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中華丈夫 (1978)
Heroes of the East

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 06/02/2008

If you're looking for a kung fu movie that you can show to kids or people adverse to violence, you can't go wrong with Lau Kar-Leung's Heroes of the East. It's a strictly PG/IIA-level affair that doesn't feature even one dead body and only one instance of blood, yet it's still one of the most exciting entries in the "old school" genre.

The film stars Gordon Liu (who actually sports hair here versus his trademark shaved head) as a young man named Ah To, who has been arranged to marry a Japanese woman, Kung Zi (Yuko Mizuno). Ah To is hesitant at first, but perks up considerably when he sees that Kung Zi is a bit of a hottie. Despite their mutual attraction, things soon become rocky due to Kung Zi's love of Japanese martial arts. Ah To feels the Japanese style is too unrefined compared to Chinese kung fu, and so forbids Kung Zi to practice, which causes her to flee back to Japan.

Desperate to win her back, Ah To issues a challenge to Kung Zi to have a showdown between the Chinese and Japanese styles. This attracts the attention of Kung Zi's sensei and former lover, Takeno (Yasuaki Kurata), who heads back to China along with six other Japanese masters in order to demonstrate the power of Japanese martial arts to Ah To and gain the affection of Kung Zi.

As a director, Lau Kar-Leung has long been known for portraying a mixed bag of styles of martial arts and weapons in his movies, and Heroes of the East's plot is the perfect vehicle for his methods. Sure, this is a gimmick, but it never really feels like it. The various matchups never feel forced, and they're quite exciting, even with the aforementioned lack of bloodshed. This is just simply solid, no-frills action that was obviously done with a great deal of love and respect for martial arts, despite where they come from.

Speaking of which, Heroes of the East takes a refreshing tact on the whole Chinese versus Japanese conflict which forms the nucleus of many martial arts films, even to this day. Yes, as this is a Chinese production, there's never really any doubt that Ah To will prevail, but the Japanese people are treated as real characters, instead of the "nasty Jap" villain cardboard cut-outs far too many of these sorts of films feature. It's the seemingly little touches such as that which makes Heroes of the East a true classic of the genre, and mandatory viewing for any "old school" fan.

DVD Information

Dragon Dynasty has done yet another outstanding job with this release. The picture and sound transfer is top-notch, and there is a good selection of extras, including commentary from Bey Logan, a tribute to Lau Kar-Leung, an interview with Gordon Liu, a look at the various weapon styles featured in the film, and a collection of trailers.

[review from www.hkfilm.net]

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 04/10/2007
Summary: As close to perfect as possible

“Heroes of the East” is a special movie. It is well written, beautifully executed and combines two very different genres—romantic comedy and martial arts drama—into a successful whole. Most of the cast give committed, professional performances while Gordon Liu Chia-Hui and Mizuno Yuko are note-perfect as the loving but warring married couple at the center of the film. Cheng Kang-Yeh is terrific as Shou Kwan the servant who literally finds himself in the middle of arguments. His role, the sly onlooker who comments on the action but doesn’t really affect it, often seems to be more a burden than anything else but even this thankless part adds significantly to the tone and texture of the movie. He keeps things moving while trying to show both Ah To and Kung Zi that there might be a middle way.

The acting, fight choreography, cinematography and art direction were all excellent. Director Liu Chia-Liang’s directing was impeccable; he kept the comedy light, the pathos fleeting but effective. The characters were well drawn types that generally appeared in Shaw Brothers films but with enough room for a bit of development. Most importantly Ah To and Kung Zi are characters that we like and identify with—young lovers from differing although similar cultures. Both of them are intelligent, attractive and headstrong, committed to each other but also to their own traditions.

