The Web Of Death is another entry into the swordplay fantasy genre from a specialist in this style of film, Chor Yuen (The Magic Blade, Clans of Intrigue and many others). It’s also effectively a remake of (or taken from the same source as) 1967’s The Thundering Sword, starring Cheng Pei-pei and Chang Yi.
However, unlike The Thundering Sword, which is an older-style martial chivalry film, The Web Of Death pulls out all the stops in the Chu Yuan fantasy arsenal: We’ve got intricate, brightly coloured sets and costumes. We’ve got coloured lights, smoke effects and pyrotechnics. We have an amazingly cheap-looking superweapon. Everything’s there!
The story concerns a group called the Five Poison Web, led by Ku Feng, Shaw Brothers’ ringleader-of-choice. The Web is made up of five sects, named after suitably poisonous animals, and our attention is directed to the head of the Snake Sect, played by Lo Lieh. Obviously scheming to wrest control of the clan from Ku Feng, he’s busy having an affair with the head of the Scorpion sect (Angela Yu Chien) and plotting to take possession of the clan’s hidden superweapon: the Five Venom Spider.
Now, the Five Venom Spider has lain hidden for many years, its location only known to the headman of the clan. As rumours of its return begin to spread, other clans take notice, as it could destabilise the martial world, placing so much power in the hands of an individual. A young martial artist, Fei Ying-hsiung (played by Yueh Hua) is dispatched to find it, aided in his search by a mysterious young woman with impressive skills of her own (Ching Li).
As is to be expected in a Chor Yuen film of this era, there’s a great many more twists to the story than I can (or should!) describe here. There’s treachery, fighting, writhing, flamethrowers, creepy-crawlies and a tragic love affair. There’s even more coloured smoke, particularly when the Five Venom Spider is unleashed.
The choreography of the action scenes in The Web of Death is done by Tang Chia and Yuen Cheng-yan and is generally limited to small melees, with not much in the way of real martial arts or swordplay. It’s fluid and fun to watch, though, and doesn’t overshadow the story.
Something should be said about the Five Venom Spider: this is one of the strangest weapons I’ve seen in a Shaw Brothers film. Billowing smoke and shining with an eldritch light, it’s a small box containing a tarantula that attacks on command, trumpeting like an elephant and producing a poisonous webbing with which it destroys its victims. It really is a sight to behold, and a marvel of dated special effects.
Nonetheless, The Web of Death is fun to watch (those who’ve seen The Thundering Sword will experience terrible deja vu, though). Recommended to fans of the “plotting evil sects vying for control of the magic superweapon” subgenre and fans of Ching Li, who’s given a lot to do in this film.