Genius Products // 1979 // 104 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 27th, 2008
When marital shenanigans lead to an international incident, heads will be punched.
From the Shaw brothers comes a tale of a simple argument between a man and a wife that leads to an inflammation of the age-old China/Japan grudge match and one man taking on a series of bad-ass karate and ninjitsu experts.
Ah To (Gordon Liu) is a top-notch kung fu student set to enter into a politically and financially lucrative arranged marriage with a Japanese girl named Kung Zi. He's resistant at first, until he lays eyes on her -- babalicious! Plus she breaks brick walls with her fists! That's right, Ah To's landed a bride that is skilled in karate and ninja-killing, and the two immediately get into an ongoing argument about which country boasts the best martial arts discipline.
Eventually, the diatribes get so heated, Kung Zi ends up leaving and going back to Japan. When Ah To sends a strongly-worded letter to her, it's intercepted by a Japanese karate legend, who promptly takes offense, gathers all the toughest warriors from the Land of the Rising Sun and brings the fight across the pond. Ah To will be faced with the best a country has to offer -- time to bring the pain!
The excellent Dragon Dynasty distribution label continues to bring the classic Asian films of the Shaw brothers to our domestic DVD players, and I am more than happy for that fact. The Shaw brothers, of course, generated some iconic cinema, particularly in the kung-fu genre, and the well-known Heroes of the East is next in line for the VIP treatment.
I can see why it's got a sterling reputation. Director Lau Kar-Leung's effort is certainly different than your average kung-fu chopsocky; light-hearted in moments, hard as nails in others, but interesting and fun to watch throughout. I'll stop short of completely drenching the thing in praise because, frankly, it didn't blow my skirt up too far. But I won't hesitate in recommending it for martial arts fans; its uniqueness alone is worth checking out.
Things start a little slow. Much time is devoted to the establishment of the relationship between Ah To and Kung Zi (a relationship I never quite buy into), and there is a lot of high-pitched bickering and comic relief sidekick blubbering you'll have to wade through before the action kicks in. Once we're properly informed that a) Kung Zi loves her Japanese fighting styles no matter what her blockheaded husband thinks and b) Ah To finds his smart-ass wife irritating as @#$%, the couple's back-and-forth finally turns to violence and the two engage in several weapons-based melees. These are fine and all, but there's no risk -- he's not going to behead his wife with a katana -- so watching them have it out lacks dramatic weight.
Following another extended break, when his dearly beloved heads back to Japan, Ah To finally gets a chance to engage opponents that want to do him bodily harm. Enter the Japanese masters, and the meat and potatoes (or the Chinese food equivalent -- beef and broccoli?) of Heroes of the East. What transpires for the remainder of the runtime is essentially a series of "boss fights," to lift from the video game vernacular. Squaring off with the Japanese All-Stars, all of whom specialize in a fighting methodology -- karate, kendo, ninjitsu, etc. -- Ah To must utilize all of his skills, plus learn some new ones, courtesy of a drunken kung-fu master. Fight after fight after fight goes down, until Ah To finally works his way up to the End Boss, his wife's teacher and the most lethally renowned warrior in Japan. The encounters are fun to watch, but not the hardest-hitting fights I've seen. The action choreography almost seems too choreographed, stilted and methodical, lacking fluidity. Still, when you have pretty much every Asian martial arts discipline represented in a single film, that's nothing to sneeze at.
As can be expected with Dragon Dynasty, the disc is top-shelf. The reinvigorated anamorphic widescreen transfer is beautiful and Mandarin, Cantonese and English mono tracks spit out the audio. Extras are impressive, with an insightful commentary from Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan (who does a lot of the extras heavy lifting for Dragon Dynasty titles), an extended tribute to Lau Kare-Leung, an interview with star Gordon Liu and a featurette on Chinese and Japanese martial arts weapons.
Heroes of the East is righteous kung fu viewing, though the actual kung fu didn't knock me out. Great DVD release, too.
Not guilty. Go see Sensei Phil.
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Cantonese)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Mandarin)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Lau Kar-Leung Featurette
* Gordon Liu Interview
* Weapons Featurette