What makes “Heroes of the East” a classic is that Liu Chia-Liang and Mizuno Yuko collaborated to create such a memorable character. In lesser company Kung Zi would have taken over the film entirely—she is just about perfect. At first she is completely, almost blatantly, Japanese wearing white at her wedding and bowing in the Japanese as opposed to Chinese manner, which scandalizes the wedding guests. She enthusiastically practices Japanese martial arts, of which she is a master, becoming so involved in her workout that she doesn’t notice that top is open to her waist. Kung Zi goads Ah To into fighting with her—what they are doing is much more than sparring—and insists she will be able to beat him soon. She destroys some of the family statuary and even knocks down a wall during her exuberant and athletic practices.

The studio system, whether in Hong Kong, London or Los Angeles, has been the vehicle for many outstanding movies and wonderful characters. Betty Grable, Barbara Stanwyck and Katherine Hepburn created powerful women, and each had the advantage of working with a director who seemed particularly attuned to their abilities, Grable with Walter Lang, Stanwyck with Frank Capra and Hepburn with George Cukor. Liu Chia-Liang and Mizuno Yuko didn’t have the luxury of working together over several movies and many years—they had one shot and made the most of it.

“MGM Musicals” and Ealing Comedies” are two examples of how some studios were so identified with types of films that they lent their names of the sub-genre. While they could almost as accurately have been called “Busby Berkley Musicals” or Alec Guinness Comedies” it was the ability of the studios to marshal leading actors, high quality technical artists, superb supporting players and (often) excellent scripts and do so on a tight schedule, that led to movies like “Casablanca”, “Double Indemnity”, “The Philadelphia Story” or “Kind Hearts and Coronets”. “Heroes of the East is every bit as impressive and important as any of those.

While the movie ends with a certain amount of respect between the martial arts virtuosos of both nations, the Sino/Japanese divide remains intact. Chinese martial arts are shown to be superior to those practiced by the Japanese, indicating in this context that Chinese culture is superior to the Japanese and that Japanese philosophical methods, epistemology and literature originated with and are contingent upon the older and more enlightened Chinese. Japanese practices are forceful and aggressive, even a bit rough. They are vulgar and coarse compared to the more refined and elegant Chinese style. The Japanese fighters themselves are sly and tricky, trying to take advantage of every possible technicality in the rules—insisting that “tomorrow” begins at 12:01AM, for example and not when the sun comes up at the dawn, forcing Ah To to fight twice in the same day—while the Chinese use trickery only as a last resort and then only in response to the Japanese. Chinese masters, as represented by Ah To, are expert at all forms and with all weapons while the more limited Japanese must only master one skill.

The first few minutes of “Heroes of the East” show another part of the genius of Hong Kong film making. Exposition, background, relationships and some comic relief occur in several scenes that tell us all we need to know about the characters and how we should think about them. This very compact and effective storytelling is typical of how Hong Kong movies of the period get started. Like much of the rest of the film the beginning was a formula, but a formula that worked and occasionally allowed the creation of masterpieces like “Heroes of the East”.

Because no movie is perfect I have to mention the atrocious wigs worn by many of the actors, particularly Gordon Liu. It wasn't just a matter of one's expectations being thwarted, thinking that he almost had to be bald. His wig looked like a bad joke, much too large for his head and probably stuck on with a lot of adhesive. Other than that though...

Very highly recommended

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 02/25/2007

Mizuno Yuko is adorable as Gordon Liu's earnest Japanese bride who insists that her culture is superior in martial arts. Marital bliss evaporates soon there after in this bloodless Sino-Japanese war of the roses.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: kiliansabre
Date: 09/11/2006
Summary: Non-Death Oriented Classic

Ah To (Gordon Lui) marries a Japanese woman (Mizuno Yuko) who is confident that Japanese martial arts is superior to Chinese. When she leaves him, Ah To writes a challenge inviting her back and unwittingly attracts the attention of Takeno (Kurata Yasuaki) and his brothers who come to prove the superiority of Japanese martial arts.

