Heroes of the East

1978 martial artsy domestic drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A Chinese guy marries a Japanese gal because it's what their parents want and because they're both reasonably attractive. Tension arises for the newlyweds, however, when they begin arguing over their martial arts styles and abilities and the merits of their countries' weaponry. She whines off to Japan and tells her martial arts peeps about her situation. The husband writes a letter, his intentions are misconstrued, and they come to China to beat him up.

When I read a plot synopsis of this one--likely a plot synopsis not nearly as exquisitely written as the one you just read--I was worried this would be a little too much story and not enough of the kicking and punching. But the exposition's brief, and the newlywedded bliss--or whatever the opposite of bliss might be--erupts into the two showing off their weapons and styles, the tension growing more and more between them as the guy consistently wins their little fights. I probably could have watched an entire movie with that versatile couple, and I liked that the plot of this one was so different from your average kung-fu revenge plot.

Once this gets going, it's almost wall-to-wall action. The seven or eight "heroes of the east" each have own specialties. There's a karate guy, a sword guy, a staff guy, a nunchaku guy, a sneaky ninja guy, a knife and rickshaw guy. He's forced to fight one a day, even after his wife has seemingly accepted things and is back to living and even rooting for him. The whole thing really stops being about their relationship and more about how China is cooler than Japan. Don't be fooled by that title. This is very pro-Chinese as opposed to pro-Japanese, and despite that bias, one of the more interesting things about this whole thing is seeing the differences in fighting styles and the knives and staffs and swords. There are other cultural nuances in there, too. The movie's packed with action, but the Shaw Brothers really branched out with this one, giving the characters a much different reason to be fighting and making the whole thing far fresher than most kung-fu movies of this era.

The fight scenes are well choreographed, and the participants are sharp, especially the versatile lead played by the legendary Chia-Hui Liu (Gordon Liu), the guy who played Pai Mei in Kill Bill: Volume 2. Oh, and Johnny Mo in Kill Bill: Volume One. Am I the only Kill Bill fan who didn't know these two were played by the same guy?

However, all the kung-fu dudes in this are skilled, and I loved how they worked in all the weapons. There's a drunken style scene, and those are always fun to watch. The ninja action, like a kung-fu chess match, was also very cool. My favorite antagonist was probably a mousy, twitchy guy, the one with the rickshaw and the knives.

Highly recommended for martial arts fans!

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