Starring: Tsui Siu Keung, Damian Lau, Flora Cheung
Director: Ching Siu Tung
1982 | 87 Minutes | Rated R
“No matter what happens I will not yield to you and I promise you, I will take your sword from you… or I will die here.” – Hashimoto
Duel to the Death is a movie I bought on a whim many years ago and really took my sweet time to get around to finally watching it. It didn’t have Jackie Chan or Jet Li or even Sammo Hung to pique my interest at that time. Fast forward a couple years and I finally watched it and was blown away. This movie is off the hook! I couldn’t believe it. I had to show it to as many friends as possible and each of them felt exactly as I did. And now, with Ninjavember upon us, I hope to be able to share this beloved movie with some of my readers that may not have experienced it yet.
Ritual has it that the best swordsmen of China and Japan will meet every ten years for a showdown to prove who has the best fighting skills. The leading Japanese ninja fighter, Hashimoto (Tsui Siu Keung), and the Chinese “Lord of the Sword,” Ching Wan (Damian Lau) have established a strong respect for each other over the years but tradition demands that they lock swords yet again. Their inevitable meeting is delayed when a group of rogue ninjas steal a secret kung fu manuscript and unleash war.
The movie opens with a group of ninjas jumping and flipping around a monk library. A ninja vs. shaolin monk brawl ensues which culminates in my first experience with suicide bomber ninjas. And that’s not the end to the ninja zaniness.
It isn’t long before we are introduced to sand ninjas who can apparently burrow through the sand and pop out at any point. They return a bit later as a giant ninja that transforms into five smaller ninjas and then a naked net throwing girl. It’s like an awesome ninja version of Voltron.
And as if transforming sand ninjas aren’t enough, Duel to the Death follows that up with hang gliding ninjas. With so many ninja variations it’s a wonder these swordsmen stand any chance at all.
There’s a lot of crazy flying ninjas and wirework that I normally wouldn’t approve of but since this whole movie has a crazy sort of vibe going on, it doesn’t bother me one bit – maybe even making the overall movie better.
Many movies of this sort seem to be extremely jingoistic toward one country or the other but Duel to the Death actually does a really good job of having “good guys” and “bad guys” on both the Japanese and the Chinese side. So, in the end, when the Chinese and Japenese swordsmen square off it is two heroes fighting for the true values of their country, not for the twisted viewpoints of their masters.
And when the two swordsmen finally face off it is truly a masterpiece. The movie ends with one of the craziest, bloodiest sword fights I have ever seen on film. I really don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it so I won’t go any further.
Duel to the Death achieves what Ninja Wars and Shogun’s Ninja could not. It took an out there story, gave us enough action throughout to keep us interested and then went even further, delivering something truly special, errr insane.