Duel to the Death is about a Duel between China’s best and Japan’s best swordsman – all for honor and martial arts. We’re introduced to the Chinese champion Ching Wan and the Japanese Champion Hasimoto early in the film. The two meet each other and become friends, trusting each other but also knowing exactly what lies ahead.
As things proceed as per usual, both of these men suspect a plot and discover that the fight was to be rigged. Each side faces resistance from their own people, with Hasimoto fighting off some ninjas while Ching Wan has to fight off the head of Chinese Sword fighting school, a man who has no legs (seriously!), in order to get the fair fight they’re both after.
So the two then must fight for their right to a fair fight, killing off magical ninja’s and such before finally facing off against each other in a gravity defying match to end all matches.
It’s a dead simple plot, but the relationship between the two men is interesting and more reminiscent of that between two accomplished martial artists. The most competitive but secure of fighters and martial artists tend to have a common respect and understand that someone has to lose, so watching these two get to know each other is fairly interesting. It’s interesting that tension seems to build more with the people around them as the fight approaches.
The most obvious and recognizable thing is this film though is the action and fantasy based elements. The ninja’s can fly, disappear, and even group together to form a giant ninja. Crazy right? It’s like Devastator from Transformers.
I got a wee bit excited when I saw the giant ninja because I was ready to see some crazy action – unfortunately he just split up in a a team of ninjas before breaking off into a nice fight showing off some acrobatic and well performed martial arts action.
Each fight has a smooth and fast paced feel to it and was done surprisingly well. This movie relies very heavily on wire work and camera tricks on an almost ridiculous level – so don’t expect realism. The crazy wire work is actually entertaining though, from a ‘laugh at how stupid it looks’ kind of way. This of course is made cool with mountains of blood and limbs and other body parts being chopped off at will.
Did you know sword fighters could fly and fight in mid air yet still fall down a cliff when when the ledge breaks off? You get the idea.
Overall it’s a crazy oldskool classic but still has some cred for some of the decent action it does carry and also a decent enough story line. But it’s nowhere near being thought provoking or deep in my opinion, it’s just a fun watch for a solid 80 minutes. Check it out if you’re into that kind of thing!
On DVD –
Region 1 (US & Canada)
Duel to the Death
Region 2 (UK, Europe, etc)
Duel To The Death [DVD] (1983)