Death Duel

cast: Derek Yee, David Chiang, Ti Lung, and Lo Lieh

director: Chor Yuen

90 minutes (18) 1977
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum Asia DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon

Great swordsman Yen is goaded into seeking out the infamous Third Master to settle which of them is a better fighter. But it seems the Third Master died three months ago. Meanwhile, a withdrawn young man named Ah Chi, who seems to be on the run from all kinds of swordsmen and ruffians, takes a job in a brothel nearby. He falls in love with impoverished call girl Hsiao Li, but it soon becomes obvious that he is the missing Third Master. Tired of pointlessly killing men who feel compelled to challenge him for fame and glory, he’s trying to live a simple life – but his fame follows him, and his enemies refuse to let him rest. Is there any way he can escape his past – and what will happen when he meets Yen?

This 1970s’ kung fu epic combines an implausible but strangely compelling story with plenty of impressive action. The lavish studio sets give it an air of rich theatricality, and the story has some obvious but heartfelt things to say about the macho culture of swordsmen slaughtering one another to prove who is the most skilled. Tung-Shing Yee’s hero may be a little stiff at times, but certainly not when he’s fighting, and the string of embittered fighters and oppressed peasants he meets along the way liven things up considerably.

Focusing more on character and emotion than many simple beat-’em-up martial art stories, it has doomed romance, secret societies, poison, revenge, and friends becoming reluctant enemies. And there’s a very funny scene where Ah Chi exposes the social pretensions of a respected philosopher and a virginal widow with one simple question. What more could you want from an action movie? Highly recommended.

DVD extras – only a series of trailers, but for a film of this vintage, that’s hardly surprising.