Duel to the Death - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Duel to the Death Reviews

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Super Reviewer
May 8, 2014
The best minds in Chinese action cinema of the late 70s and early 80s created this very fun kung fu movie that has plenty of cheesy effects but remains solidly entertaining.
½ April 19, 2013
Wow...can't remember this at all. It must have been decent for me to give it 2 1/2 stars.
April 15, 2013
To say that this is a good film would be a stretch. But it's absolutely golden if you love camp ninjas! American Ninja looks sane by comparison. Good fun. :)
November 25, 2012
You can't go wrong with a film whose script calls for a hulking 12 foot Voltron-like ninja that eventually breaks into several ninjas (one of which is a completely nude female) just prior to doing battle with an elderly Shaolin monk. Tell us there is no merit in that even when "Duel to the Death" -- a ham fisted homage to two culture's respective martial arts cinema output and action choreographer Ching Siu-tung's directorial debut -- fails on so many other levels.
April 3, 2012
Strange but very entertaining wuxia classic. Features a Japanese/Chinese battle plot, ninjas on kites, a nice helping of blood, and some amazing swordplay. Highly recommended.
September 10, 2011
Without argument this is THE greatest martial arts movie ever made. If you want to argue it, then clearly you haven't even seen this movie, because if you had, you wouldn't be arguing!
½ August 8, 2011
A crazy mix of ninjas and wuxia in this very unique and outlandish movie. The action scenes are especially impressive, with the ninja battles. The ending duel was also tops too, with the bats flying away and waves crashing against the shoreline. A lot of style to boot, even though the pace was off at times.
November 25, 2010
One of the best movie to see ninjas in action.
½ August 22, 2010
A cool wire fu flick with two kick ass main characters. The only problem I had with it was the obvious bias towards China against Japan. Still, very enjoyable film with a throw away plot and entertaining fights.
June 19, 2010
Master, as he bleeds to death: "Recite the code to me. Say it now!"

Student/Hero, as his master's blood drips from his sword: "Yes. Fight to win. Never be afraid. Be ruthless. Be merciless. Be resourceful. Kill anyone who gets in your way. Your own brother, even God Herself. Show no pity. The strong will survive. The weak deserve death. Always remember these words, and you will always succeed. Look death in the face and show no fear. For to be a warrior means to fight until death. It is the ultimate honor!"


Our attraction to a film of this genre is simple: kung fu and kitsch.

The title of Duel to the Death is an overblown stab at glory. Whether in Cantonese or English, the dialogue is often overblown gibberish. The cinematography is gloriously overblown, though the visual editing is perfect. The score and sound effects are gloriously overblown. The themes of familial loyalty & political treason are hammered into the script of an overblown melodrama. The various villains, supernatural or mere human, and their movements are often distractingly cartoonish.

So, obviously, the kitsch element of this film is off-the-charts glorious. I wouldn't change a single thing about it.

There will never be a need to apply modern filmmaking techniques to the insane awesomeness of Duel to the Death. The original story would gain nothing, even by tweaking the audiovisual experience.

Now let us examine the kung fu element of this film, and let us be mildly disappointed. It is rare to complain that a movie as violent and dramatically satisfying as Duel to the Death is lacking in onscreen kung fu action mastery. Again, the editing is sharp, the visual effects unimpeachably fun to behold, and the athletic prowess of the actors undeniable. However, the fight scenes, the actual punching & kicking and swordplay, are a little disappointing for avid fans of the genre.

The filmmakers and stuntmen do a fantastic job with the fantasy elements and with several short intervals of the violent scenes that are of course the primary draw for this film's audience. However, to put it punnily, most of the violent physical confrontations lack punch. The spatial relationship among the combatants, the camera, and the audience is a challenge for any action filmmaker to maintain without taking shortcuts. Here, however, it seems the choreographers themselves failed, and they failed to get the best effort from their martial artist-actors.

Thus, Duel to the Death could benefit immensely from the application of modern camera & wire work, even CGI, to enhance parts of the kung fu element of the film. This is what separates perfect or near-perfect kung fu films, such as The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, from Duel to the Death.
March 8, 2010
Duel to the Death is set up as an epic, with an exhibition battle between China and Japan to honour the nation of the victor. The film is also shot extremely well by the director who would go onto make Hero, and this cinematic flair continues throughout. There is even room for several subplots that all payoff as a sense of mystery exists within the film.

The main draw card of this film is the ninjas. They exist in all forms possible. Library ninjas. Giant ninjas. Flying ninjas. Naked ninjas. Kite ninjas. Exploding ninjas. It really is quite ingenious and a spectacle.

There is also a scene where the monks are having a party which is quite hilarious, elevated by their silhouettes. This scene was also preceded by perhaps the shortest characterization and subplot in the history of cinema. Within seconds of the introduction of a master, he dies in a different scene delivering a message of value to the Japanese lead.

All subplots combine and lead to a fantastic climatic battle. One that seemed promised in Kill Bill, but never eventuated. There is also a poetic edge to this battle as the sun rises ad the blood flows.
½ November 17, 2009
Ok stuff like this brings the dork out of me. Im a sucker for it ever time. lol But besides how I feel it is a good movie.Its not another mindless kung-fu movie. But to the point it is a movie for men. Soo if you are a kung-fu freak dont past it up!
September 8, 2009
My favorite swordplay movie. It's Chinese and Japanese in a culture clash of sharpened steel. Awesome choreography by Ching Siu Tung (my favorite choreographer).
August 10, 2009
One of the finest wuxia films I've ever watched. Hong Kong's most famous and popular director and action coordinator Siu-Tung Ching's debut as a director and his best. The eccentric story that the best swordfighters of China and Japan duels with each other is certainly the relish of the film (also appear are a beautiful female fighter and ninjas), but sharp and speedy fighting scenes are more. Sound FXs are old, but closely designed movements of swords, wires, and bodies are still fresh. Siu-Tung's action design's originality is its sharpness, comparing to grace action design of Wo-Ping Yuen (Matrix and Crouching Tiger's fame), and it is later completed in Yimou Zhang's wuxia films like "Hero" and "Lovers." Use of music is terrific, too.
January 2, 2009
It's got wires; naked ninja babes; a 15ft ninja; exploding ninja's; ninja's on kites; fighting monks; bomb loads of hacked limbs and it contains as much blood as Kill Bill. Perfect then.

The movie so beautifully captures the visual artistry associated with the high-flying martial arts films of the early 1990's that you can hardly believe it was filmed nearly a decade before (1982). In fact, i had to check on the Internet just to make sure, twice!!

This is Ching Siu-Tung's first film as director as well. You guy who brought you Hero and House of flying Daggers.
December 29, 2008
I don't really do martial arts movies, but this was pretty entertaining. I have to admit I was laughing most of the time, though. I love the ninjas, and the severed limbs and all that.
December 19, 2008
One of the goriest, best swordplay movies I've seen so far. Gotta love splitting a ninja down the middle.
December 11, 2008
One of the last good old school martial arts films. Great sword fighting sequences, more realistic than Kill Bill.
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