AKA Duel of the Iron Fists, Duel of the Iron Fist, Duel of the Shaolin Fist
Starring Ti Lung, David Chiang, Yue Wai, Wang Ping, Chuen Yuen, Ku Feng, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Yeung Chi Hing, Hung Lau, Wong Ching Ho, Hoh Ban, Lee Wan Chung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Lau Gong, Chiu Hung, Yau Ming
Directed by Chang Cheh
The Duel is an incredible martial arts motion picture. It might not be the type of movie that will convince non-martial arts fans of the greatness of the genre, but it will definitely delight and entertain those already in love. The Duel features so much flat-out awesome action, while also telling a very succinct and morally charged revenge tale, it’s truly one of Chang Cheh’s best films. I’m tempted to say that The New One-Armed Swordsman is a better movie, but The Duel is clearly the more awesome of the two. There is never a dull moment in The Duel, and whenever you think there might be, a whole host of henchmen sneak around the corner and assault our heroes. It’s simply a joy to behold.
The basic story of The Duel is centered around a family. When the patriarch is murdered in a public place, the elder brothers send younger brother Ren Jie (Ti Lung) away so that he can take the fall for the crime. He vows to find the killer when he returns, but before his time away is up a bunch of henchmen show up to murder him. The funny thing is: he recognizes their leader as one of his family members. This sets Ren Jie on a path of retribution, uncovering a thick web of intrigue and betrayal. Also along for the ride is The Rambler (David Chiang), a hired fighter that helped Ren Jie’s family take out a rival family during the film’s incredible opening sequence.
More people die in the first 25 minutes of The Duel than in most entire film trilogies. Instead of feeling gratuitous or numbing, though, every moment of violence is amazingly realized and incredibly entertaining. Just about every fight is of the “one vs. many” variety, which is usually an excuse for less-than-stellar choreography to make concessions for the fact that 20 dudes are fighting at once on-screen. But in The Duel that’s not the case, as despite the number of combatants on-screen each shot is focused, exciting and expertly choreographed and edited together. This is truly a culmination of Hong Kong choreography up to this point, and here it reaches its boiling point. The action was handled by Yuen Cheung-Yan & Tang Chia, previously responsible together for the Chang Cheh films Have Sword, Will Travel, Vengeance! & King Eagle, but The Duel far outshines those previous collaborations.
What really sets The Duel apart is its two lead characters. Ti Lung’s Ren Jie is loyal and dedicated to a fault. The film opens with Ren Jie in a tattoo parlor, having a large butterfly tattooed onto his chest in honor of his undying dedication to his girlfriend. Once he sets his mind on something, he follows that course with an unwavering passion. Even later in the film, when he discovers his girlfriend working at a brothel, he calls her his wife and fights to the best of his abilities to get them both out of danger. Nothing can persuade him away from his dedication.
Not only is The Duel incredibly exciting, quickly paced and fun, it’s also very fresh feeling as the modern setting allows for an almost completely new grouping of sets that make their début. The violence is also punctuated with some truly impressive sprays of blood, but it’s the underlying story of brotherhood and friendship that ultimately makes The Duel the success it is. If you’re a big martial arts fan and you haven’t seen this, definitely add it to the list. You won’t be disappointed.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Teddy Yip Wing-Cho’s The Eunuch! I have no idea what to expect, but anyone who knows Hong Kong films knows that eunuchs always bring the awesome. Hopefully The Eunuch continues the trend!