Duel To The Death/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
It's been an annual tradition for China's best swordsman to compete with Japan's best warrior in a duel to the death. But the circumstances are much more different this time around. To begin with, a clan of marauding ninja have been suddenly attacking the Shaolin temple, which is where Li Ching Wan (Damian Lau) aka "The Lord of the Sword", has been training. But these mysterious attacks are just the beginning.
On the other side of the pond, the best samurai in the land, Kada Hashimoto (Norman Chu) is gearing up for his journey to China for the duel in which he will be accompanied by a priest, Kenji (Eddy Ko) who is hired by the Shogun. The location of where the duel is to take place is called the "Holy Sword House" owned by Master Nan who champions his daughter, Sheng (Flora Cheung) and as we'll soon find out, he champions her a little bit too much because he can't contain his inner feelings on how the Holy Sword House has been neglected for far too long by China. But he will make sure that his house will rise again...By any means necessary. Plus, it's already been established early in the movie that Kenji is the secretive leader of the ninja, who's plan is to kidnap all of China's best fighters in order to take control of China. Both Li and Hashimoto soon get caught up in these treacherous plans which derail the duel, but both warriors will team up to put an end to this unwarranted chaos. But regardless of doing the good deed, Hashimoto insists that the duel to the death will still go down.
This is one of those occasions were just about everything works out perfectly. Swift direction, excellent photography, great original music, and since "wire-fu" was still in it's infancy around this time, old-school kung fu purists will appreciate the practical effects and choreography of this one. And the thing that often throws viewers off when they watch this is that on the surface, this looks as it's a romanticized-type of wuxia film (Especially when the smokin' Flora Cheung shows up) but that isn't the case. There's some badass fighting to behold--And it's often taken to severe, comical extremes when the ninja show up and do their thing. Which includes flying, disappearing, exploding, multiplying, and transforming(?) into naked ladies! But for real, what draws me in the most is that the viewer gets to spend nearly equal time with both Li and Hashimoto. We get to know them so well that it's always impossible to try to pick your favorite when they get into their duel at the end. Yet, one of my initial complaints about the movie was that I wished that Japanese actors had played Japanese characters. Especially since this was one of the rare "neutral" martial arts films from the era when the Japanese weren't percieved as pure scum by their Chinese homies. But again, the performances of Chu and Lau break through so well to the viewer that you realize it doesn't matter. PLEASE check this one out if you haven't already.
Reviewed by Laydback