Two sister acrobats, Yu Yieh & Yu Ying, are at the center of the sword & thievery tale Duel for Gold (Huo bing, 1971). They arrive in a town known to be rich in silver & gold. They do street performances, dangerous stunts with swords, until Yu Yieh (Ivy Ling Po in one of her fiercest roles) is badly injured -- or appears to be. In the emergency they're taken into the nearby silver house, so the plan is going well!
Chief guard Wen (Richard Chan Chun) detects the "injured" woman's blood is fake & duels break out, very pretty ones with such lovely swordswomen domninating.
The choreography for that first long battle sequence is stunning. Throughout the film, the choreography is more aesthetic than usual, with cinematography to match, with the familiar standing sets dressed up for extra visual appeal.
Brother Teng Qi Ying (Lo Lieh), known as "the loner" (or "lone shadow"), is an old friend of Wen's, but a roguish friend whom Wen daren't trust too much, as he'll be a foe instantly if that's what it takes to gain Teng gold & silver.
Teng finds it unbelievable that Wen is on the straight & narrow, & insists that Brother Wen is up to something.
Teng seeks partnership with the acrobatic swordswomen. Yu Yieh & Yu Ying are in actuality the famous heroine Thousand Hands Goddess (Ivy Ling Po) & her sister Lady Hua (Wang Ping/Wong Pin).
Strong though the sisters are, they are no match for Teng's swordplay, so accepting him as a parter appears to be unavoidable though they don't like it. He calls them "nincompoops" since if they couldn't even defeat him, then Wen Li Xian who protects the Money Bureau would kill them easily.
Master Shen of Da Meng (Chin Han), a client of the Money Bureau, turns out to be a major thief, Meng Lung, partner of the two sisters, husband of Meng Yu Yien the Thousand Hands Goddess.
He's an especially brutal killer at swordplay, & he's the inside man who they're careful never to reveal to Teng the unwanted partner.
The main theme is money's easy corruption of all who seek it, though it's really about the action; the story is just barely sufficient to justify the fight scenes.
Duel for Gold has a strongly appealing cast who look wonderful in costume & in motion; thus as films go that are top-heavy with action, this one's a stunner.
The robbery of the Money Bureau is attended with a jazzy rather French-sounding "heist" musical score. This long interlude showing the heist really is different for a swordplay film.
The band of thieves had wounded the chief guard Wen beforehand, knowing he was their main hindrance. But in taking the gold, they killed so many so ruthlessly that guardsman Wen feels strongly he must pursue them at any cost.
Teng is annoyed as well, discovering after the fact that the sisters completed the heist without him. So he, too, pursues them.
As corruption seeps ever more deeply, there's devisiveness even between the two sisters & there husband-partners. The two couples begin to conspire against each other. And then even the couples begin each to suspect their spouses.
Soon it's become all too clear that anyone might have a death-duel with anyone at any time solely for gold. Not love, not clan ties, not heroic disposition, nothing can protect anyone from being overcome by unutterable all-consuming greed.
No sooner is one battle over than there's cause for another. Even with a leg chopped off by his own wife, Meng Yu Yuen's husband can only think of the touch of gold.
And chief guard Wen turns out to be ringleader of a gang of thieves just as Teng always supected. Phony alliances are made & broken in a trice. Betrayal is the rule.
The characters played by Ivy Ling Po & Lo Lieh are by far the most exciting, & I found myself rooting for them to be the last ones standing, the two who would benefit, even if not one of them deserved to win.
But the theme of absolute corruption remains unwavering to the end, rendering it impossible for even one person to benefit.
This is commercial wuxia at its best: great fights, great costumes, beautiful actors, a clear concise story, with even a little bit of novelty in every single person being villainous, not to mention the cross-over content from heist films. I loved it.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl