Hong Kong, 1979, 104 min.
Ah To (Gordon Liu) is an outstanding Chinese martial student. His wealthy father has arranged for him to be married to Kung Zi, the daughter of a Japanese business associate. Au To’s initial resistance is overcome once he sees Kung Zi, his beautiful bride-to-be, after she arrives from Japan. It turns out that his new wife is herself a practitioner of such Japanese martial arts as karate, judo, and kendo, and is also experienced with several other Japanese weapons.
Ah To finds the clothing she wears when practicing her martial arts, as well as the style of certain movements, to be decidedly unladylike and tries to convince her of the superiority of Chinese style martial arts. Thus the first part of the film, besides having some terrific action sequences, also plays out like a comic Chinese/Japanese riff on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
Not only is Ah To unsuccessful in his attempts to convince her to change, but he actually manages to so offend her that she packs up and returns to Japan. There she is meets with her teacher Takeno. He clearly had feelings for her but chose martial arts over marriage. When Au To, in an attempt to get his wife to return to him, sends a letter challenging her to a contest so he can prove the superiority of Chinese over Japanese martial arts, Takeno misinterprets it as an affront to all Japanese martial arts. With his teacher and several other martial arts masters, as well as Kuda, he travels to China to confront Au To.
At this point the film evolves into a series of contests as Au To must face a different Japanese opponent, and their individual weapons and fighting styles, each day. Not exactly a fair arrangement, but one he must accept. And we, the viewers, are treated to some outstanding demonstrations of martial arts prowess with a variety of weapons, both Chinese and Japanese.
Heroes of the East is a unique film in two ways. First off, it doesn’t demonize the Japanese, at least not as severely most Hong Kong films. For example, in Bruce Lee’s Fists of Fury the Japanese are depicted pretty much as the incarnation of evil. Heroes of the East, on the other hand, recognizes the importance of mutual respect among martial artists, and that humility is “the true martial arts way.”
Secondly, the film is essentially without physical violence. There are no broken bones, no deaths or dismemberments, none of the unique Shaw Brothers’ red “blood” that’s found in so many other of their films. Here, the emphasis is on real-deal martial arts action, albeit tailored for cinematic effect. Heroes of the East used actual Japanese martial artists, an approach that had not generally been employed before.
Even though it’s only a single disc, this DVD release, Dragon Dynasty has again done an outstanding job packing it with terrific extras. Besides his feature length commentary, Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan also provides an featurette on director Lau Kar Leung, who appears briefly in the film as a master of drunken fist kung fu.
The interview with star Gordon Liu, approximately 22 minutes long, includes an interesting insight into how he and his female co-star, who didn’t understand each others language, worked things out. To signal to one another that their dialogue had ended, they would say “hai,” which mean “yes” in Japanese. Since the actual dialogue was, as usual, dubbed after filming, this didn’t interfere with the soundtrack and allowed them to know when the other should start responding.
There’s also a very nice 26 minute segment that compares Chinese and Japanese weapons. It’s hosted by Kea Wong, who has done similar service on other Dragon Dynasty releases.
Star Gordon Liu studied martial arts with both Lau Kar-Leung’s father, who adopted him, and with the director himself. Lau and Liu had previously made The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which is a classic and is also available from Dragon Dynasty. Heroes of the East, although perhaps not as well-regarded, is one hell of a terrific film and would be a welcome addition to any Asian film fan’s collection.
I rate the film at 3.5 out of 4 stars, highloy recommended. The DVD special features rate 4 stars, outstanding.
Language: English Mono, Cantonese Mono, Mandarin Mono
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Runtime: 104 min
Screen Format: Widescreen
- Feature Commentary With Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan
- Spotlight On A Legend: A Tribute To Celebrated Martial Arts Icon, Lau Kar-Lueng
- Hero of Shaolin: An Exclusive Interview With Leading Man Gordon Liu
- Shaolin Vs. Ninja: An Exploration Of The Legendary Martial Arts Weapons Forms Of China and Japan
- Trailer Gallery