The Duel

The Duel (2000)
Tai Seng Video Marketing
Cast: Andy Lau, Ekin Cheng, Nick Cheung
Extras: Commentary Track, Making Of Featurette, Photo Gallery, Trailers

Since "The Storm Riders" has conquered the Hong Kong box office some time ago, it has not only revived theatrical revenues in Hong Kong in general, as expected – and hoped for – it has also brought forth a number of films that put computer generated imagery to great use in order to create a heightened sense of magic, especially in the fantasy genre. Asian filmmakers have embraced technology to turn the spectacular stories into visual feasts without the limitations of previous generations. "The Duel" is one of the latest entries of the genre. A fantasy action film by "The Storm Riders" director Andrew Lau, the movie stars Hong Kong veterans Andy Lau and Eking Chen in great parts. Tai Seng Video Marketing has now created a Special Edition DVD release for the movie that will undoubtedly be embraced by fans of Hong Kong cinema.

In imperial China, men are celebrated for their martial arts and swordfighting skills as they are typically hired for various jobs to protect royalty, the wealthy or the poor. But two men stand out among all swordfighters of the country. Snow (Ekin Cheng), the "God of Sword" and Yeh (Andy Lau), the "Sword Saint." To determine the world’s finest swordmaster, Yeh is challenging Snow for a life-and-death duel atop the apex of the Forbidden City, but as the date of the duel draws nearer, strange things happen in the Imperial city. Valuable items are stolen, people are killed and above all the spoiled Princess Phoenix is determined to have things her way.

"The Duel" is rich with beautiful imagery and oozes atmosphere from every frame. Just check the opening credits for a brief example of how director Andrew Lau is using graphic elements and symbolism to create an atmosphere that immediately puts you in the right mindset for the film. The framing of the shots, the editing and the restrained, yet very effective, use of CGI, makes "The Duel" a believable film that offers plenty of eye-candy.

At the same time, the film is breaking with many conventions and never takes itself too seriously, which is a refreshing change. There are a large number of great and hilarious moments in the movie, and the "Dragon 9" character is just the icing on the cake. A James Bond-type of super spy, complete with gadgets, sexual escapades – surprisingly overt – and stylish sunglasses, Dragon 9 is one of the central figures in the film and often breaks up the tension of the drama, easing the viewer into the atmosphere and the story with heartfelt smiles and laughter.

The acting is top notch throughout and especially Andy Lau comes across as a real heavyweight in his subtle approach to his part. Firm and commanding, his portrayal is perfectly capturing the perceived divinity of the character and his tormented reclusiveness. Lau is perfectly complemented by Ekin Cheng’s portrayal of Snow, a character that is physically more dynamic and approachable, yet at the same time just as lethal as the viewer gets to witness in a number of great scenes. The full drama of the story is ultimately driven by these figures, but the side-characters are just as important as romances bloom and the fatalistic story takes its turn for the fateful duel, which as the viewer knows, will leave one of the protagonists inevitably dead.

"The Duel" is presented in a non-<$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> version on this DVD in a transfer that correctly maintains the movie’s original theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The transfer shows a few nicks but is generally clean and free of distracting defects. The presentation is very stable and only slight grain is evident in the movie. The colors are very powerfully rendered in this presentation, bringing out the best of the movie’s atmospheric cinematography with its cold blue tones and the contrasting hot colors used on countless occasions. Skin tones are very naturally rendered, creating a very faithfully looking presentation. The black level is solid and deep, giving the image good visual depth, although the shadows do contain some dot crawl and lose somewhat in details. Nonetheless, this is a splendid presentation of the movie that perfectly reproduces the richness and beauty of the film. The compression is without flaws and without compression artifacts, leaving the image detail fully intact.

The DVD contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> Cantonese <$DD,Dolby Digital> track as well as <$DS,Dolby Surround> tracks in Mandarin and English. Especially the <$5.1,5.1 mix> is energetic and creates a wide sound field that makes good use of the surround channels. Often used to enhance the moody ambience of the movie, the surround channels are also engaged for effects purposes in many instances, making the movie a dynamic and immersive experience. The frequency response is wide, allowing for a very natural sounding rendition of the movie with well-integrated dialogues and sound effects. The track contains good low ends as well as clear highs that are free of distortion.

Additionally, this DVD also contains a separate audio track featuring the film’s isolated score with sound effects, as well as an audio <$commentary,commentary track> by Hong Kong film expert Ric Meyers from "Inside Kung Fu" Magazine, who has also contributed commentaries to previous Tai Seng releases. Once again, Meyers is knowledgeable and completely immerged in the subject matter. His profound knowledge helps viewers to understand Hong Kong filmmaking better, as well as pointing out the significance of certain actors and characters in the film in reference to their mythological backgrounds. All in all, Meyers’ commentary is a great addition to the release, which greatly increases the value of the DVD.

Further you will find a 20-minute "Making Of" featurette on this disc, which is full of exciting behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. It shows just how different filmmaking in Hong Kong is compared to American films while at the same time allowing us a more candid and personal look at the actors about whom generally only limited information and even less off-screen footage trickles into the US despite the superstar stature in their own country.

A great photo gallery with promo stills, publicity shots and behind-the-scenes photographs is also part of this release, once again offering fans a rare glimpse at the people who make these incredible films happen. A selection of trailers for the movie, bonus trailers and well-researched biographies round out this Special Edition.

As so often, Tai Seng is once again proving that Hong Kong films can look and sound great if treated properly on DVD. The superb bonus materials on this disc make it a treasure trove for fans and uninitiated alike, as it offers information on a variety of levels. Most importantly however, "The Duel" is a great movie! Better than "The Storm Riders" and "A Man Called Hero," this film is imaginative and has been brought to the silver screen without the lengthy exposition and the overwhelming number of characters. It is much more accessible and focused, resulting in a furious action movie that is filled with emotions, drama, a driving plot, spectacular stunts, martial arts and cool swordfights. What else could any Hong Kong film fan ask for? Do yourself a favor and check it out, even if you do not necessarily consider yourself a genre fan!