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  Heroes of the East Hands Across The Water
Year: 1978
Director: Lau Kar-Leung
Stars: Gordon Liu, Yuka Mizuno, Yasuaki Kurata, Chan Lung, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Ching Miao, Norman Chu, Ha Ping, Riki Harada, Linda Lin Di Ho, Hsaio Hou, Huang Pa-Ching, Naozo Kato, Kei Ho Chiu, Lee Hoi Sang, Lau Kar-Leung, Lu Hung, Yasutaka Nakazaki, Yujiro Sumi
Genre: Martial ArtsBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ho To (Gordon Liu) has a problem. As the son of a successful Chinese businessman many years ago when he was a little boy he was promised to a Japanese girl in an arranged marriage, a state of affairs that has played on his mind ever since as he does not have fond memories of his future wife. Now the time has come for the wedding day to be held, and Yumiko (Yuka Mizuno) has arrived in town, leaving To to pretend to be ill with a fever to see if he can escape his fate. However, his manservant creeps out of his room to glimpse what she looks like and is startled to see she is very beautiful - maybe this union won't be so bad after all? To is certainly persuaded and agrees to go ahead - but she is a bride in white.

That is significant because in Chinese culture it is considered very bad luck to wear white on your wedding day (and not only in their country, either), while in Japan there are no such qualms, setting up the audience for what was essentially a culture clash comedy. Or at least it was for the first half hour or so, with the newlyweds literally coming to blows over what Yumiko should be doing with her life now she should be settling down. But she's not interested in being a meek housewife, she wants to keep up her martial arts training which leads to an embarrassing for her husband scene where she flings him over her shoulder to demonstrate her judo - just the thing to make him lose face with the lads back at the bar.

To make matters worse, she arranges for her combat equipment to be transported from her previous home in Japan and to make room for it puts all To's equivalent equipment in the garden, which she has already had a good go at destroying while training. This puts him in a difficult position, he's all for seeing eye to eye in a marriage, but he's not about to allow Yumiko to walk all over him and before long they are each trying to prove their nation's fighting styles superior, which they do through the medium of, well, beating each other up. Not to the point of unconsciousness, but they don't hold back, making for some interesting gender politics and resulting in Yumiko going back to Japan in a huff, much to To's dismay because he is sincere in his desire to have the marriage work out.

Up to this point the tone has been fairly light, even jokey, but when our hero sends Yumiko a letter asking her to return, her tutors are most put out by this apparent affrontery, bringing out the theme of two cultures really needing to endeavour manfully to set aside their differences in spite of the history they have with one another (it may surprise you to learn the Chinese and Japanese have not always gotten along tremendously well). Here's where we get to the really substantial business as Yumiko's defenders, not realising they are jumping to conclusions and getting the wrong end of the stick, set off for China to give her husband a stern talking to. And when that doesn't go to plan with more confusion reigning over good intentions, poor old To finds himself with a bunch of very angry tough guys trying to better him in combat.

Given he is played by Gordon Liu, one of the most adept in his field at cinematic martial arts, and here sporting a rather notorious wig since he was spending most of his other roles shaven-headed, then you could tell the audience were in for quite a display, and indeed Heroes of the East (aka Zhong hua zhang fu) went down as one of the finest kung fu movies of its era among seasoned afiicionados, not coincidentally also bringing director and fight choreographer Lau Kar-Leung to prominence (he gave himself an extended cameo as a drunken master who obliviously teaches To a new technique). Once you get into that last hour and the protagonist is duelling with the Japanese, it's pretty much non-stop action at the highest level, with Yasuaki Kurata proving the most formidable of the fighters, what with him being a ninja and all, resulting in some of the most novel setpieces in the genre and culminating not in some jingoistic finale as the cynics might have expected, but genuine respect and understanding to set an example: if they could live in harmony after that, so could we. Music by Chen Yung-Yu.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Lau Kar-Leung  (1934 - 2013)

Chinese director and actor and one of the most influential martial arts film-makers of the 1970s. Kar-Leung joined the Shaw Brothers studio in 1965 where he worked as an actor and fight choreographer, before making his directing debut in 1975 with the kung fu comedy The Spiritual Boxer. A series of martial arts classics followed, including 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Shaolin Mantis, Dirty Ho, Mad Monkey Kung Fu and My Young Auntie. Kar-Leung was a strong believer that fight sequences should be shot in single, wide shots to showcase the natural skill of the martial artists, which was at odds with those directors who prefered wirework and fast editing.

Kar-Leung continued to direct throughout the eighties, with period films like Shaolin Temple, starring a young Jet Li, and modern-day action flicks Tiger on the Beat and its sequel. In 1994, worked as fight arranger on Jackie Chan's Drunken Master II, but was controversially sacked from the production when his methods clashed with Chan's. In retaliation, he directed his own Drunken Master 3 later the same year. Kar-Leung's last film was 2002's old-fashioned Drunken Monkey, once more for Shaw Brothers.

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