Thursday, July 18, 2013

REVIEWS: My review of Heroes of the East aka Shaolin vs Ninja (1978)

Ho Tao: "The highest order is following the martial arts way."


Heroes of the East was also known as Shaolin Challenges Ninja and also Shaolin vs. Ninja. Lau Kar Leung directed this 1978 classic in which Gordon Liu, who plays Ho Tao, a Chinese man marries a Japanese bride. She practices various forms of Japanese martial arts around the house and breaks things and seems un-ladylike to Ho Tao. There is a misunderstanding between husband and wife over which country's martial arts are better. She goes back to Japan to seek her childhood friend and sensei, Takeno, played by the great Yasuaki Kurata.

Ho Tao trying to use reverse pyschology to get his wife to return home writes a letter stating that the Chinese martial arts are superior to the Japanese martial arts. His plan backfires as Takeno reads the letter and departs for China along with his sensei and 6 other Japanese martial arts experts to take up Ho Tao's challenge.

At this point in the movie, it's almost all non-stop fights until the exciting final fight between Takeno and Ho Tao. We are treated to sunch great matchups including:

  • Karate vs Drunken Fist
  • Yari vs Qiang (spear fights)
  • Nunchuku & Tonfa vs 3 sectioned-staff
  • Sais vs Butterfly swords
To Lau Kar Leung's credit, the matchups highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of both the Japanese martial arts and Chinese martial arts. Look for him in a cameo as a drunken master 'teaching' Gordon Liu's Ho Tao the Drunken Fist.

My Review

This is my all-time favorite Gordon Liu/Lau Kar Leung movie! Yes, even over 36th Chamber of Shaolin aka Master Killer, which is #2 on my list. Director Lau departs from the then popular Shaw Brothers theme favored by director Chang Cheh, namely:  heroic bloodshed. The hero, although injured and bleeding, will continue to fight on heroically (and unrealistically) until the last enemy has been vanquished. Lau Kar Leung's movies always explores themes of hard work paying off, honor, respect, and the relationship between master and student. In the Chinese martial arts, this is called Martial Morality (武德 - Mo Duk in Cantonese and Wu De in Mandarin).

The respect theme is evident in Heroes of the East as the Japanese are not cast as the stereotypical villains e.g. Bruce Lee's The Chinese Connection. No one was killed in this movie which was also not the norm further showing honor and respect. What was to be a friendly match of skills turned into a heated battle to prove one martial arts superiority over the other due to a misunderstanding due to language barrier when Ho Tao didn't accept the Kenjutsu expert's katana when Ho defeated him. Ho was humble in victory after each match and in the end, he honored all his opponents.

Also, part of Lau Kar Leung's legacy and how his is divergent from Chang Cheh's is the addition of strong female characters. In Chang's heroic bloodshed movies, female characters are almost non-existent. Lau in Heroes of the East, gives us Yuka Mizuno as Yumiko "Kung Zi" Kōda. Another is Kara Hui in My Young Auntie.

This movie didn't have the extended training sequences Lau is known for, but it makes up with the great fights between Liu and his seven opponents. I wholeheartedly recommend this movie!

Enjoy the full movie below! For those who are watching this movie for the first time, I have three words for you. I ENVY YOU!

Further information:

Other full movies posted to date:

Lau Kar Leung passed away almost one month ago. Please check out these entries:

My friend David Black Mastro, also known as TrueFightScholar on some of the martial arts forums, wrote 2 great articles on the spear in both the Japanese & Chinese martial arts. If you have not read it before, please check it out here:

Hope you enjoyed the movie as well as some of the readings!



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