A wide array of thugs and criminals are out to get an extremely valuable jade heirloom. As the kung fu master crooks converge on a meeting place, a deadly gambling game of death is played with the prize being the much coveted jade piece. Meanwhile, a famous blacksmith who no longer makes weapons of death is approached by numerous villains to design special weaponry for various characters. He is ultimately forced out of voluntary retirement to help solve the crime involving the stolen jade heirloom, the much sought after item that over a dozen villains are going to gamble their lives over.
Director Chang Cheh goes for a different approach here. This is more akin to a bloodier version of a Chu Yuan Romantic Swordsman movie with all the subterfuge going on in the film. There are constant double crosses between most of the characters. Virtually everyone is a villain of some kind. This was probably Chang's first movie to feature characters utilizing a gallery of secret weapons, thus beginning his violent comic book kung fu movies. This is essentially a Venoms film even though it was shot just before the original FIVE VENOMS (1978),it was released afterwards.
Kuo Chui is fairly restrained here as the blacksmith. Many characters push him to make weapons for them but after a double cross (which you see in a flashback) involving a specially made sword, he has sworn off making weapons of any kind. The final fight with Chui and the REAL villain of the piece is a bravura piece of choreography which showcases many different weapons at once as well as multiple attackers against one.
Lo Mang is playing against type here as a knife throwing specialist. In most all of his movies he always fights barehanded. Here, he always uses his special throwing knives, some of which have a secret use. The wig he sports for this film gives him the appearance of a Mongolian. His character is not really a bad guy, but he does try and force the blacksmith to make him some additional knives after his are stolen by one of the thieves in the story.
Fu Sheng is also on hand to lend support to this effort also playing a knife thrower who is out to kill Lo Mang's character. Both wish to see who is the best in knife throwing skills. Fu never cracks a smile in this film nor plays around at all. He's serious from beginning to end. An unusual turn from him which he would revisit in the same years AVENGING EAGLE.
And of course, Lu Feng is here portraying a sneaky villain who may or may not have seen the err of his ways over the course of the film. He ends up with a special metal hand that fires darts and also acts as a magnet after he loses a hand early in the film. This metallic appendage would soon become a pair in CRIPPLED AVENGERS released after FIVE VENOMS.
This was another extremely rare movie in that although there was a somewhat widescreen version in English floating around, the picture quality was one of the worst. Also, the first four minutes of the film (including the credits) were missing. Seeing it now in restored quality, the film is much better. Still a little slow here and there, but a far better experience. Even when the action stops for the bad guys to plot their nefarious deeds, there is much to look at. Not one of Chang's best, but it has enough good qualities and fight scenes to recommend it for both fans of the Venoms and kung fu cinema in general.
LIFE GAMBLE is the tale of a simple blacksmith (Kuo Chue) with extraordinary martial-arts skills who is entangled in a life-and-death struggle among swordsmen, thieves, con artists, a smooth dagger-slinger (Fu Sheng),a beautiful seductress (Lin Chen-chi) who can kill with her smile, a servant with a deadly whip, an assassin with a golden hairpin, an iron-fisted villain on a murderous rampage, a ruthless gambler with seemingly unlimited funds, and so many more.—Deadly_Ninja_Hunter
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