Hong Kong Cinema

Death Duel

  • Made: 1977
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: 3 NTSC
  • Release Date: January 2003
  • Company: Celestial
  • Length: 91mins
  • Picture: Letterboxed 2.35:1
  • Language: Cantonese / Mandarin with Subtitles
  • Extras:Behind The Scenes; Interviews; Trailers; Color Stills; Original Poster; Production Notes; Cast/Crew Information
  • Classification: UN


Chor Yuen


Derek Yee Tung-Sing, Ling Yun, David Chiang, Chan Si Gaai, Lau Luk Wa, Nancy Yen, Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Yueh Hua, Guk Fung, Candy Yu (An An), Fan Mei Sheng, Chan Ping

Death Duel is one of the latter wuxia films featuring the enchanting direction of Chor Yuen. Few martial arts directors at Shaw Brothers have held the image and scenery in such high regard. These beautiful and rich films have benefited more than any other from the Celestial re-mastering. Death Duel was a modest success at the box office, taking HK $1,635,000, which was considerably less than Clans of Intrigue. But perhaps more poignantly, this film was also outperformed by Executioners from Shaolin, which helps indicate the shifting tides of Hong Kong Cinema in the late seventies.

The cast for Death Duel includes newcomer Derek Yee (David Chiang's brother), who plays the central protagonist, Ah Chi, the Third Master from the Supreme Sword Mansion. The support cast includes many that had featured in Chor Yuen's earlier Ku Lung adaptations, including Lo Lieh, Yueh Hua, Ti Lung and Fan Mei Sheng.


Chang Ping plays Mu Yung Chiu Ti, who has pretensions of ruling the underworld. For her to succeed she tries to engage Yen Shih San (Ling Yun) and Third Master Ah Chi (Derek Yee) in a duel to decide who is the most powerful swordsman in the underworld. There is only one problem, Ah Chi has faked his own death and gone into hiding. On his travels he meets a mute (Fan Mei Sheng) and falls in love with the prostitute Hsaio Li (Candy Yu). Unfortunately for Ah Chi, he cannot escape from his past and Mu Yung Chiu Ti tries to kill him for the 47th time! She also hires an array of henchmen including Mr Yang, the famous Yu Mien brothers!

Ah Chi has his bones poisoned (after defeating the Eight Spirit Catchers) but he is given help by Yen Shih San, who has been a recluse after discovering that the Third Master has perished. Once Yen Shih San discovers that the Third Master is still alive, and once Ah Chi has all his friends butchered, we finally have what the film's title promised; the Death Duel. There are several themes in this movie that have since become common plot devices in martial arts films. Death Duel includes the master who cannot escape his own past (see The Victim and Operation Scorpio) and it also involves a bonding between the two eventual duellists (see Legend of a Fighter and Fist of Legend).


The are several distinguishing factors between Death Duel and the earlier Chor Yuen films, such as Killer Clans and Magic Blade. This has the most straightforward plot, which gives the film a lot more direction and momentum than some of Chor Yuen's less conventional works. There is also a great deal more kung fu in Death Duel, which reflects the general movement towards kung fu during the same period, which was being pioneered by Lau Kar Leung and Chang Cheh in Shaw Brothers. Chor Yuen still gives prominence to the wuxia element, as Ah Chi only fights empty handed against lesser opponents.

The choreography is everything that could be expected by Tong Gaai and includes an athletic display by Derek Yee. The final encounter between Ah Chi and Yen Shih San is the highlight of the movie, and this owes a lot to the camera work and dialogue both before and after the encounter. Prior to the Death Duel, Lo Lieh provides a scene stealing reprisal of his Killer Clans character Han Tang. It is an outrage that there was never a film about Han Tang. He is such a distinctive and original figure that his fleeting appearances ensure that the viewer relishes his every second on screen. Ti Lung also provides a reprisal of his Magic Blade character (Fu Hung Hsueh) but the role seems superfluous alongside Han Tang.



The disc is another standard offering from Celestial, which in my humble opinion places their discs second only to Hong Kong Legends in terms of print quality, sound, and extras. There is both a Cantonese and Mandarin audio track, and I have to confess that I plucked for the Cantonese! Unfortunately the English subtitles are quite poor and do no credit to Celestial. The extras include trailers, interviews, movie stills and artwork and biographies / filmographies.


This is my favourite Chor Yuen movie, which is probably not a popular decision. However, the unpretentious plot and direction of the movie particularly draw me in. Sometimes Chor Yuen gets lost in his own subplots and imagery and his movies become convoluted. Chor Yuen also shows an acceptance of the new forces in Hong Kong cinema by including integrating kung fu into his swordsman's underworld. The film's greatest achievement must be reserved for the performance of Derek Yee, who zealously portrays the master swordsman who cannot escape his own past. His energy and boldness are enough to justifying watching Death Duel, and he is only to keen to remind us that "It is hard even to be a nobody".