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Death Duel of Kung Fu Review

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by Simon Crust May 17, 2006 at 12:00 AM

    During the seventies the 'kung fu' film was at its peak. Actually, that is a rather flippant statement because the Kung fu film had been massive in and around Asia for many years, no, what happened in the seventies was the West finally got a taste of how good films from the orient could be. Kung fu movies started to percolate into the west, spearheaded by mega stars such as Bruce Lee and the up and coming Jacky Chan. However there was such a huge back log of film only a fraction managed to make it to the big screen. It was with the advent of the video where things really took off; studios bought job lots of Kung fu films, often of dubious quality, dubbed them as quickly and as cheaply as possible and released them to a starved audience. I can remember watching many of these 'chop suey' films in my youth and having a huge fascination for them. Sure the picture was poor and the dubbing bad, but this was the age of the pirate video, more often than not these were second generation copies as well. It was during this period of proliferation when the films gained a reputation; those of poor production, cheap dubbing and bad quality. Unfortunately this stigma still remains to this day, even with quality film coming from Asia every day with ever increasing production values, like the FIAT and rust, the Kung fu film will always be tainted somewhat.

    Death Duel for Kung Fu, quite possibly the best name for a Kung fu film there is, was released in 1979. It starred John Liu and Wong Tao, two dynamic and hugely accomplished Kung fu fighters already established as box office gold with Secret Rivals (1976). It was penned by Shaw Brothers regular I Kuang and filmed, on a lavish (for the time and place) budget, in South Korea; it makes extensive use of the gorgeous scenery and disused Buddhist temples. The story is set in the declining years of the Ming Dynasty as has Wong Tao as Hsiun Chin Kwai a Ming patriot who infiltrates General Ching Cheng Kung's army stationed in Taiwan where they are poised to strike. Kwai kills an army official, in front of his men causing them to despair. Newly appointed leader of the army Ku Yun (Eagle Han, a man equally as adept at Kung fu as the named stars) quickly determines that Kwai must die for his actions and dispatches men to bring him back dead or alive. So far so good. Enter John Liu as Sun Shan, a Northern kick champion who intervenes on occasion to help or hinder Kwai as he sees fit, though his actual motivations remain unanswered. Add also to this Yi Ki as a beautiful Japanese maiden who may or may not be a patriot, assassin, con artist or spy, anyway she ends up dead.

    So much for plot; the film is all about the action, in a film that runs for eighty five minutes three quarters of it must be fighting. Now the fights themselves are pretty impressive, these guys do their own stuff, little use of wires or the 'fantastic' leaps that are common place nowadays. One thing that I does show up is that although the choreography is tight, it looks very staged; as in hit, hit, hit, rest; hit, hit, hit, rest; there is no fluidity to the movements. And finally the fights are long. Very long, impressive they may be, but soon it all becomes the same and all rather boring. Finally I'll move onto the picture as a whole, remember what I said about tainting? Well this film has everything that makes a Kung fu film bad; first and foremost is the dubbing. As I've matured I've grown to detest dubbed films, especially poorly done, where every one speaks. In. Single. Word. Sentences. So as to keep up with the movements of the mouth on screen; and then to add ridiculous accents, I mean, Cletus the Yokel would be embarrassed. It's all unintentionally funny but not in a good way. This, the cropped picture, the terrible print, the awful sound (see below) and a pretty non plus story all add up to one huge waste of time. I can forgive a lot of things when it comes to film, I love the media, but this DVD is sloppy, when the picture and sound are so bad they make it impossible to enjoy a film, then I say leave well alone, no matter how good this film is or was in this presentation it is worthless.