Starring Ivy Ling Po, Wang Ping, Chin Han, Lo Lieh, Richard Chan Chun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lee Pang-Fei, Chung Wa, Tong Tin-Hei, Yeung Chak-Lam, Wong Wai, Law Hon, Lee Siu-Chung, Lau Kwan, Unicorn Chan, Simon Chui Yee-Ang
Directed by Chor Yuen
Expectations: I’m so excited.
In his first film with the Shaw Brothers, director Chor Yuen emerges immediately as a new force in the genre, painting visual pictures and telling a thrilling story unlike anything seen yet in the Shaw Brothers catalog. Duel for Gold was by no means his first film (he had already made 67 films since starting directing in 1957), and his experience behind the camera elevates this wuxia heist yarn to excellent heights. It is held back by some average choreography throughout a good portion of the film, but you can’t win them all. I especially look forward to his next film, The Killer, which features Yuen Woo-Ping’s first choreography work for the Shaw Brothers (working alongside his brother Yuen Cheung-Yan, already a Shaw Brothers choreographer).
But before we get too deep into the fights, Duel for Gold‘s story is equally important to its success. Written by the ever dependable Ni Kuang, Duel for Gold is exactly what it sounds like, a duel among thieves and the security force of the Fu Lai Security Bureau for 100,000 taels of gold. The film opens as the credits come on-screen over slow-motion shots of battling heroes. But the focus is not on these warriors, instead the camera is focused on an incidental item in the foreground: a barren tree branch; a broken, bloody gravestone; the swaying grass. In between these shots are a bunch of quick cuts of the battle’s aftermath, of the carnage wrought by expertly handled swords and greed. And then the voice of a narrator directly addresses the audience, telling us that we’re right to assume the film is about men dying for money, and that what we’re seeing is the ending to the tale, but to indulge him as he tells us the story of how we got there.
As I mentioned above, the main thing holding it back from being truly spectacular is the fight choreography seen throughout most of the film. During the first hour, it’s mostly large group battles, which always have a tendency to get muddled and boring, and the fights here are no different. The choreography itself isn’t horrible, but it’s just not anything that will stand out or leave any real impression. The last half hour, though, is a completely different story. The fights become personal and are between just a few combatants. The choreography steps up to the challenges that the script demands, so the film is able to end incredibly strongly. I should say that even though the fights aren’t always stunning, the sheer amount of awesome wuxia feats seen here is impressive. And they look fantastic. Whether Lo Lieh is catching a tea set on his sword and then pouring some for himself only by flipping his sword around, or Ivy Ling Po and Wang Ping are balancing each other on the tips of their swords, the film is chock full of great martial feats and they all look fantastic.
Duel for Gold is an action-packed tale of wuxia intrigue, expertly put together by director Chor Yuen and screenwriter Ni Kuang. It’s not quite perfect, but it’s damn close and any fan of wuxia could definitely do a lot worse. Oh, and let’s not forget the great wuxia nicknames: Invisible Loner & the Thousand Hands Goddess.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog: Pao Hsueh Li’s The Oath of Death! Sounds like a good one, and Pao later went on to become a directing partner of Chang Cheh, so I can’t wait! See ya next week!