artwork on the slipcover and a double-sided poster. I found the booklet by Andrew Graves particularly helpful in understanding the film’s context within the Shaw Brothers canon, even though it didn’t work as well for me as other films from the company.