Turn Back the Clock
Double Dragon in Last Duel
Distributed by: Saturn Productions Inc.
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I just love those old kung fu films - the ones I used to watch on Saturday afternoons when I was a kid. I just can't get enough of them and when I find them on DVD, I just have to have them. My brother, my childhood cohort in watching and then practicing the moves from these movies, understands my sentimental feelings for these older films and that was why he bought me Double Dragon in Last Duel for my birthday on DVD. I couldn't wait to watch it again.
Also known as Ssang Yong Tongcheob Jang, Double Dragon in Last Duel is a 1979 Korean martial arts film. The story begins with Lee Gil-do, a successful martial artist who lands a job escorting the government payroll. When his team is attacked by robbers, a Chinese man named Wang-hi comes to his rescue. Lee Gil-do takes Wang-hi into his home, introducing him to his wife, his five-year-old son Sang-yong and his two-year-old daughter. Lee Gil-do's wife warns him about Wang-hi, thinking this newcomer untrustworthy, but he pays her no mind and is taught a hard lesson.
On his next escort job, he learns his wife was correct in distrusting Wang-hi. The robbers Wang-hi had rescued him from are actually part of Wang-hi's gang. Ambushed, Lee Gil-do barely escapes with his life. When Wang-hi returns to Lee Gil-do's home to take possession of all that he owned, he is met by opposition. He kills all who won't follow him, including Lee Gil-do's wife. Sang-yong is spirited away to his father by a faithful servant who dies of his wounds shortly after. Lee Gil-do's daughter is rescued by the housekeeper Bok-rye and raised in Wang-hi's new household as if she were their child.
The years pass, but the pain and aguish are no less for Lee Gil-do and his son Sang-yong. Taken in by a kindly martial arts master, Sang-yong grows up learning the arts, becoming strong for that one day when he may seek vengeance for his mother and sister and his poor emotionally broken father. He returns to his hometown under the name Dragon, but exacting revenge won't be easy - Wang-hi's operation has become very strong over the years - but Dragon Sang-yong is about to get help from a most unexpected source.
I vaguely remember seeing this film when I was a kid and I owned a copy of it on VHS when I got older, but watching it again now on DVD all these years later was like watching the film anew. There are some pluses and minuses to this film. One plus is that Double Dragon in Last Duel has a believable and well thought out storyline, until you get to the point where the assassins show up out of nowhere to kill Wang-hi and end up joining the group. One minus - the acting was a tad melodramatic, especially during the dramatic scenes with the inconsolable crying women and the shoulders-heaving sobbing men.
The running through the trees was very reminiscent of the tree walking we see in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon years later and is kind of cool - especially since it is used sparingly and thus, doesn't get dull. For every plus, again, there is a minus - in the DVD edition of the film I have, one of the scenes is cut off, repeated and then jumps forward. Someone had an error in editing and I found myself a tad annoyed at it.
Another couple of minuses - there was a weird something going on between the siblings in this movie, making them almost too close for comfort, and there was no closure involving the girl that is attracted to Sang-yong. She watches him from afar during the last duel, but what happens between them after that? We'll never know. And then, there is the plus of the surprise aide that Sang-hong receives during his fight against Wang-hi. I probably should have saw it coming, but I didn't and so I enjoyed it.
Another annoying tidbit which has nothing to do with the movie itself is that I couldn't find enough information about the film anywhere. You'll note that in most of my movie reviews, I will list the actors names when I talk about the characters they portrayed, but I couldn't find that information anywhere. I assume that, of the only actors I could find listed, Kang Ho portrayed Sang-yong and Mae Lim was either his sister, the housekeeper who raised her or the woman who fell for him, but I may never know thanks to the lack of information available about the movie.
But there is one more positive thing to outweigh all the negatives about Double Dragon in Last Duel - the fight scenes. Though not extraordinarily spectacular, there were some pretty cool moments like the spring-loaded knife fight scene and the final battle when Wang-hi uses a new weapon - his hair. Pretty darn cool if you ask me. Of course, I was a bit put off by Sang-yong's impression of Bruce Lee in this scene, but he was a popular actor at the time and everyone was trying to be like Bruce, so it was to be expected.
All in all, despite the minuses, there was enough in the plus column to make this Turn Back the Clock experience a whole lot of fun. I enjoyed watching Double Dragon in Last Duel and would recommend it to anyone who loves the old Black Belt Theatre films of their youth.