The great Chang Cheh and Shaw Brothers gives us the next film up for review, 'Duel of Fists', starring Shaw icons David Chiang and Ti Lung as long-lost brothers. The film opens on a huge crowd in Bangkok, Thailand as they celebrate Songkran, the New Year's Festival with lots of water being thrown about. We then cut to Hong Kong and see Fan Ke(Chiang) hard at work on a construction site as lead engineer. He gets summoned back to his home, also a martial arts school and is ambushed by a student. Fan Ke takes him out, while his father watches. His father has him meet a business partner from Bangkok. We then cut ahead to Fan Ke being in the office and getting word that his father's gravely ill. He rushes to the hospital, and before he dies, his father tells him that he has a brother, Wenlie(Lung) in Bangkok who he must find. And so Fan Ke is off to find his Wenlie, and both men get embroiled in a situation involving murder and corruption in the world of Muay Thai boxing that threatens their lives.
'Duel Of Fists' caught my attention for many reasons. The first being that it's a Chang Cheh flick just as he was approaching the apex of his storied directing career. His calling-card themes of fraternal love, honor and brutal violence and fighting are in full display here. And with regards to love interests, they are present and not so much in the background as they would be in other films by Cheh. Ching Li, a veteran actress plays Wenlie's girlfriend from the same slums they grew up in. And Fan Ke's lady is played by Pawana Chanajit, a Thai actress who was known as 'The Pearl Of Asia'. She caught my attention real quick in the film, let me tell you. Another thing to note with 'Duel of Fists' is, there's going to be a couple of things that make you scratch your head. The first being when Fan Ke gets to see a framed photo his dad has of Wenlie when he was 10. Why does the lil homie in the picture have an anchor tattoo on him in the picture and it never faded or changed size as he grew older?!! Another thing is, the fashions. Bear in mind that this is a real '70's flick, so you are going to see some wild-ass clothes on David Chiang and others. Here's a little bit of fun you can have: count how many people are rocking daishikis in the film. Also, note how Fan Ke meets Mei Dai(Pawana) and gets a ride and gets to DRIVE HER CAR with no problem. You know that wouldn't fly today, if ever.
All that aside, 'Duel of Fists' is a great flick despite the choppy continuity. You get to see Chiang and Lung really deliver some quality beatdowns here. Also, this was a milestone for Shaw Brothers and action movies in general in the fact that it was the first depiction of Muay Thai anywhere. You can tell that Chang Cheh and Lau Kar Leung, the fight choreographer took great pains to recreate the feel of a Muay Thai stadium. It also led to more films incorporating Thai boxing into their plots. (I'll be writing more on this in later posts.)'Duel of Fists' was so well received that it even had a sequel, 'The Angry Guest' a couple of years later. Definitely worth a watch.