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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

THE DUEL OF THE CENTURY -- Movie Review by Porfle

Director Chu Yuan's THE DUEL OF THE CENTURY (1981) is much less fanciful than a cartoony romp like THE BATTLE WIZARD--no sorcery, no animated death rays shooting out of anybody's fingers, no diabolical creatures.

While the impossible feats of skill performed by the characters still place it well into the fantasy realm, this is basically a mystery story with elements of "The Three Musketeers" and those old Westerns in which evenly-matched gunfighters faced each other in a final showdown.

The mystery begins when the two greatest martial arts champions in all of ancient China, Ye Gucheng and Shimen Chueishiue, challenge each other to a duel on the rooftops of the Forbidden City. Since the two fighters aren't enemies, a puzzled Lu Xiaofeng (Tony Liu) turns detective and tries to get to the bottom of things.

Drawn into an ever-widening web of deception and intrigue which includes ninjas, monks, lamas, and flamboyantly gay eunuchs, Lu finally uncovers a dastardly plot that leads all the way to the throne. (This, along with the swashbuckling swordplay, is what reminded me of Dumas.)

The story is so dense and talky that I eventually gave up trying to follow it after awhile and just enjoyed the fight scenes which crop up every five minutes or so. Lu is one of those warriors who is so infallible that he can afford to be relaxed and funny (some find him extremely annoying but I like him) while fighting off hordes of foes.

One running gag I enjoyed is the way everyone recognizes him when he uses his famous finger technique, which consists of grabbing whatever blade is jabbed at him in a vise grip between his thumb and forefinger. "You're Lu Xiaofeng!" they shout as he feigns modesty.

Lu encounters a variety of hostile opponents with different techniques during several lively but somewhat repetitive sequences, cracking jokes like Spiderman while defeating them all. There are a few bursts of hand-to-hand combat here and there but mostly the fighting is done with clanging swords and various other blades.

The fight in an elegant three-level restaurant is an early highlight, which begins with an army of geishas filling the air with rose petals and ends with Ye Gucheng applying his deadly "flying goddess" move to an unlucky opponent.

Great sets and lots of atmosphere augment the action, along with an effective score composed of some recognizable library tracks.

Lu uncovers the real reason behind the duel but, lucky for us, is unable to keep it from taking place. While it would be hard for any fight to live up to all the build-up this one gets, it still delivers a fair amount of action and unbelievable displays of superhuman skill (although I didn't quite get why they were leaping through big circles of paper).

Again, this is just the kind of stuff that inspired both BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA and "The Powerpuff Girls", with warriors soaring through the air at each other as though flying or jumping straight up and fighting in midair for several seconds before coming back down.

After watching all the tedious plot threads of THE DUEL OF THE CENTURY entwine around each other for an hour and a half, it's fun when these guys finally cut loose and get down to business.

Read our review of the SHAW BROTHERS COLLECTION VOL.1


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