The Duel (2000) poster

The Duel (2000)


(Kuet Chin Chi Gam Ji Din)

Hong Kong. 2000.


Director/Photography – Andrew Lau, Screenplay/Producers – Manfred Wong & Wong Jing, Music – Chan Kwong Wing, Digital Effects – Menford Electronics Art & Computer Design, Production Design – Choo Sung Pong. Production Company – China Star Entertainment Group/Win’s Entertainment Ltd./BOB & Partners Company Limited.


Ka Fai Cheung (Dragon 9), Andy Lau (Cool Son Yeh), Ekin Cheng (Simon the Snow Blower), Wei Zao (Princess Phoenix), Tien-Hsin (Jade), Elvis Tsui (Gold Moustache), Patrick Tam (The Emperor), Kirsty Yeung (Ye Ziging), Yat Fei Wong (Minister), Jerry Lamb (Dragon 7), Norman Chu (Lin Yun He/Thief Ghost)


Cool Son Yeh, one of the top martial artists in the world, appears before the Imperial Agent Dragon 9 and issues a challenge to Dragon 9’s friend, the top martial artist Simon the Snow Blower, to a duel atop the roof of the Imperial Palace. Surprisingly, The Emperor agrees to allow the duel to take place. The Emperor also gives Dragon 9 eight gold tickets to be given out to select individuals to enter the Forbidden City and watch the duel. Dragon 9 sets out to find worthy individuals, encountering various people who alternately challenge him and offer to buy tickets. He is followed by the Emperor’s sister Princess Phoenix who becomes attracted to Cool Son Yeh. At the same time, Simon remains elusive and people ask where he is hiding. Dragon 9 then finds that someone is assassinating figures that are close to the Emperor.

Andrew Lau emerged as a director in Hong Kong Cinema in the 1990s. This came at the point where the incredible international success Hong Kong cinema had enjoyed through the 1970s and 1980s was coming to an end with the 1997 handover back to China. Lau nevertheless made some key Wu Xia works during this period with The Storm Riders (1998) and A Man Called Hero (1999). Shortly after, Lau made his most successful film Infernal Affairs (2002), followed by two sequels, which was later remade in English as The Departed (2007). A few years later, Lau was happily working for China, making such blatantly propagandist works as The Founding of an Army (2017) and Chinese Doctors (2021). (See below for Andrew Lau’s other genre films).

Lau made some of the last traditional Wu Xia films before the genre’s revival by China a few years later. The Duel, for instance, came out ten months before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which reinvented Wu Xia and led to a series of lavish Chinese-backed productions, which readily adopted the CGI acrobatics that Lau had started to experiment with in The Storm Riders. In contrast, The Duel is one of the last Wu Xia films made using old-fashioned wirework and stunts that the genre was founded in.

Lau opens the show with a wild and crazy combat scene that involves at one point a character fighting while travelling through the air inside a giant snowball. About the point that a pursuing Ka Fai Cheung pops out his cape to form a hang glider, you get the impression that Lau is more interested in spoofing the Wu Xia film. Or maybe that after The Storm Riders, he became tired of all the moves and made something that is frequently lot less serious in tone. Certainly, after this point, the film slows down and there are surprisingly few Wu Xia sequences until the climactic title duel.

Sword duel atop the roof of the imperial palace in The Duel (2000)
Sword duel atop the roof of the imperial palace

One facet of Andrew Lau’s Wu Xia films is that they are a good deal more complex in terms of plot than most of their contemporaries. Here Lau has a plot that frequently seems in danger of running away from him. There are extended sequences at the brothel; with Ka Fai Cheung on a quest to find worthy attendees at the duel; and the bratty princess engaging in a romance (and suddenly becoming a completely different character almost), all of which take the film off in different directions. The aspect about the assassination of various figures comes in at left field over halfway through and then proves a major plot point. Everything does knit together at the end but the journey there often feels a sprawling work with multiple different plots competing within it.

The subtitling on this version was at time bizarre. One of the warriors pays a woman a compliment: “You look fecund,” which sees exactly like someone with limited knowledge of English running synonyms for ‘beautiful’ through a thesaurus. The three sisters that turn up in the opening scenes are referred to as brothers (which may well be due to the fact that Chinese is a genderless language). And quite what a line of dialogue like “We’re good adopted brothers. He’s also my adulterous brother” means could be anybody’s guess.

Director Wai-Keung Lau/Andrew Lau’s other genre films include Ultimate Vampire (1991), the ghost comedy Ghost Lantern (1993), the Wu Xia The Storm Riders (1998), the Wu Xia A Man Called Hero (1999), the superhero film The Avenging Fist/Legend of Tekken (2001), the alien invasion film Wesley’s Mysterious File (2002), the supernatural comedy Women from Mars (2002), the horror film The Park (2003), the martial arts superhero film Legend of the Fist (2010) and the Wu Xia The Guillotines (2012) and Kung Fu Monster (2018).

Trailer here

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