Duel to the Death (1983)

Posted in Reviews by - April 02, 2017
Duel to the Death (1983)

Tony Ching Siu-tung’s directorial debut is a shot of pure adrenaline; treading similar ground to the golden age of Shaw Brothers’ finest post-modern wuxia films, only tanked up on amphetamines. The wirework maestro exploits his talents in scenes of overblown wizardry, with cliff-top showdowns and clans of crazy ninja. But it is also a heartfelt film in spite of the flying stars and severed heads; heads which, in one instance, continue to talk even after they have been decapitated. The story focuses on an ancient Ming dynasty duel held every decade between China’s greatest Shaolin fighter and Japan’s best Samurai. The duel doesn’t happen until the very end of the film, after we learn about the Holy Sword House and its fragile inhabitants, and the attempts of their Japanese rivals to sabotage the main event and steal China’s martial secrets. That’s when the ninja arrive: a hyperactive brigade of stealth fighters who disappear into smoke, fly through the air in defiance of gravity, spring from absolutely nowhere and, in one great scene, disguise themselves as a single, giant, towering super ninja entity, before springing out of formation to wreak havoc. The final duel is an exhilarating climax set in a coastal landscape with heavy fog, crashing waves and falling rocks. Tony Ching would later hone his more supernatural leanings with the seminal A Chinese Ghost Story films. If you loved that beguiling, weird franchise, then this even weirder masterpiece is definitely for you.

AKA: The Duel; Duel to Death.

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