Wedding Time Duels

For the final 40-minutes, Heroes of the East puts on a spectacle that’s nearly unmatched by anything else in Shaw Brothers’ library. Released the same year as the unfinished Bruce Lee vehicle Game of Death, Heroes of the East follows a similar pattern, pitting a hero Ho Tao (Chia-Hui Liu) against multiple opponents, one-on-one, each with varying styles. It’s incredible, allowing little time to breathe, and ignoring the star power in Lee’s film, the better of the two films.

In the opening act, Heroes of the East is a lighthearted kung-fu comedy about a mixed Chinese and Japanese couple, a change for the genre that so often depicted fear of an invasion. The newly married duo duel and argue about their respective country’s styles, the gags violent in nature, if charmingly kitschy. There’s a full movie in that concept alone.

… in general action cinema terms, Heroes of the East is wildly entertaining

While Heroes of the East seems to mend a tattered international relationship (even showing two business leaders engaging with one another), soon the script takes a turn. Ho Tao makes an incidental cultural faux pas, and the Japanese send seven warriors to defeat him to prove their skills superior. The nationalist slant is laid on thick. While the Japanese fighters hold their own, they often lose in embarrassing ways. One falls victim to an equivalent “slipped on a banana peel” stunt that’s outright unforgivable given the context and despite the earlier comedy. Others walk away not because Ho Tao’s skills outmatch them, but because his weapons prove dominating.

The goal is clearly to make Ho Tao Hong Kong’s martial arts master, defending the land like in numerous other Shaw Brothers productions. His marriage becomes useless to the story, his wife Yumiko (Yuka Mizuno) relegated to translator after showing her physical prowess earlier. No one on the Japanese side is allowed to gracefully bow out, this after appearing as if from a deranged society. Never is the commentary on Hong Kong’s own quirks; never does Heroes of the East look inward to balance.

All of that known, and in general action cinema terms, Heroes of the East is wildly entertaining. Escapism runs high and the tension is authentic even with the goofier elements. On the surface, minus context, it’s the choreographed pageantry audiences pay for.

Video

Bummer. While the Shawscope set is inconsistent, Heroes of the East takes a heavy hit from compression. It’s thick enough to suggest a DVD upscale, swimming in artifacts akin to MPEG-2 material. It’s nice to see grain preserved, but the encoding is a mess, unable to handle it.

This then leads to obvious degradation in fidelity and texture. Resolution sags, everything softened, dulled, and barely qualifying as HD. This is a shame since the print appears to be in fine condition, the only faults marginal specks of dust. The scan itself is a good one, plus the impressive contrast carries plenty of energy. Black levels remain stable, thick, and dense too.

At least the color impresses, right from the opening wedding scene dressed in reds and golds. Heroes of the East covers sets in plentiful color saturation overall. Flesh tones still stand out as natural too.

Audio

A trio of DTS-HD tracks include Mandarin, Cantonese, and the English dub, all in mono. In clarity terms, the Mandarin track is among the best in the set. Imperfect, of course, but clearer and sharper than those films on previous discs in the Shawscope set. Dialog is tighter, and the score’s treble firmer. Drums try to provide bass, but fail.

Extras

Opening this disc is Jonathan Clements, providing a commentary. Then, Tony Rayns speaks about both films on this disc and spends 30-minutes doing so. A 2003 interview with co-star Yasuaki Kurata runs 25-minutes. Then comes the usual send-off for this Shawscope set: alternate opening credits, with trailers and stills.

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Heroes of the East
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
3

Movie

While initially a playful marriage tale, Heroes of the East soon becomes an aggressively nationalist film favoring Hong Kong styles.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 42 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: