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ݥx (1984)
Death Ring

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 04/11/2011
Summary: Lu Feng breaks out

After nearly a decade working as Action Director on many Shaw Studio's movies, action star Lu Feng gets a chance to direct along side of Chang Cheh, the master filmmaker. Master spent the day at the racetrack club while Student handled the shot calling. Death Ring is the very uneven result of this collaboration. Handicapped by a weak script and weak casting, the film tells a story of revenge that crosses two generations. The movie features Chen Kuan-Tai, Ti Lung, and Chan Sing along with Lu Feng in cameo roles. The martial arts scenes are very good and feature an extended Muay Thai boxing sequence.

If you are in the US and use the Netflix DVD service, avoid this title. The almost 10 year old DVD they send you is from Tai Seng and is made from the old Ocean Shores VHS tape. It is full screen and is terribly dubbed into English. [the rating is for the film not the DVD]

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 04/13/2007

The late Anna Russell was famous for her hilarious take on Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelung”. In part of it she summed up the 15 or so hours of opera in just a few minutes, pausing a few times to say “I’m not making this up, you know”. The writers of “Death Ring” created an unintentional sense of the ridiculous when they had Chan Sing, playing a character on his deathbed, use his expiring breathes to sum up and attempt to paper over some huge gaps in the plot of this chaotic movie.

“Death Ring” has several well choreographed and executed fight scenes separated by some poorly done and confusing character development and plotting. It begins as a familiar tale of family loyalty and star-crossed lovers, with a fair maiden pledged by her father to marry a man she doesn’t love but pining for another suitor. Her prospective husband is also her cousin but that is less important than that he is a vicious lout which is telegraphed from his very first appearance. Cheung Taai-Lun is every bit the villain, keeping his lip curled while taunting Chen Kuan-Tai (who he expects to be his father-in-law) and striking his betrothed. He also attacks Lee Chung-Yat, a move that leads inexorably to his death. Failing to defeat Lee Chung-Yat honorably he pulls a knife and winds up with it in his own guts.

All of this takes place quickly with the action moving seamlessly from verbal abuse to physical abuse to blows being struck. Lee Chung-Yat (who looks like a young John Payne) not only dispatches Cheung Taai-Lun but also knocks his henchmen around with contemptuous ease. This is full of classic kung fu—formal poses, feints, kicks, strikes using hands and elbows—both graceful and deadly. Lee and Cheung are very fit, athletic and obviously highly trained martial artists. Lee is told to flee, he is hunted by Chan Sing who plays Cheung’s father, and the movie spins completely out of control. It goes from a tightly, if unimaginatively, scripted action movie to a complete mess with a timeline that moves from confusing to indecipherable, actors looking confused and very long scenes of street life in Bangkok, the setting for most of the rest of the film.

Ti Lung has a great time playing a bandit leader costumed in an outrageous white suit that includes a white Panama hat and white patent leather boots that lace to the knee. His very polite gang invades a house and tells the servants and other occupants that they must each fork over fifty dollars—but only if they can spare it. It is hard to imagine such a gang making much money but somehow they do. This sets the scene for more terrific kung fu action, highlighted by a battle between Ti Lung and Chan Sing, two masters of the art putting each other through his paces—a thrilling fight.

Hong Kong martial arts scenes are so enthralling because the filmmakers over the years have deconstructed the various schools of fighting, simplifying some aspects and altering others, speeding up or slowing down moves, and putting everything back together so it can be filmed. The Hong Kong film world was small. Action directors worked with many of the same actors and stunt men, learning their strengths and weaknesses. At the same time they both cooperated with and competed with each other. A good example is Lu Feng, who was co-director with Chang Cheh of “Death Ring” but was also the action director and a featured player, brandishing a chopper against Lee Chung-Yat in the last scenes. Lu Feng had been Chang Cheh’s action director in 24 movies in addition to being Zhang Yiaotian, the Centipede, in the “Five Venoms”. In an environment like that life begins to imitate art as the student works to get out from under the shadow of the master.

While Muay Thai has a long history and has produced noble champions it has never been broken down in such a way so that Thai boxing is filmed by simply shooting a sparring match and trying to make it look good in the editing room. It isn’t a bad way to do it but such an approach must (and does) pale in comparison with the stylized and artistic violence choreographed by creative action directors. So the second and longer part of “Death Ring” depends more on traditional narrative and cinematic conventions almost all of which are lacking or are done so badly that the viewer wishes they were.

For example, what should be an important recognition scene, the Thai boxer who befriends Lee Chung-Yat’s character sees a picture of Lee’s father. He picks up the photo, his eyes widening and his face frozen in shock. The score underlines the importance of the boxer’s sudden awareness of their connection with some portentous bass piano chords. Lee asks if the boxer knows the man in the picture—the boxer, having been wide-eyed in wonder for several seconds, replies that he doesn’t and walks away. If played for laughs it would have been hilarious—here is was just annoying.

“Death Ring” is worth seeing for the martial arts action and worth avoiding for everything else it gets a five—right down the middle.

Reviewer Score: 5