The fight scenes as the film progresses eventually lay themselves out as a series of challenges to Gordon Lui's character in which he must overcome various styles of martial arts including Takeno's Crab Fist style. Overall, aside from a bit at the end the martial arts are fluid and genuine as Japanese and Chinese styles square off. The emphasis here is not so much on which style is better, as it is on respect for your opponent and the experience learned from such matches. The fight choreography is tight and interesting at all times, though not up to director Liu Chia-Liang's later masterpieces.

Worth checking out especially if you want to see a film not littered with death and destruction and instead concentrating on the philosophy behind martial arts.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 05/02/2006
Summary: This time, everybody lives...

An impending arranged marriage to ugly Japanese girl Kung Zi (Mizuno Yuko) sends Ah To (Lau Kar-Fai) into a sweat, until it turns out that she’s grown into a pretty young woman. However, things go awry when their two disparate cultures clash – resulting in a comic breakdown of communications. Returning to Japan, Kung Zi enlists the help of her friends to challenge Ah To and his Kung Fu against the might of Japanese Martial Arts.

This film seems to be relatively unknown outside the world of the hard-core martial arts film fan. Which is a shame, because it is unique in a number of ways, not least:
1. Nobody dies. In fact, when one character is said to be contemplating suicide due to correct etiquette not being performed at the end of a bout (a Japanese honour ritual), it is deemed serious enough to notably concern the lead characters. Although Lau Kar-Leung made another couple of films where no one is killed horribly (My Young Auntie and Lady is the Boss, from memory), this is still quite an unusual and “gentle” approach to the genre.
2. There are no bad guys. Rather than portray the Japanese as vicious cold-blooded killers (Fist of Fury et al), they are dealt with here as human. In fact, it’s the Chinese characters’ ignorance of Japanese custom that often provides the laughs here, rather than the other way around.

Director Lau Kar-Leung once said that it was difficult to direct the Japanese cast in this one as they were extremely serious in their craft and not used to performing just for the camera. He said that when he called for action, they would “switch on” and go flat out. Nowhere is this more evident in the scene that involves one of the Japanese using nunchaku and tonfa. Look into this guy’s eyes and tell me he isn’t for real!

The only letdown is the rather hokey special effects portraying ninjitsu at the end, but as this involves the wonderful Mr Kurata, it’s easily overlooked.

Overall, an often overlooked masterpiece that is both funny and well choreographed, and one that deserved to be watched again and again when you’re in the mood for something a little less soaked in the Shaw Brothers’ patented fake blood.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 07/23/2005
Summary: One of the best ever...

I had the great honor of attending a demonstration and talk by Gordon Liu a few years ago in Brooklyn, and I was able to ask him a question. I wanted to know, with the multitude of classics he was in, what was the favorite film of his career? He thought for a just a second before saying "Shaolin Challenges Ninja." An audible murmuring agreement came from the crowd and he smiled. He went on to say that he loved the way the film was able to show the multitude of styles Chinese martial arts encompasses and their effectiveness against other fighting arts. Shaolin Challenges Ninja (Heroes of the East) certainly accomplishes that and could be one of the finest Shaw Brothers films produced during the 70s.

Gordon Liu plays Ah To, a young man from a rich family who is in an arranged marriage with Kung Zi, a Japanese girl. After the ceremony, they find out that they are both well versed in the martial arts, Ah To in Chinese wu shu and Kung Zi in karate, judo and ninjitsu. They start to constantly challenge each other with different weapons and styles, as well as verbal barbs attacking the history and effectiveness of the opposing countries' martial arts. After losing every challenge, a frustrated Kung Zi returns to Japan. At a loss for how to get his wife back, Ah To decides to use Kung's pride against her and offer her a fighting challenge. Her friend Takeno (Yasuaki Kurata) reads the letter and gathers masters from each Japanese discipline, feeling the challenge was an insult to all Japanese martial arts. They arrive in China looking to even the score with Ah To with a series of duels designed to show the superiority of Japan's martial arts.

