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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Duel to the Death (Blu-ray Review)


The Film
The Video
The Audio
The Supplements


In the lead up to a tournament to determine the best swordsman from China and the best swordsman from Japan during the Ming dynasty, the two chosen champions from each country find there is a conspiracy to rig the tournament, in this classic Hong Kong film that influenced many films to follow including 'Hero,' 'House of Flying Daggers,' and 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'.

Duel to the Death, now considered a martial arts classic of Hong Kong cinema, was directed by Ching Siu-tung. The film is a visual effects spectacular that pushed wire work and other effects to their limits at the time in 1983 and set the stage for many of the classic to follow, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero.

The story concerns itself with a martial arts contest between the nations of China and Japan to take place every ten years during the Ming dynasty. Leading up to one of these events, each nation has chosen their champion, Chinese fighter Bo Ching-wen (Damian Lau) and a Japanese fighter, Lord Hashimoto (Norman Tsui). The two combatants discover that there is a conspiracy to rig their contest. A local martial master believes his daughter, Sheng Nan (Flora Chong-Leen) should win, so he has conspired with a fake Japanese monk his group of highly skilled ninjas to remove the contestants and place his daughter atop the competition assuring the legacy of his clan.

The needlessly complex story of Duel to the Death is almost beside the point when it comes to this film. This is a film about the visual aesthetics, the audacious fight sequences, the gravity defying martial arts and the luxuriant set and costume designs. Ching supplies all of this and more and in a quickly paced 86 minutes. One can sit back and enjoy the skilled choreography, camerawork, and elaborate set pieces.

The Video

Duel to the Death is taken from a new 2K restoration from the original film elements and brought to Blu-ray in an AVC 1080p encodement framed at the OAR of 2.35:1. While some of the frames have coarse grain that looks a bit noisy, overall this is a very pleasing transfer that has excellent detail and rich color reproduction. The daylight scenes in particular really standout and reds looks very vibrant, popping off the screen.

The Audio

The original monaural Cantonese audio is provided in LPCM 2.0 and the original English dub is also included in LPCM 2.0 mono. Neither one of these tracks sounds great. There is some audible clipping in the louder passages especially in the score and sound effects. The English dub sounds thinner than the original Cantonese and lacks midrange punch.

The Supplements

Eureka Entertainment supply a virtual goldmine with this Eureka Classic edition. Frank Djeng brings his usual expertise and many insights to the audio commentary while the interviews with the cast provide some more interesting notes.

  • Limited Edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver; and a reprint of Frank Djeng’s original liner notes from the US laserdisc released [first print run of 2000 copies only]
  • Limited Edition o-card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling [first print run of 2000 copies only]
  • Audio Commentary with Asian Film Expert Frank Djeng
  • Manfred Wong Interview (1080p; 00:32:28) – Newly filmed interview with the screenwriter of Duel to the Death
  • Norman Chui Siu-Keung Interview (1080p; 00:18:57) – Archival interview with the actor
  • Flora Cheong-Leen Interview (1080p; 00:09:26) – Archival interview with the actress
  • Alternate Opening/Closing Credits from the English Language Release (1080p; 00:03:54)
  • Stills Gallery #1 – Production Stills (1080p)
  • Stills Gallery #2 – Artwork and Ephemera (1080p)
  • Original Hong Kong Trailer (1080p; 00:03:20)
  • US Home Video Trailer (1080p; 00:01:48) – Originally for the US Tai Seng release. Reconstructed especially for this edition.

The Final Assessment

A magnificent release of this classic for fans of Hong Kong cinema and martial arts films. Wuxia fans should grab this release up.

Duel to the Death (Eureka Classics Limited Edition) is out on Blu-ray in the UK 20 September 2021 from Eureka Entertainment

  • Rating Certificate: UK:18
  • Studios & Distributors: Golden Harvest Company | Eureka Entertainment
  • Director: Ching Siu-Tung
  • Written By: Chin Siu-Tung | David Lai | Manfred Wong
  • Run Time: 86 Mins.
  • Street Date: 20 September 2021
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Video Format: AVC 1080p
  • Primary Audio: Cantonese LPCM 2.0 Mono
  • Secondary Audio: English Dub LPCM 2.0 Mono
  • Subtitles: English

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