Heroes of the East
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.
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.