Honour will be satisfied and crowds will be entertained as the eve of the challenge approaches, a duel to the death between the greatest swordsmen of China and Japan as trained and selected by their respective masters, Bo Ching-Wan, the “Sword Saint,” trained by a Shaolin abbot, and samurai Miyamoto Ishiro, a fourth generation disciple of the Shinkage sect, each believing their skill and determination is the superior and that they will suitably represent their nations.
Yet in the shadows there are other forces lurking, a band of masked ninjas intent on stealing the scrolls which contain the Shaolin sword fighting techniques, intercepted on their departure but vanishing into smoke, while on his way to the House of the Holy Sword where he will meet Miyamoto and his associate Kaneda, Ching-Wan meets another traveller, Sing-Lam, determined that all should proceed properly and without interference.
The directorial debut of Ching Siu-tung from a script co-written with David Lai and Manfred Wong, Duel to the Death (Xian si jue, 生死決) is kinetic, ambitious and accomplished, a crazed costumed martial arts fantasy of rivalry and brotherhood supporting the energetic and almost non-stop acrobatic action sequences of blades bright and sharp tied with an obvious love of history and mystical lore symbolised by the Forged Sword Cave and its wall of remembered heroes.
Both champions raised with parallel philosophies and codes of behaviour now realising they are tangled in a web of deceit regarding the purpose and intended outcome of their duel and finding they have common ground despite their orchestrated rivalry, Damian Lau is Bo Ching-wan and Norman Chui Siu-keung is Miyamoto Ishiro while Flora Cheung is Sing Lam, as skilled and determined as they but obliged to conceal her identity, initially dressed as a man, albeit not very convincingly.
Originally released in 1983 and now presented on Blu-ray from a new 2K restoration of the original film elements by Eureka which occasionally allows the wires to be seen in the otherwise superb gravity-defying stuntwork, the newly translated subtitles are comprehensive and the film never flags, shifting from a carnival atmosphere of colourful lights, dancing, showmanship and puppet shows to the bleak cliff faces over the ocean of the finale.
The new edition of Duel to the Death packed with galleries, trailers, alternative titles and an hour of new and archive interviews with Manfred Wong, Norman Chui Siu-keung and Flora Cheung, one a former accountant and the other a ballet dancer until they began their film careers, there is also a commentary by Frank Djeng covering the inspiration behind the film and the varied techniques used in its production.