Wang Li: The Sixth Man
Media --> Wang Li: The Sixth Man
Written by Scorpion
In 1977, legendary Hong Kong director Chang Cheh devised an immensely popular team of actors, collectively known as the Venoms. The Venoms team consisted of Lu Feng, Philip Kwok, Lo Meng , Sun Chien and Chiang Sheng. The Venoms would go on to make such martial arts classics as "Two Champions of Shaolin," "Magnificent Ruffians," "Masked Avengers" and "Daredevils," amongst others.
There weren't many actors who could hold a candle against the Venoms, so to keep things fresh and exciting, Chang Cheh relied heavily on a certain set of gifted actors to play supporting roles in the Venom films. The incessant supporting cast was soon dubbed "baby venoms" by fans and critics alike. Although all the baby venoms were extremely talented, with few exceptions, most lacked charisma or screen presence to be considered anything more than a supporting actor. One of the exceptions was Wang Li, the sixth man. You see, Wang Li was a multi-talented actor and martial artist who was often cast as a villain due to his natural minacious looks. With his impeccable weaponry skills, adequate acting range combined with a strong screen presence, made Wang Li a standout amongst not only the baby venoms but also the Venoms themselves.
Wang Li would solidify himself as a force to be reckoned with, in his outstanding albeit small cameo in "Avenging Warriors of Shaolin". In only one fight scene, Wang Li proved that he is truly in the same league as the infamous Venoms. Being adept with double swords, Wang Li battles five armed foes in spectacular fashion. Like Philip Kwok and Chiang Sheng, he flips, rolls and jumps with incredible ease to evade oncoming attacks from every direction. It's utterly jaw-dropping to witness how he seamlessly switches from one opponent to another without a single delay. It's only when Lu Feng intervenes, does Wang Li finally succumb to his death.
"Two Champions of Shaolin" is another highlight of Wang Li's career. Wang Li is Li Pan San, a sinister martial artist hellbent on revenge. In one scene, Wang Li shamelessly disrupts Lo Meng 's wedding by heading an all-out attack against him and Sun Chien. With fierce tenacity (and a little help from others), Wang Li succeeds in capturing Lo Meng. His flawless and daunting spear technique is rivaled only by Venom alumni, Lu Feng. His acting in this film must be equally commended as well. Unlike 99% of the actors at the time, Wang Li uses subtle facial expressions to convey his feelings and thoughts. Watch as he derisively smiles at the death of Sun Chien or how he listens to the traitorous Chien Hsaio Hao with extreme skepticism.
One of the later Venom movies "Killer Army" has Wang Li playing the conniving and ruthless Lee Pa Sheng. Once again, Wang Li uses cryptic expressions to convey his feelings, and it's all the more riveting. Wang Li manages to make an otherwise generic villain, a unique twist by giving subtle hints that his character, Lee Pa Sheng, has a sadistic pleasure in witnessing others, friend or foe, fall to their death. His intense bout with Chiang Sheng and Philip Kwok will leave no martial arts fan unsatisfied. Seeing these three in action is like watching poetry in motion.
In "Daredevils," (one of the Venoms last films) Wang Li is given the opportunity to shine as the main villain, a role usually reserved for Lu Feng. Wang Li is absolutely mesmerizing as the powerful antagonist, General Hau. In my opinion, this is Wang Li's greatest role, as he plays General Hau with such great panache. Also, Wang Li successfully establishes General Hau as a worthy opponent for the Venoms by skillfully wielding his double daggers with both finesse and power. He gives his character just enough villainous spunk without overdoing it. In the film's breathtaking finale, although Wang Li is outnumbered three to one against the Venoms, you never get a sense that he is actually at a disadvantage. In all honesty, I was crossing my fingers hoping that Wang Li doesn't kill one or more of the Venoms. Yes, if your still wondering, he is that damn good!
Still, it was in "Magnificent Ruffians" where Wang Li truly showcased his acting versatility by playing the good-hearted Chiang. Somehow, the menacing facial features of Wang Li, which is so prominent in other films, remains inconspicuous here. Wang Li uses a short-handled axe for a weapon. He does share quite a bit of screen time with the Venoms, and yet again, he doesn't seem like an outsider. His amusive performance in "Magnificent Ruffians" revealed a side of Wang Li that proved that his potential was limitless.
Want to see Wang Li at his best? Look no further than "Masked Avengers." Wang Li plays one of the three leaders of a viciously marauding gang who terrorizes locals in a city. He is rather subdued on the action front throughout the movie, until the awe-inspiring finale where he, along with Chu Ko and Lu Feng, duel Philip Kwok and Chiang Sheng in one of the greatest fight scenes ever! Even though Wang Li is surrounded by Venoms, he is never outshined. He wields his trident as graceful as Lu Feng while matching the intensity of Philip Kwok.
Although Wang Li was not an original Venom, he was an intricate part of the team. He was indeed the sixth man.
2 Champions of Shaolin
Avenging Warriors of Shaolin
Five Deadly Venoms
Flag of Iron
Kid With the Golden Arm
Legend of the Fox
Ninja in the Deadly Trap
Ten Tigers From Kwangtung