The Duel (HK 2000)

Rating: **
Review Date: 4/8/01
Written and Produced by: Wong Jing
Director: Andrew Lau
Stunt Coordinator: Ching Siu Tung
Cast: Andy Lau, Ekin Cheng, Nick Cheung Ka Fai, Kristy Yang, cameos by Tsui Kam Long, Norman Chu (Tsui Siu Keung)

With the success of "The Stormriders" (1998) and "A Man Called Hero" (1999), it's only natural that the infamous Wong Jing would step in and make a mess of the genre. This is a big budget fantasy piece with the same look and feel as the previous two movies, only it's boring as hell and Wong Jing's appalling screenplay makes it nearly unbearable to watch. And how many more times must to see Ekin Cheng and Kristy Yang as unconvincing lovers? Two legendary swordsmen, Cool-Son Yeh (Andy Lau) and Simon Snow Blower (Ekin Cheng), decide to have a duel atop the emperor's castle in the forbidden city to prove their superior skills. However, the emperor suspects foul play and has his agent Dragon 9 (loud-mouthed Nick Cheung Ka Fai) investigate the situation. It turns out that Lau and Cheng have little more than extended cameos in the film as Dragon 9 goes about his investigation, making crude jokes and mugging for the camera at every opportunity. Ugh, make it stop... The duel finally goes down, but is marred with so many uninteresting digital effects that it becomes laughable and completely devoid of any depth or feeling. Hopefully the Hong Kong film industry will learn that special effects are for enhancing personal combat, not replacing it. Hollywood had to learn this painful lesson in the mid 1990's as well. Unfortunately, even without the "aid" of special effects, the sword fighting in the film is pathetic - lots of quick cuts, tight shots, and arm flapping, but no real contact. Both Andy Lau and Ekin Cheng could have easily been replaced with mannequins in this film, as both of their performances are completely lifeless and wooden. The women on the other hand aren't any better, and are all portrayed as giggling lovesick schoolgirls. There is really nothing noteworthy about this film at all, except that like most of Wong Jing's productions, it's gorgeous to look at, well filmed, and has a nice musical score. It never ceases to amaze me that his films are so popular and successful in Hong Kong, when all they do is make me angry.