Heroes of the East (1979)
Director: Liu Chia-Liang
Writers: Ni Kuang
Starring: Gordon Liu, Yuka Mizuno and Yasuaki Kurata

The Plot: Ah To (Gordon Liu) is the son of an important businessman who is being forced into a marriage with a Japanese girl. He at first hates this fact but soon finds love with young Kuda. After the dust settles and the honeymoon is over though, it turns out that his new Japanese wife is addicted to martial arts and has to practice her Karate and Judo at all times. She is soon breaking through brick walls in the courtyard and smashing everything in her way, and rumor gets out that Gordon Liu is being beaten by his own wife! The two get involved ina series of contests between martial arts and Gordon continually schools the young Japanese Karate master with Chinese kung fu. When she has had enough of his dismissal of Japanese karate, she heads back to Japan. Ah To, seeing no way of getting her back, is convinced by one of his friends to send a scathing letter to her dismissing Japanese martial arts. When she receives the letter however, her master and sifu takes challenge with this and an epic showdown between Chinese Kung Fu and Japanese karate is on the way!

The Review
Liu Chia Liang and Chang Cheh will both live on throughout the years as the essential godfather’s of the kung fu genre. There have been filmmakers who have come and gone throughout the years who have added their own element to the genre, but few can claim to have inspired and created so much of what is now considered canon within this genre. Liu Chia Liang (brother of our star Gordon Liu), famed for his most popular title 36 Chambers of Shaolin, ultimately inspired every martial arts training sequence from that point onward for more than thirty years. Heroes of the East is a title that has been recommended to me many times over by my friend Coffin Jon over at the VCinema Podcast (which I co-host!), but I held off on it until Kung Fu Christmas rolled around yet again. A mix of political intrigue between two nations that have rivaled one another for ages as well as slapstick comedy, Heroes of the East is a strange brew that goes down smooth and leaves you slightly dizzy.
The entire premise for Heroes of the East seems to hang on the tension-fueled relationship between the Chinese and the Japanese. For those of you who don’t know these two countries have had a long legacy of disputes, not the least of which would come during the second world war when the Japanese ransacked the country and took part in all sorts of attrocious acts. The amount of anger the Chinese held towards the Japanese could be felt in many films made by the post-war generation and although Heroes of the East doesn’t go out of its way to actually make amends between the Chinese populace and the Japanese, it is an interesting and slightly more open minded view of the clashing cultures made within this era. In many older kung fu films the Japanese were the defacto villains; similar to the way Russians were portrayed in American action films during the cold war. The two films that immediately pop into my head would be Bruce Lee’s The Chinese Connection as well as Chang Cheh’s Chinese Super Ninjas, both films featured stereotypical evil Japanese caricatures promoted as the lead villains.

As stated, the film doesn’t exactly alleviate all of the issues between the Chinese and the Japanese but it does a decent job of portraying a slightly more open minded view of the debate between countries. While Gordon Liu does indeed trounce every Japanese fighter he comes in contact with, the Japanese fighters are at least shown to be dignified warriors. Their skill isn’t shown to be any less than the Chinese ultimately, since Gordon Liu is nearly godlike in his skill level here, but the lack of even-ground for both techniques is slightly disconcerting. What does one expect from a Hong Kong film marketed towards patriotic Chinese though? It would be hard to imagine Gordon Liu being beaten by a Japanese fighter with that in mind.
Although there are some serious issues being discussed here, Liu Chia Liang doesn’t take the subject matter as deathly serious. Instead there is a lot of regular Hong Kong humor at play here. Similar to titles like Dirty Ho, the comedy can be a bit over the top but it is a loveable kind of goofy that you’re either going to find endearing or annoying. Much of the comic relief is brought about through Gordon Liu’s affable servant who continually leaks out information regarding his master and the tumultious relationship he has with his karate-skilled wife. The scenes of combat between Ah To (Liu) and Kuda makes for some of the most entertaining segments of the film. Taking a regular argument between husband and wife and amplifying it with martial arts turns out to be a entertaining, if dangerous, combination! I really enjoyed the very obvious differences between the kung fu and the karate choreography. You don’t even have to be familiar with martial arts to look at the two different styles and understand the differences. As always, karate tends to look a little sloppy because at its nature it is a style based on force rather than elegance but it still looks brutish and powerful. In direct contrast to the small steps and dance-like maneuvers of Gordon Liu, THEGIRLSNAME actually looks like the more powerful fighter!

Gordon Liu impresses in one of his few performances where he actually sports a full head of hair and it actually makes him look quite young. Who am I kidding, even at age fifty the man looks good for his age. Liu is in high spirits here as he deftly represents Chinese martial arts and does so with the chops that only he had. Although there isn’t any one big training sequence here, as he and his brother were both known for, there is a funny bit where Liu has to learn drunken boxing by sending his servants to fight with a local master who accepts no students. The drunken old man continues to trounce the servants while Liu sits in the background mimicking his style in order to the movements down. The scene did feel a bit tacked on but it was so clever that you can’t help but enjoy yourself. As always, an impressive and very different form of martial arts cinema from these two great family members.

The Conclusion
If there are any problems with Heroes of the East, it may be in the pacing. Clocking in just a wee bit over an hour and a half, the film feels like an epic when in actuality it really isn’t THAT long. Although it does tend to be a little longer than your average Shaw Bros. martial arts picture. There is an odd beat to the film, as the first half is primarily comedic adventures in a rough marriage where the second half devolves into an endless series of fight scenes. Regardless, for what it is this one doesn’t disappoint. I give the film a four out of five stars! A good time to be had by all!