Duel of Fists (1971)
Director: Chang Cheh
Starring: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ching Li, Pawana Chanajit, Chen Sing, Ku Feng, Woo Wai
The same month Bruce Lee's The Big Boss premiered, Shaw's Thailand & modern-day set "Chinese boxing" movie was released, though I have no idea whether the two movies were attempting to steal each other's thunder.
David Chiang plays an architect/kung fu master who travels to Thailand to find his estranged half brother, who to no-one's surprise is Thai boxer Ti Lung. Gangsters led by Chen Sing watch slices of the action and pounds of flesh, so much mayhem ensues.
As with later films like The King Boxer (the non-Shaw film) and The Tournament, and unlike The Big Boss, the action frequently stops for very protracted tourists views of Thailand's scenery and festivals. This may be more then you'd care for in your kung fu movie, but at least there's nothing as mind-numblingly tedious as the 7min elephant festival that The King Boxer opens with. The novelty of the Thai boxing rituals has probably worn off at this point, but one can hardly criticise the film for that.
The genre's transition from swordplay to empty hand combat served to highlight how skilled Ti Lung was as a fighter on-screen, leaving David Chiang cruelly exposed as clumsy and lightweight. The film fails to acknowledge this, and expects us to accept Chiang as the superior fighter, literelly poking holes in people and holding off gangs with a few perfunctory taps. Jimmy Wang Yu had the thuggish nature to pull this off, but Chiang can't pull it off, and one can only imagine how eclipsed he must have looked in comparison to Bruce Lee. Someone thought it was a good idea to dress Chiang in some outrageous clothes that just scream 1971 in sequined neon - and look suspicously like he donated them in a hurry to a thrift shop, only to be picked up by Wei Ping-ao in time for Way of the Dragon.
(For the record, I LIKE David Chiang - he's cute with a winning smile - but there's no way I'm buying him at this stage as a kung fu master)
Chang Cheh's direction is much more laid back then usual, which means we lose out on his more outrageous touches. Surprisingly for him, he manages to create two charming hetero couples with believeable chemisity - Ti Lung and Ching Li, Chiang and Pawana Chanajit - - that hold the film together and make it a charming diversion for a studio and director who seemed to prefer bloody period dramas to campy vacations.
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