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Heroes Among Heroes (1993) Directed by: Yuen Woo-Ping & Chan Chin-Chung

Covering the legend of So Hat Yi, the wealthy boy who gets manipulated by Ching interests, becomes an opium addict, loses his family but is re-born as Beggar So, Donnie Yen takes on the role and as one of the other legendary 10 Tigers Of Canton and Wong Gok is Wong Fei-Hung. In another division than the benchmark movie Once Upon A Time In China or Yuen Woo-Ping's own Drunken Master (with his father Simon Yuen in the So Hat Yi role), Heroes Among Heroes is pale entry in the new wave 90s wire fu cannon. Merely the basic beats are covered and even if Woo-Ping was on his way of achieving a majestic, affecting feeling, it's buried under grating comedy courtesy of Ng Man-Tat and Sheila Chan as So's parents. Not unlike a lot of Hong Kong movies then but the combination isn't entertaining. Add to the fact that Donnie Yen change of character consists of putting on a hat and you get an idea of the lack of passion available. Action is technically efficient but features very few standout moments. The standouts are more often about when the action relies less on the wires but at other times the Yuen Clan is a few frames off in the film speeds department. It detracts and makes the action fade from memory easily. Also with Fennie Yuen and Hung Yan-Yan as the main villain.

Heroes From Shaolin (1977) Directed by: William Cheung

Tu Tashan (Chan Sing) defeats Hsiao Hu's (Ting Wa-Chung) father and subsequently the father commits suicide. Wanting revenge but being offered training by Tu Tashan, Hsiao Hu is allowed to attempt revenge anytime. All while the two are on a mission to defeat traitors that are now siding with the Manchu's...

William Cheung (Calamity Of Snakes) presents expected morals surrounding revenge but in quite solid fashion. Solid chemistry between his old and young lead coupled with quality action choreography throughout makes Heroes From Shaolin very serious but never to an unbearable, arty degree. The film knows it's basic and expectedly has its highlight moments via Yuen Biao's and Corey Yuen's work as action directors. Especially their own scenes featuring weapons are a fluid treat, beating anything co-stars Lo Lieh and Hwang Jang-Lee take part in.

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.

Buy the DVD at:
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 Ones (1970, Chang Cheh)

Although it seems like business as usual, this time Chang Cheh and writer Ni Kuang steer away from the Ming or Qing dynasty and instead go back to the Tang Dynasty for their story of a disintegrating group of Mongol warrior brothers. It means big sets, a large cast and vistas covered with extensive production design and extras. It also thankfully means it's pretty straightforward as the tactics of war towards King Wang gets disrupted when two of the brothers attempt to rape a woman and subsequently turn against their family. With Ti Lung and David Chiang confidently leading, Chang Cheh gives us iconic slow motion shots to enhance the impact of our protagonists and shows distinctly this is going to be a big battlefield movie too. But not a sloppy or soft one in the action department. Despite the epic production qualities surrounding his actors, it still means a focus is present to deliver complex weapons choreography and blood sprays galore as for instance Ti Lung takes on hundreds of opponents despite being fatally wounded. The makers are not above taking out its main characters in a sadistic manner either. That what we're supposed to be focusing on is designed as violent and hard is compelling and the unusual decision to conclude the picture with fight scenes not featuring the brothers you'd think is easier to swallow therefore. The Heroic Ones leaves an impression that Shaw Brothers could kick it up a notch in the scope frame and it's also a fine introduction to ONE of the facets of Chang Cheh's work. This is not the more intimate world of swordplay heroes but this represents his eye for the epic.

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

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