Challenge of Death (1978)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2010-09-25
Summary: Missed opportunity
Dueling schools of kung fu, a bit of gambling, some double crosses, a warlord or two: "Challenge of Death" has many aspects of a typical Hong Kong action movie. Both Captain Lu and Chen Sao Wan are very skilled in kung fu with the policeman using the dragon style and the criminal (or at least miscreant) following the snake school. They are natural enemies but must come together in a short term alliance to defeat the bad guy who uses the dreaded spider technique that can only be performed, we are told during a prolog that shows the protagonists doing forms, by someone who can withstand great pain.

That it employed three remarkable martial artists is the only real currency that "Challenge of Death" possessed and it squandered much of that with the inelegant depiction of the spider school by having Chang Yi dangle from ropes (webs) in stunts that wouldn't pass muster in a 1950s television serial for children. Other than that ("Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play") the fights were every bit as good as one would expect given this line-up with Korean kicking machine Dorian Tan having pride of place. The individual duel between Tan and Don Wong Tao were well executed and shot, taking advantage of the strengths of each of them. The fights pit the two of them against a crowd--casino thugs in one case, minions of the warlord in another were well staged, highlighting the two protagonists and not, as is often the case, pulling back to show just a general melee of stuntmen and extras jumping around.

The acting in the rivals but buddies scenes between Tan and Wong was not surprisingly labored and dull be certainly acceptable for a martial arts movie. Their disguise as an old married couple (the shorter Tan playing the wife) at the casino was snappy enough not to drag. The hair, make-up and costuming departments didn't do Lau Ming any favors, tricking her out like a nightmare doll. Chang Yi, when not pretending to be a spider, did a good job as the ultra-evil villain.
Reviewer Score: 5