The Duel (1971)

theduel_posterThe Duel [大決鬥] (1971)
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

Expectations: High.

fourstar


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.

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Vengeance! (1970)

Vengeance! [報仇] (1970)
AKA Kung Fu Vengeance

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Wang Ping, Alice Au Yin-Ching, Ku Feng, Yeung Chi Hing, Wong Ching Ho, Chuen Yuen, Hoh Ban, Chan Sing, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Lui, Hung Lau, Lau Gong, Wong Chung, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Shum Lo, Chen Kuan-Tai

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Super high. I’ve wanted to see this forever.


In my review for Chang Cheh’s The One-Armed Swordsman, I mentioned that Chang had thrown down the gauntlet with that film, challenging the genre to step up to the plate and create meaningful action cinema. Vengeance! is another of these pinnacle moments in the history of the genre, with Chang Cheh thoroughly tired of the status quo and looking for new inspiration. He found it in a new time period, the 1920s early Republic era, and setting the film during this tumultuous period in Chinese history makes for the perfect setting of a martial arts film. As political struggles divided China into factions and eventually led to the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950) between the Republic and the Communist forces, Vengeance! is set in an unnamed Chinese city where criminals have banded together to control the land. I don’t claim to be a history scholar, but a general knowledge of this helps to inform the setting of the film in the viewer’s mind, even if these broad struggles don’t specifically come into play during the story.

Vengeance! opens with a Peking opera, echoing (and perhaps mocking) the used and reused traditional period setting of many Shaw Brothers films. Ti Lung is the lead actor, skillfully demonstrating his martial skill in a tragic play where he is assaulted by many combatants and is eventually killed rather violently. All the while, Ku Feng is upstairs hitting on Ti Lung’s wife, and when Ti finds out, he’s pissed. He travels to Ku Feng’s martial arts school, breaks their sign (is this perhaps the first sign-breaking in martial arts history?) and proceeds to school everyone that comes near him. The criminal bosses don’t like being fucked with though, so they plot an ambush for Ti Lung and violently murder him. This is roughly the opening fifteen minutes, and already we’ve had a finale quality fight scene. Where does Chang Cheh take it from here?

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Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969)

Return of the One-Armed Swordsman [獨臂刀王] (1969)
AKA One-Armed Swordsman Return, Le Bras de la vengeance

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Essie Lin Chia, Chung Wa, Cheng Lui, Hoh Ban, Tien Feng, Ku Feng, Tung Li, Tang Chia, Lau Kar Wing, Lau Kar-Leung, Yuen Cheung Yan, Ti Lung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wu Ma, Fong Yau

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High!


With the original One-Armed Swordsman in 1967, Chang Cheh re-defined what the martial arts film genre was and would be. Over the next two years, countless other films sought to capture audiences as Chang’s film had, but few other directors were able to harness the sheer energy on display in a Chang Cheh film. With Return of the One-Armed Swordsman, Chang doesn’t look to create a direct sequel, or one that feels in any way similar to the original. Instead he goes a completely different and incredibly over-the-top direction, resulting in one of the most fun martial arts pictures of the early Shaw Brothers era, and one that would again help re-define the genre.

The story opens with the one-armed swordsman Fang Gang (Jimmy Wang Yu) being invited to participate in a tournament held by the self-proclaimed Eight Sword Kings. He’s trying to leave the martial lifestyle behind him and live out the rest of his days with his lovely wife as a farmer, but we all know how that works out in films such as this. Master Fang is later visited by a group of swordsman seeking his help, as they know the so-called tournament is just a ruse to call all the sword clans together so that the Eight Sword Kings can murder the masters and take control of the region by force. Where your martial arts soaked 2012 brain might expect something of a tournament film after this setup, instead we receive something closer to a journey film where our heroes are sequentially ambushed and assaulted at every turn on their way to the “tournament.”

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Golden Swallow (1968)

Golden Swallow [金燕子] (1968)
AKA The Girl With The Thunderbolt Kick, Mistress Of The Thunderbolt, The Shaolin Swallow

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Cheng Pei Pei, Lo Lieh, Chiu Sam-Yin, Wu Ma, Yeung Chi Hing, Hoh Ban, Lau Gong, Cheng Miu, Tang Ti, Ku Feng, Nam Wai-Lit, Mars, Bak Yu

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High, after the greatness of Chang Cheh’s prior films this has to be good, right?


Billed as a sequel to King Hu’s early Shaw classic, Come Drink With Me, Golden Swallow is Chang Cheh’s take on a classic wuxia epic. It contains elements of his previous, groundbreaking films (The One-Armed Swordsman & The Assassin) while also pushing forward his own style and technique to create an increasingly dynamic film palette to work from as his career progressed. According to Chang Cheh, Golden Swallow was his “first personal favorite” of his films and due to this, it represents a turning point. After filming Golden Swallow, Chang became disillusioned with the traditional wuxia genre and began looking for the next big thing. He made a few more wuxia films in the meantime, releasing six (!) films in 1969 alone, but their varied nature reflects the search for his next passion. Most directors would hole up in a room and emerge five years later with a new film, but that shit don’t fly in Hong Kong. I’m getting way ahead of myself, though.

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