It’s a familiar tradition that a nation or people find themselves a champion, one that would represent them in individual combat against an individual from another people. Ching Siu-tung‘s Duel to the Death presents just such a battle, between a champion swordsman from Japan and one from China. Every ten years, according to the story, these two individuals fight for the honor of their nation. In this tale, the fight is rigged in such a way that the Japanese champion, Hashimoto, will win. Since this is a tale of honor, the two combatants discover the plot and join together to foil it, before fighting their own battle.
At this point I should tell you that Wuxia is not even remotely my genre. I love Asian cinema, but my exposure to this type of film essentially begins and ends with Wong Kar-Wai’s Ashes of Time.
That being said, I truly enjoyed Duel to the Death. It presents a somewhat hackneyed tale, yet in its predictability lies a great deal of truth in what cinema can tell us about how societies interact. The final scene, in which the two swordsmen fight their duel on an ocean-swept cliff, makes me want to explore this genre further. I suppose there can't be much higher praise for a film than that.