Death Duel (1977)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2018-04-30
Summary: Fame can be a problem
The paths of glory lead but to the grave or once Third Master of Sword Mansion, always Third Master. Skilled swordsmen are going to come from all over China, some sent by warlords others as freelancers, to win fame by defeating (and killing) the Third Master. Even if, like Ah Chi, you no longer desire the title it is yours forever as is the responsibility of defending it. Even if you have only three days to live someone sitting at the next table at the tavern is there with his blade sharpened and his moves perfected, just waiting for the right moment to move against you.

After spending most the movie defending others Ah Chi must be saved by anonymous benefactors. One is played by Ti Lung who was formerly a famous swordsman but now, as he says, “carries wood instead of swords”, working as a woodcutter but who still has the skill to dispatch four killers sent against Ah Chi. Another is even more laconic, telling a group of killers that since Ah Chi bought him a drink hey must ask him before killing Ah Chi. He is played by Lo Lieh--his workman’s staff becomes a short sword and his hat becomes a very effective round blade.

The butcher’s bill is very high--just about all the featured players (but one) and several boatloads of extras are dead by the end of the movie, which is not at all surprising. Most of them are run through or disemboweled during typical wuxia sword fights that pop up every few minutes. The only really noble people are the poorest of the poor, coolies carrying bags of rice who have to pay the representative of the local warlord to be allowed to work and who are taxed for each bag they carry. It is here that Ah Chi finds men and women who don’t ask questions but take him for what he seems to be, a wandering beggar with nowhere to go, not knowing where his next meal is coming from. They take him in at a crucial time to allow him to both see that he can’t escape the fate that made him Third Master and also to show him (and the audience) that some of the finest people are among the lowest classes.

A compact story, easy to follow although the price of fame theme is belabored--it could have done with a couple fewer fights with Spirit Catchers or clan members. Recommended for Wuxia fans. A very young Yuen Biao appears briefly as a fight extra.
Reviewer Score: 7