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Heroes Of The East (1978) Directed by: Lau Kar Leung

Known internationally as Shaolin Challenges Ninja, this one of many fine Lau Kar Leung efforts comes out way ahead of the pack with its nigh on perfect blend of martial arts action and valid thematic excursions.

Gordon Lau plays Ho To, a kung fu master who chooses a Japanese woman (Yuko Mizuno) as his wife. A feud is soon ablaze between the couple as they can't come to terms and agreement on the philosophies of their individual martial arts. She returns to Japan and after Ho To sends a challenge letter to her, the best of the best of Japanese masters turn up to challenge him. One by one they go at it...

Set amongst the upper classes of Chinese society in the late Ching dynasty, Lau Kar Leung weaves a pretty decent narrative from I Kuang's script that is far from one big excuse to feature martial arts action. Hell, he even takes his time to set the stage for the differences of the characters before unleashing his choreography. Heroes Of The East, in many other filmmakers hands, would've simply derailed and turned into a bloody struggle between the Chinese and the Japanese. Lau is not interested in any revenge motifs but instead puts forth valid arguments from both sides, with the final message being that we have to examine the values of each others cultures instead of naively rejecting them. In between this fairly serious narrative, doses of off-beat humour turns up, most notably through Lau Kar Leung's wonderful cameo as Beggar So, the role Simon Yuen (who also appears) would become the symbol for the very same year in Snake In The Eagle's Shadow.

Eventually, Lau lets it rip with his action choreography and it's a furious multi fighting showcase of Chinese and Japanese weaponry that ranks as some of Lau's best work in the 70s. At the same time, a notion is retained concerning cultures in need of enlightening each other and it's no surprise that Heroes Of The East is almost completely bloodless therefore. It's a rare treat when audiences get to ponder in martial arts cinema but Lau Kar Leung proved on several occasions that the merging worked. Gordon Lau and Yasuaki Kurata shine and the supporting cast includes Cheng Hong Yip, Cheng Miu, Norman Chu and Lee Hoi San.

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com
Yesasia.com

Heroes Of The Eastern Skies (1977) Directed by: Cheung Chang-Chak

Ambitious on every level but skill is not put forth that showcases the combo of war with drama. Cheung Chang-Chak (River Of Fury) certainly got the cast, the effects work that mostly deals with aerial fights, the scope and the design that speaks to the Chinese spirit overcoming (or almost) oppressing forces (in this case the Japanese). Leung Sau-Geun's pilot and leader is a bit more compelling as a character too, being hard on his pilots to the point of accidental deaths happening and suffering on the outside when injured while the war in the skies go on. That war is quite exhilarating as captured on film with fine usage of miniature to re-create mayhem and that's essentially what Heroes Of The Eastern Skies brings. It may have spoken on a more profound level to its local audience but as it stands now, it's a major, truly awesome technical achievement with empty stretches in between.

Heroes Two (1974) Directed by: Chang Cheh

The scope is certainly there as always at Shaw Brothers but Chang Cheh provides a simple in scope-story as well and thus making an easily recommended, martial arts quickie of high standard. Ching troops burn down Shaolin Temple, Hung Hsi Kuan (Chen Kuan-Tai) is pursued by the Manchu's and Fong Sai Yuk (Alexander Fu Sheng) is fooled by the Manchu's into thinking Hung is a fierce killer. Eventually making up for his wrongs, they stand together against their common enemy. Certainly about rebellion for a larger purpose but Chang Cheh keeps matters simple here. Simple meaning 90 minutes of an almost laughably naive Fong Sai Yuk, Chen Kuan-Tai being an iconic wrecking ball in a perfect piece of casting and a solid stream of martial arts across the board. Some pieces of choreography more memorable than others, Chen Kuan-Tai's first encounter with Fu Sheng stands out and the trademark, gory fight end (highly censored via use of red filters) entertains in a comfort type of manner.

Hero Of Tomorrow (1988) Directed by: Poon Man-Kit

If you haven't seen this story before, then you haven't seen much "heroic bloodshed" movies. With a little bit of A Better Tomorrow and Just Heroes mixed in, only with less refined storytelling skills at the helm, Hero Of Tomorrow has little to offer if it wasn't for the inclusion of, however bad it is to express it the way I'm going to, exciting, gory and intense violence. Poon Man-Kit also caps his generic story off with a fine gunplay finale in the middle of the Hong Kong streets, having made sure that there is no tomorrow for any characters so blood flows freely. Fans should dig that. Starring Miu Kiu Wai, Max Mox, William Ho (in a typical broad bad guy turn for the actor), Cheung Wing Jing, Ku Feng, Joan Tong and Gam Siu Mooi. Tommy Wong, Phillip Kwok, Blackie Ko, James Tien, Phillip Chan and Lam Chung logs cameos.

