Heroes of the East begins when we meet Ho Tao (Chia Hui Liu aka Gordon Liu). Ho Tao is a Kung Fu student whose wealthy father has arranged a marriage for him. Ho Tao is to marry Yumiko Koda (Yuka Mizuno), a beautiful Japanese woman and the daughter of a Japanese business associate of Ho Tao’s father. Initially, Ho Tao opposes the idea of an arranged marriage, calling it barbaric and old-fashioned, but after seeing the beautiful bride to be, he agrees to go through with the ceremony.
The morning after the wedding, Ho Tao discovers his new bride practicing Japanese martial arts in the courtyard as she’s destroyed objects such as vases, statues and brick walls. Ho Tao tries to persuade her to learn a less violent, more lady-like, art of Chinese Kung Fu. He then begins to explain to her that her Japanese martial arts is inferior to that of Chinese Kung Fu. After much back and forth and after feeling very offended by Ho Tao’s comments, Yumiko packs her things and heads back to Japan.
Once in Japan, Yumiko is reunited with her childhood friend and Sensei, Takeno (Yasuaki Kurata). Back in China, Ho Tao discovers that his wife has left him and as a ruse to bring her back, sends a challenge letter to her. The letter however ends up in the hands of Sensei Takeno were he takes it as an insult to all of Japan and to Japanese martial arts. So Takeno rounds up Japan’s finest martial arts masters and heads to China with Yumiko and his Japanese fighters to face off with Ho Tao.
I am in no way an expert in martial arts films. My expertise lies in that of horror (all genre’s) and in that of cult films (exploitation, drive-in movies and the sort). I preface this because I’m sure I’ll not hit on points of Heroes of the East that an expert in martial arts films might hit on if writing a critical review. I do however know when I see a good film and Heroes of the East is excellent.
Although somewhat flawed (to a minor degree), the script for Heroes of the East is outstanding. This is first evident when Ho Tao wins the first duel. Tao misinterprets a respectful gesture from the losing Japanese fighter by not taking his sword. This is of course due to a cultural misunderstanding between the fighters/races and changes the tone of the remaining fights since the Japanese believe Ho Tao is disrespecting the race. On the flawed side of things, and I could be wrong here, I believe arranged marriages are kept within the race of the arrangement. Chinese/Chinese and not Chinese/Japanese.
That minor squabble aside, Heroes of the East is an excellent example of a well drawn story with outstanding martial arts fights (in other words, direction, pace and fight choreography are all superb). The second half of the film pits all the Japanese Masters against Ho Tao and uses many forms of mixed Chinese and mixed Japanese martial arts, including my favorites, Karate vs Chinese Drunken Kung Fu (the drunk is played by director Lau Kar Leung) and Japanese Judo vs Peanut Oil (very much a comedic duel). Also to note, and unlike most traditional martial arts films, both the Chinese and Japanese characters in the film are portrayed as respectful to each other and as respectful fighters where fights are not to the death, but are meant to be challenges of skill.
Heroes of the East was directed by Lau Kar Leung (aka Chia-Liang Liu) and was distributed by Shaw Brothers Studios. Along with directing, Lau Kar Leung is also known as an actor, fight choreographer and martial artist. Lau Kar Leung’s most notable films are The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) and Drunken Master II (1994) starring Jackie Chan.
Gordon Liu (Ho Tao) can be seen in numerous martial arts films including Lau Kar Leung’s own, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978). He also played multiple roles in Quentin Tarantino’s more recent Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and 2 (2004). In Kill Bill: Volume 1, he played Johnny Mo. He also played the lead general in O-Ren Ishii’s Kung Fu army, The Crazy 88′s. In Kill Bill: Volume 2 he played Pai Mei, the martial arts instructor to Uma Therman’s character Beatrix Kiddo.
Yasuaki Kurata (Sensei Takeno) is a bonafide Japanese action star and an accomplished martial artist trained in Karate, Judo and Aikido. Kurata has been in films such as Bruce Lee and I (1973), Sister Street Fighting: Hanging by a Thread (1974), The Fist of Vengeance (1974), Sony Chiba’s Dragon Princess (1976) and is probably best known for his role as Fumio Funakochi, in Fist of Legend (1994) where he has an extended battle scene against Jet li.
Both Gordon Liu and Yasuaki Kurata are actively working in the business today.
Thoughts In My Head:
- Is that a hair piece on Gordon Liu
- Yumiko is pretty hot
- All these weapons look the same to me, though I know they’re different
- Wonderful looking set pieces
- Oh, no, there’s trouble in the Ho Tao household
- I think that letter that Ho Tao wrote was misconstrued by the Japanese
- Favorite scene in the film, Ho Tao learns to fight drunken style
- Master, master, the Japs sent a card, LOL
Favorite Badass or Badass Moment: Ho Tao, for being so damed good at his Kung Fu
Favorite Boobs or Boobs in a Scene: Sorry kids, no boobs in this one
Favorite Death Scene: Sorry kids, no deaths in this one
Boob Count: 0 pair
Body Count: 0
IMDB Rating: 7.7 / 10
My Rating: 8.5 / 10
Final Thoughts: While I own many martial arts films, I only go back to a handful of them time after time. Heroes of the East is one of those films. The story, characters and the mixed-styles of martial arts are absolutely outstanding. This is a film that no self-respecting fan of the genre should be without.