17 Jun HEROISM TO THE SECOND POWER: The Duality of The Deadly Duo
Chang Cheh is an icon for a reason. While so many film makers in their careers try desperately to make entertainment out of the art of cinema, Chang Cheh set a standard to make art out of cinematic entertainment. It’s this approach that has heavily influenced so many directors, writers, producers, and others to this day and a prime example of his approach to filmmaking is in the 1971 powerhouse film The Deadly Duo. As much as this film is an example of the Shaw Brothers formula in one of its most efficient forms, there is a strong emotional and impactful approach to it all that strikes a chord with its audience and it’s easy to see why the film has garnered such an appreciative and robust following over the years. Like its title, a theme of ‘twos’ runs throughout the entire thing all the way down to the narrative style of the film and for this article, I wanted to run through a few of the various couplings I see that make The Deadly Duo such a powerhouse film that has created its loyal fanbase.
THE DUALITY OF STRUCTURE: The film, when stripped down to its basics, is about as popcorn cinema as it gets for the studio. It has two dynamic stars as the titular duo, it has a wickedly efficient plot where the film runs a brisk 78 minutes long, and it’s packed with an almost endless array of action. However, in its classic three act structure, The Deadly Duo powers out an intriguing blend where each act blends two pieces together: an emotional thread to the audience via the characters and a plot progression device which usually includes an action packed moment (or ten as Chang Cheh loves to do) and they are usually paired back to back. Where most films would introduce one character and then the next within ten to fifteen minutes and leap back and forth between the two until they team up in the final act or last half, The Deadly Duo spends most of the first act with Ti Lung’s driven Bao Ting Tien and establishing the main plot of the film, where a small team of fights is resisting the evil Jin forces. The second act sees the film shift from the establishment of the plot where our heroes will rescue a kidnapped Price (yes, that’s the plot) to introducing the second of our deadly duo, Little Bat, played with charming heroisms by David Chiang. The emotional slant at this point is based around his character backstory with his brother and the eventual meeting of Bao which is promptly followed by plot progressions and a fight sequence. Then for the third act, The Deadly Duo combines the two heroes on their quest with their quickly formed brotherly bond as the execute their final mission. Not to give too much away, but rest assured the two-piece structure remains intact. For each section, there is the double whammy of emotional character driven relations of our two main heroes and the continuation of the epic plotting that parallels the themes of two in the film.
THE DUALITY OF SCOPE: That’s just how the film is structured though and the narrative style itself uses a dual concept that works to its benefit. He uses a combination of ‘epic’ sequences and ‘intimate’ sequences in balance with one another to show the entire scope of the film. Judging from the opening narration (both spoken and written) one would assume they are going into an epic war film and that’s one part of how The Deadly Duo works. From there it even opens with a massive battle sequence with dozens of extras battling one another as our heroes and villains navigate the battlefield helping out and brutally combating one another. Of course, this is epic in nature and Chang Cheh uses plenty of long shots and sweeping camera work to tell the whole story of the battle on hand. This is a tactic used time and time again for many of the action set pieces, but for each one of these larger scale battles there is also an intimate battle waging too. Specifically, you get scenes where Little Bat must fight his criminal brother or our two heroes must sneak into the holding place of the Prince and hold off guards and the main villain of the film. This relates the scale of the major story, yet keeps the audience invested in these two specific characters (if not a few more) and their own survival/achievements in an intimate manner. It balances the tone of the film in a strangely perfect way with its dual focus.
THE DUALITY OF HEROISM: The third and final part of the themes of two comes from the two titular leads themselves and their motivation within the story. Chang Cheh is known for using grand acts of bravery, loyalty, and heroism to power his characters, but this film uses two distinct forms of the latter to make each hero unique. Bao is a fighter for a cause. His heroism is motivated by the actual battle itself and the meaning behind it, standing up for his brethren and defying the evil clan. He’s driven and almost solider like in his mannerisms as the kind of hero that will not stop until the mission is completed while being the leader that his men need. On the other side of the heroic coin, Little Bat is a hero completely driven by a sense of justice. Like what defines Bao, his heroics are a bit vaguer and often personality driven versus mission driven. This is shown by his adherence to holding his brother responsible for his crimes in the second act and in his selfless acts in the third. Ultimately, they are both sides of the same hero and can only accomplish the deeds on hand when together to pair their abilities (Bao’s drive and Little Bat’s strategies) as they showcase the duality of heroism.
Now there are plenty of other smaller moments where themes of pairing or duality are present in the film (there is a villainous duo that protects the back door, there are hero brothers that clear the way for the rescue at the port in the end, so on and so forth) so I highly suggest taking the time and going back to look at all of the clever manners that Chang Cheh injects this theme of duality into the film. On the surface, yes, The Deadly Duo is quite the entertaining kung fu package that’s brimming with well-choreographed fights, great performances for a slew of unique characters, and fantastic gimmicky tricks, but it’s also a film that Chang Cheh truly utilizes for his ability to make art out of cinematic entertainment.
The Deadly Duo might be built for two sides, but both are equally effective and entertaining. Grab your best kung-fu-watchin-buddy and give it one more spin with this in mind. Slice and dice your way to Prime Video and join The Deadly Duo: http://amzn.to/2toroL7
Written by Matt L. Reifschneider the Founder/Writer/Lead Editor of Blood Brothers Film Reviews. Unapologetically cult. Follow him on Twitter.