|The Deadly Duo (1971)|
|Starring:||David Chiang, Ti Lung and Feng Ku|
|The Plot: The film starts with the Jin rulers (the ancestors of the Manchu, who would dominate China some 500 years later and establish the Qing dynasty), assassinating those who were loyal to the Sung dynasty. Pao Kung Tien (Ti Lung) leads a small revolt against the Jin, and unfortunately they are not very successful. While doing battle he runs into a traitor who has dishonored his people by helping the Jin, and although the two don’t face off here, they are immediately mortal enemies. Pao Kung Tien and his crew regrettably save only one man from a team of nine who were captured by the Jin. This man passes along information on the fighters who help the Jin. Along with these warnings, he provides a map on his back that shows where the great Prince Kang is being hidden! He warns however that few men would be able to cross the bridge that protects the path to these kidnappers. There is only one man who could potentially save the Prince and he is a gentleman known as master Yin: The Shadow. The Shadow is a ruthless and greedy martial artist who is now in trouble with his own clan after the news has got out about his evil deeds. Hsiao Pin-fu (David Chiang) is a martial artist from the same clan as The Shadow and has been sent by their master, in order to put an end to The Shadow’s corrupt ways. When Pao Kung Tien shows up searching for The Shadow, in an attempt to appeal to his better nature so that he can help save the prince, a fight ensues and David Chiang joins up with Pao Kung Tien’s group of soldiers. Now this ragtag group have to somehow find their way into the camp that Prince Kang is being held… and it won’t be easy!|
A Chang Cheh film wouldn’t really be a Chang Cheh title if there wasn’t some kind of silliness at foot however, and although this is a martial arts film in the guise of history, there is plenty of zany activity here to keep the audience entertained. I think for fans of martial arts cinema, this should hold some interest due to the similarities between a select group of villains in this film and those of Cheh’s later film: Chinese Super Ninjas. Similar to that film, we’re given a group of killers out to stop our protagonists, and they have some very unique powers. We have Mole Man, who can dig through the ground. Tree Man, who hides out in trees. We have Fire Man, who uses explosives that erupt in flames. We have Water Man who assassinates enemies by hiding under their boats and then we have Gold Man.. who I don’t recall ever seeing any super powers from. I’m just being honest here! Anyway, the Mole Man and Water Man here are the most reminiscent of Cheh’s Ninja classic and should capture the imagination of fanboys looking for some of that Five Element magic.
Continuing on with the theatrics, David Chiang’s character has some rather supernatural abilities here as well. A fighter who uses a technique so faint that he has all but mastered the art of weightlessness, he factors heavily into the plot as the only good soul capable of attempting to cross the deadly bridge that leads to Prince Kang’s holding place. It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t get to put this masterful style to good use often, but Chiang does manage to evade attacks by literally floating in mid-air. The style is similar to the mythical depiction of Wing Chun in the Gordon Liu vehicle Fists of the White Lotus, where we saw Lo Lieh use the air from Liu’s punches to quite literally blow him out of the way in order to evade punches. Although one wishes that Cheh would have taken advantage of this strange concept, it could have added an unnecessary and superfluous gimmick on top of a film that is already strong and pointed on its own.
The fight sequences here are choreographed by the immortal Liu Chia-Liang (36th Chamber of Shaolin, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter), who focuses heavily on weapons based combat as would seem necessary. His choreography is often very down to earth and it truly suits this historical epic due to the context and the complimenting styles. Chang Cheh of course adds his patented violence, as bodies seem to stack up in mind blowing increments, especially during the tense and excellent finale. Although nowhere near his goriest work, Chang Cheh incorporates a great deal of blood within his Shakespearean style tragedy, as he was often known to do. Although I won’t say whether the ending is happy or sad, you can look forward to many of the characters, both good and bad, paying the ultimate price. The finale truly is the reason to see the film, as Chang Cheh establishes a very tense pace from the very start of the film that pays off heavily in the inevitable conclusion. Although I have seen others who disagree, I commend The Deadly Duo for crafting an excellent finale that is predicated on intense drama and not just setting the stage for a series of massively orchestrated fight sequences. Mind you, there are fight sequences, but the reason for them is always readily available and completely necessary to give payoff to the well crafted drama that came before it.