Heroes of the East (a.k.a.
Shaolin Challenges Ninja)
Resembling a kung fu couple out of Who’s Afraid
of Virginia Woolfe, this unhappily married duo are out for each others
blood. Of course, while the English couple from the Albee play limited
their attacks to verbal stabs in the back, this couple doesn’t hesitate
to use swords, knives, spears, stars and darts to get the better of one
another. This is marriage as a contact sport – where the chop sticks at
dinner time are as likely to be used as deadly throwing instruments as
eating utensils. This exploration of marriage and culture clashes is all
quite fun though and this 1978 film directed by Lau Kar Leung (aka Liu
Chia Liang) and starring his favorite actor (Gordon) Liu Chia Hui is considered
a classic for good reasons.
Unlike many of the films produced by the Shaw
Brothers in which Lau had a hand in as either director or choreographer,
this film has no big glorious heart beating action scenes full of death
and mayhem. Instead it is in many ways a very polite film – everyone generally
follows the rules of honor and decorum – and no one is badly hurt with
the exception of their pride. Every fight is a simple one on one duel with
cheap looking sets in the background – but within this set up there is
an astonishing variety and some incredibly enjoyable choreography. It has
a purist feel to it. In particular this is a fabulous showcase for Liu
Chia Hui who is given the opportunity to show his skills with a host of
weapons from sword to spear to knives to staff to the three section staff.
It is a remarkable individual performance and he overlays these physical
skills with a charming and pleasant acting performance as well.
As the film begins, his father announces to him
that his Japanese bride has arrived and Liu Chia Hui grumbles over this
arranged marriage until he sees his lovely wife (Mizuno Yoko) demurely
smiling at him in her kimono. All seems heavenly between this cross-cultural
couple until she starts breaking nearly everything in the house while practicing
different forms of Japanese martial arts. He patiently puts up with this
bit of home wreckage and counts up the cost, but when she starts clearing
out his Chinese weapons to make room for her own and then makes pronouncements
on the superiority of Japanese weaponry and their martial arts, it is more
than he can take. His challenge to show her the superiority of Chinese
martial arts is accepted and the marriage soon turns into an on going rumble
– even to having her outfit herself as a Ninja and attacking him with stealth
She soon runs home to Japan and cries on the handsome
shoulder of her instructor, Yasuaki Kurata, but her husband is intent on
having her back – because when she wasn’t trying to maim him for life she
was rather fun – quite cute (especially in her ninja outfit) - and had
a habit of accidentally letting her judo robe fall open. So he writes her
a letter that knocks her style of fighting thinking it will bring her back
but instead it falls into the hands of Yasuaki and he sees it as an insult
to Japan – this being the 1920s or 30’s and Japan’s period of militarism.
So he decides to bring over a group of Japanese martial artists to teach
this upstart Chinese fellow a lesson or two.
The Japanese all have specialized fighting skills
and challenge Liu to individual one a day contests - all leading
to one excellent fight after another – all quite civilized of course –
but leaving no doubt as to which country has the superior fighting skills.
The final one in particular against ninja Yasuaki is excellent. As his
estranged wife witnesses one bout after another she gets weak in the knees
and is soon falling into her more traditional wifely role. It’s a terrific
film that certainly shows it’s nationalistic side – but is still fairly
gentle in nature and contains some lovely intricate choreography. Appearing
also are Simon Yuen as Liu’s sifu, Lau Kar Leung in a cameo as the tramp
that Liu learns drunken kung fu from and Norman Tsui as Liu’s friend.
My rating for this film: 7.5
Distributed by Cadman Entertainment
The transfer is not all that great as one expects
from these pirated Shaw Brothers dvds - but it is reasonably clean and
watchable. Some of the picture is lost on both sides of the full screen