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Yesasia.com

Heroic Brothers (1991, James Wu)

Using huge chunks out of the plot for Death Wish 4, Lam Wai steps into the Charles Bronson role and starts, working for Wu Ma's shady millionaire, clean up the drug smugglers in town. It feels like this is another part of a series because the easily adjusted to vigilante-side to Lam Wai's character just happens. But with such a distinctive action presence in the man, such logic is of little importance. What Hong Kong brings here too is their own action flavour once they're done with the beats of the Charles Bronson film and that's a good thing because killing undercover does not generate the violent impact. However a Lam Wai with pistols, automatic weapons, grenade launcher and a bulldozer does. High on heroic bloodshed style action, it's a little clunkier as made compared to the elite efforts (especially the deaths and looks of henchmen) but director Wu knows he's got Lam Wai at his disposal for not only said impact but for action-fun. And any dips in interest are forgiven when the movie realizes this fully for the finale and since it's by then it has shed the remake/rip-off cloud over it. Alex Man co-stars as a mostly wacky cop also there to force the social commentary into the film. Also with Shing Fui-On.

Heroic Duo (2003) Directed by: Benny Chan

My initial hopes regarding Heroic Duo and the director Benny Chan was that it would equal something a notch or two below his 1996 movie Big Bullet. I.e. a few notches better than his last two films (Gen-X Cops and Gen-Y Cops) combined. The end result though is an uninteresting mix of slick looking action filmmaking, ever so slightly touching human drama and short bursts of fun action. The script, with a decent premise revolving hypnosis, doesn't try to change the world but if you do want your characters to come off the page, cast interesting actors. Unfortunately we're stuck with Ekin Cheng and Leon Lai, not the poster boys for movie charisma. Ekin is actually a bit better than usual in a not so challenging cop role while Leon is saddled with the most complex character in the film. Leon's character could've worked under another director and sadly Benny has lost that touch of directing actors like we saw in A Moment Of Romance. Francis Ng, despite sleepwalking his way through the film, is the only barely watchable thing in it while Raymond Wong logs this year's worst supporting performance. Also starring Karena Lam (much better in July Rhapsody) and Xu Jing Lei.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

The Heroic Trio (1993) Directed by: Johnnie To

In other places Ching Siu-Ting has been credited as CO-director which is not illogical since he did action direct this fan favourite. Starring three of Hong Kong cinemas most gorgeous women (Anita Mui, Michelle Yeoh and Maggie Cheung), this one won't have you looking at the clock. Filled with wire enhanced action, gory imagery, a flying guillotine and battling babes but I do have to say that The Heroic Trio isn't as amazing as the reputation may suggest. Johnnie To injects well meaning but ultimately misplaced emotional weight to a story that isn't anything more than basic and Ching Siu-Tung's choreography, while entertaining to watch, does comes off as too edited for my liking. Set design however is a notch above your average Hong Kong action production and Anthony Wong steals every scene he's in. In other words, there's enough here to like.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

Heroine Susan, The Sister Of The Shantung Boxer (1973) Directed by: Wong Hung-Cheung

While the connection to Chang Cheh's Boxer From Shantung is there according to reports, Heroine Susan, The Sister Of The Shantung Boxer can be judged on its merits thankfully. Lacking in much merits however, at hand is revenge for a fallen brother by a sister (Wang Ping). Target: the axe gang and a drugs operation. Grit and fighting fury does rear its head but far too infrequently and most of the action comes off as devoid of power. Igniting a little towards the end with select sections of Chang Cheh-esque gore as Wang Ping fights alongside Charlie Chin, it's hard for the movie to walk away with its head up high after being so decidedly normal and weak before. Also with Suen Yuet.

Her Vengeance (1988) Directed by Nam Nai Choi

Decent rape/revenge thriller but at the same time remarkably solid considering it's Nam Nai Choi directing. Yes, gone is the outrageousness b-movie excesses that The Seventh Curse and The Cat offered and Nam goes for full on gritty brutality instead. Some of which is eerily effective and has seldom been outdone in 80s Hong Kong cinema (despite suffering from noticeable censoring). Only Alfred Cheung's On The Run springs to mind that regard.

Not that the revenge motive is particularly deep or polished as is normally the case whenever Hong Kong cinema attempts something like this. Therefore, pretty much all men are portrayed horny and evil but you do sense that there's no ambition to be the smartest exploitation flick on the block either. Lam Ching Ying brings solid dramatic weight to the piece and Pauline Wong, while being saddled with limited traits to work with, equips herself well, in particular during the intense action finale (co-choreographed splendidly well by Lam Ching Ying). Also with Shing Fui On and Billy Chow.

The vcd re-issue by Deltamac cut out most of the violence while adding a whole slew of new and alternate footage compared to the Cat III rated out of print Megastar vcd. For a breakdown of the additions and differences, visit the Her Vengeance Deleted & Extended Scenes Gallery.

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Yesasia.com

He's A Woman, She's A Man (1994) Directed by: Peter Chan

A little slow but quite an affecting romantic comedy starring Anita Yuen, Leslie Cheung and Carina Lau. Yuen plays Wing that goes to a singing audition dressed as a boy and surprisingly gets a shot at the big time. Living with producer Sam (Cheung) she falls for him and he is drawn to, what he thinks is, the boy. In the middle then is Sam's singer girlfriend (Lau). Anita pulls off the transformation to boy quite convincingly and Peter Chan explores the themes of homosexuality and idol worshipping without resorting to cheap gags or being distasteful. The cast gel with each other and Jordan Chan in particular has a likable supporting part. Same cast turned up for the sequel Who's The Woman, Who's The Man in 1996 but that failed to capture the spirit of the first.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

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