This film is a dream come true for the kung fu fan. The story is simple enough to not get in the way of the fights while still moving the plot along. There is a good blend of humor, drama and of course, furious fighting. Liu Chia Liang's choreography is top-notch and provides Gordon Liu with an incredible array of weapons and styles to use against his opponents. (If I had to bet my life on it, I would say you are actually watching Liu Chia Liang himself performing some of the most difficult fight sequences when Ah To uses the three section staff and spear.) The Japanese masters are also a blast to watch, using little seen weapons such as the Sai and chained hook against Ah To. The coup de grace of the movie though is the final duel between Gordon Liu and Yasuaki Kurata. Fists, feet and weapons fly every which way as the two battle in the air, on the ground and even in the water. The pair's battle with Takeno using Japanese Crab Fist style and Ah To using Crane style is especially exciting. This is one Shaw Brothers film that should not be missed by any martial arts film fan. It absolutely will not disappoint.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 11/10/2001
Summary: A masterpiece

One of the very few films where our kid Gordon Liu *isn't* a Shaolin Monk! (he has hair and everything). He plays a rich kid who enters into an arranged marriage with a beautiful Japanese girl, but rapidly becomes frustrated with her tendency to wreck the entire place when practising Karate. He starts to spar with her, to demonstrate the superiority of Chinese martial arts, and the fights escalate in intensity and acrimony until Gordon accidentally finds himself at war with half of Japan .

The last half of the movie is basically Gordon taking on a series of Japanese masters using a variety of weapons and techniques - a fantastic display of his skill that conclusively demonstrates that Chinese Martial Arts are not only technically superior to the Japanese arts, but morally superior as well :)). Not a film that is designed to improve Sino-Japanese relations!

Several thumbs up!

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 05/03/2001
Summary: excellent!!

Shaolin vs ninja is the title i saw this under!!

This is a good movie to watch, with plenty of action and NO BLOOD!! YEs this is a G rated film so all can watch!!

The plot is Gorden Lui accidently insults the japanese and masters of different styles from japan come and challenge him, all because of a misunderstanding!!

It's all one on one fighting and each fight is still fun to watch, even for todays standards!!

Gorden Lui Chia Hui is good as usual and a must see for all kungfu fans!!


Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: SBates
Date: 02/06/2001

Let me preface this review by saying that this film has numerous fantastic martial arts scenes. The ingenious script allows for a wide variety of Chinese and Japanese martial arts to be displayed. The kung fu is among Liu's best, and this film his most action-packed.
Now....the essential plot of this film has a Chinese man and his japanese bride, both martial artists, disagree over whose country's arts are the best. The disagreement leads to a misunderstanding, on the part of her Japanese family, who send a group of fighters to beat her husband, played by Gordon Liu. Liu defeats each of the Japanese fighters' unique styles with a different, counter-acting kung-fu technique. In the end, he brings the misunderstanding to an end. No one is killed.
This film is often cited as being one of the few to treat japanese and chinese martial arts on the same level, giving equal respect to each. well, this is not true. In fact, there is alot of hypocrisy in this film. Being a Hong Kong production, one can understand that the Chinese characters will be portrayed in a more favorable light. Many critics take the fact that since no blood is spilled and there's understanding and harmony at the end, that connotates a favorable depiction of the Japanese. The Japanese ae portrayed as brutish, rash, and sometimes clownish; their martial arts unrefined. Gordon Liu is presented as graceful and stoic.granted, it's not as entirely unfavorable as many HK martial arts films are, but it definitely does not show the equality of japanese and Chinese martial arts. Note how the Japanese wife dresses in Chinese garb by the end of the film....
What I do think is interesting about the conflict in the film is how Liu places the Sino-Japanese strife and misunderstanding within the context of a marriage. Liu often uses the inversion of roles of man and woman in his films, it was odd to see that this film was so conservative in that regard..