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Issue #116 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES July 15th, 2002

The Duel
(2000; China Star Entertainment / Win's Entertainment / BOB & Partners Company)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Kuet jin ji kam ji din
Mandarin: Jue zhan zi jin zhi dian
English: Duel On Top of The Forbidden City

Following the success of THE STORMRIDERS and A MAN CALLED HERO, Andrew Lau Wai-keung was the obvious choice to helm this big-budget Ming Dynasty fantasy/comedy, which is reminiscent of Stephen Chiau Sing-chi's popular period farces ROYAL TRAMP I & II and KING OF BEGGARS. Supercilious secret agent Dragon 9 (Nick Cheung Kar-fai) is placed in an unenviable position when Sword Saint Yip Ku-sing (Andy Lau Tak-wah), a master he greatly respects, challenges Snow, the God of Sword (Ekin Cheng Yee-kin), Dragon's longtime friend, to a duel atop The Forbidden City. The Emperor (Patrick Tam Yiu-man) gives Dragon some gold medals and charges him with choosing eight kung fu masters to view this historic event. Before the match can take place, however, both of these honorable combatants find their lives imperiled by outside forces, while an intricate conspiracy has been set in motion to unseat the emperor.

Loosely adapted from Ku Lung's celebrated, multi-volume swordplay novel LUK SIU FUNG (the title being the name of the hero who served as the basis for Nick Cheung's far seedier character) and partially shot in the actual Forbidden City, THE DUEL looks ravishing throughout, with careful attention paid to art direction, costumes, lighting, and photography (as usual, Lau served as his own DP). This has the effect of making Cheung's anachronistic behavior and insults all the more amusing when they are taking place in such a noble, seemingly realistic backdrop. Like most Chinese New Year pictures, there is an attempt to appeal to virtually every audience demographic, with flashy, CGI-heavy special effects, action (choreographed by Ching Siu-tung), romance, mystery, and low humor all in abundance. The storyline is somewhat convoluted (and needlessly dragged out by absurd contrivances that were certainly not part of the original source) and some of the verbal humor does not come across in English but the cast is appealing and the movie largely succeeds as the breezy holiday entertainment it was designed to be. Vicky Zhao Wei, Kristy Yang Gong-ru, Taiwanese sex kitten Tien Hsin (click here for still of Tien with Nick Cheung), Elvis Tsui Kam-kong, and Norman Tsui Siu-keung head up the sizeable supporting cast.

Cover art courtesy Tai Seng.

Andy Lau. Image courtesy Tai Seng.

Vicky Zhao. Image courtesy Tai Seng.
Tai Seng #92814 (U.S. Label)

Sync Sound Cantonese (Dolby Digital 5.1), Dubbed Mandarin (Dolby Digital 2.0), and Dubbed English Language Tracks (Dolby Digital 2.0)

Optional Subtitles In English

16 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With (Tiny) Clips

Letterboxed (1.83:1)

Macrovision Encoded

Coded for ALL Regions

105 Minutes

Contains moderate violence and sexual humor

DVD menu courtesy Tai Seng.

Hong Kong: IIB
Ontario: PG
Singapore: PG

The presentation is crisp, clean, and colorful, and looks to be the same master created for Chinastar's HK DVD release. Tai Seng's new subtitle translation, however, is a dramatic improvement over that found on the original (which identified Cheng's character as "Simon, the Snow Blower"!), making both the story and the gags more accessible for Western viewers. The stereo mix has some distinct separations and more rear channel activity than is generally the norm with HK features. The English dubbed version is only in mono and a complete write-off in every other department as well, from the dialogue to the voice actors' inept deliveries. Tai Seng's DVD (which has a disruptive layer change at 1:18:44) offers several extras, including a worthwhile audio commentary featuring Ric Meyers and Tai Seng's Frank Djeng. The latter conveys a lot of background about the source novel (the one used here was third of the seven part series), its previous adaptations for television, and the various performers. He also explains some of the Cantonese wordplay that was impossible for him to include in the new subtitles (which remain a vast improvement). Unfortunately, Djeng says less in the second half and does not correct several errors made by Meyers (who, as with his previous tracks, is more successful at relaying information than providing diversion). Other supplements consist of a music-only track (in mono, which largely negates its utility), a "Making Of..." program (with permanent English subs), trailers (including an awful domestic video spot that desperately tries to sell the movie as "a crossover between CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and THE MATRIX"), and a photo gallery.

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