The “Venom Mob” was a group of actors that first appeared on Chang Chen’s internationally appraised “The Five Venom” and continued on shooting more than a dozen films. “House of Traps” is considered the last of them and one of the most sought after, of all the Shaw Brothers productions.
Hua Chong, a famous fighter known with the nickname “Butterfly,” manages to steal a valuable jade statue. He delivers it to the Prince of Xiangyang, who immediately appreciates his abilities in martial arts and hires him in his guard. Furthermore, he places the statue in the House of Traps, a self-explanatory building where his most valuable assets are being stored. The Prince is soon revealed as the head of a group of individuals that want to revolt against the emperor. As a new Inspector, Yan Chunmin is being assigned to the area, the conspirators feel that his presence may be an obstacle to their plans and decide to kill him before he reaches Xiangyang.
However, as Yan Chunmin is travelling with his effeminate servant Yumo, he comes across a stranger named, Bai Yutang, who proves to be another famous fighter, nicknamed “Brocade-Coated Rat”, one of the famous five Rat Brothers. The two of them become friends, and even blood brothers, when Yutang rescues the Inspector from the thugs the Prince has unleashed against him. At the same time, Zhi Hua, another shady character, and a great fighter nicknamed “Black Demon Fox,” appears in the Prince’s court. As the story unfolds, conspiracies and treacheries occur constantly, while everything seems to revolve around the House of Traps.
Chang Cheh and Ni Kuang’s script tried to put an intricate background to the action; however, the result is somewhat messy and too complicated at times. Fortunately, the set up ends relatively soon and the impressive action scenes of the film take over. “Venom Mob” members Philip Kwok, Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng and Chu Ko have done a wonderful job with the martial arts choreography, presenting a number of impressive action scenes, both in duels and in group fights. Chang Cheh induced the battles with his regular gore, making them even more cult. The one where a cock is punctured with a board of nails before an actual person shares the same fate is a distinct example of the fact, as are the various deaths in the House of Traps.
The House itself exemplifies the special effects of the film , that feature some very impressive mechanical contraptions, as the building’s interior is actually one of the protagonists. The interiors of every building in the film is impressive in its maximalism, with much attention paid to detail, in contrast to the outside sets, which are simplistic, to say the least. These two traits however, were the rule in Shaw Brothers’ productions. Tsao Hui-chi’s cinematography also moves along these lines, presenting some great images of interiors, while exemplifying the action scenes. Chiang Hsing-lung and Li Yen-hai’s editing can be a little confusing at times, but manages to retain the fast pace of the film. Liu Chi-yu’s costume design ia another element that adds to the cult element of the film, as the main heroes are dressed in costumes that leave them bare-chested, actually focusing on that part of their bodies. Eddie Wang’s music follows the action, injecting some “epicness” through its rhythms. All of the aforementioned elements are extraordinarily combined in the final sequence of the film, which is definitely the greatest part of it. Overall, the movie is quite well shot, a trait that benefits the most by 88 Films’ impressive restoration, which presents the title in its most definite form.
The acting, as usual in martial arts films, is not on a very high level, since its main purpose (along with every other aspect of the movie) is to provide a background for the action. The usual excessive theatricality is present once more, also adding to the cult element. The one who stands apart, however, is Philip Kwok as Zhi Hua, who is great in the most difficult role of the film. Lau Fong-sai as Humo has a small, but very entertaining, comic-relief role.
“House of Traps” is a great cult film, and contains everything a kung fu and Shaw Brothers film’s fan would desire.
88 Films offers “House of Traps” in an impressive Blu-Ray + DVD combo pack. The edition includes a reversible sleeve featuring Cinema Poster Artwork and a limited edition booklet by Dr Callum Waddell, available for the first 2000 copies. The discs are region B/2, the picture format is HD 1080p 2.35:1 / PAL 2.35:1 and the sound LPCM Mono and Dolby Digital Mono. The edition features English subtitles and Chinese language and English Dub.
The extras include the original trailer, the English Dubbed Soundtrack and a very informative Audio Commentary by acclaimed Kung-Fu expert, Bey Logan, who explains many things about Chang Cheh, the film and the story behind it.
Overall, the release is great, and since it is the only edition of the film in HD, a must-have for every fan of this Shaw Brothers’ Kung Fu classic.