The team & guests cover Shaw Brothers classics from Arrow Video’s Blu-ray box set!
Cinapse has always been, and will always be, about cinematic discovery and discussion. Our Shawscope Volume One: Round Table Reviews column is, therefore, a watch project allowing our team, and guests, to work our way through this phenomenal 12 film Blu-ray box set from Arrow Video. These capsule reviews from a variety of writers are designed to give quick glimpses of our thoughts on all of these films as we discover them for ourselves. Some of us are experts and some of us are new to the world of Shaw Brothers studio and kung fu cinema in general. All of us are excited for the adventure.
The Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers Studio cranked out a staggering number of feature films over its lifetime. With worldwide influence continuing to this very day, their contributions to cinema are myriad and undeniable. But with the vast output they generated, it can be hard for modern audiences to wade into their catalogue and find the diamonds in the rough. Fortunately, Arrow Video has curated their first Volume of 12 titles; a phenomenal way to wade into the deep waters of the Shaw Brothers. Beyond just capsule reviews, our team will also offer thoughts on the curation of the set and bonus features found within. Watch along with us, join us in the comments, or reach out to us on social media (linked below) if you’d like to submit your own contributions!
Compared to the bloody and murderous Crippled Avengers, Heroes Of The East tells a downright quaint tale of cross cultural love and chivalrous combat. The inimitable (if poorly be-wigged) Gordon Liu stars as Ho Tao, the son of a wealthy merchant with many business contacts in Japan. Once he’s married via arrangement to the Japanese beauty Yumiko (played by real life Japanese martial artist Yuka Mizuno), their communication and marital bliss begin to break down as they compete over the various strengths of their Chinese vs. Japanese martial arts. Soon a full on crisis breaks out when various Japanese champions misunderstand a letter Tao writes to Yumiko, challenging their skills, and Tao ends up forced into daily duels with various Japanese champions. This being a Shaw Brothers production out of Hong Kong… of course Tao is positioned as the hero and will overcome each Japanese challenger in order to unequivocally prove the superiority of Chinese martial arts. The real fun of this film is those various duels, with Tao fighting a karate expert, a judo man, a nunchuck wielder, and ultimately a ninja. Hilariously this film’s commentary track dedicates an enormous amount of time to kind of debunking the historicity of ninjas as we know them, and I did find that fascinating. These duels are hugely entertaining and each end with a sportsmanlike concession by the loser. There are no blood geysers or severed limbs here.
That said, there’s a repetitive nature to all of this. And the film absolutely loses its romantic roots in favor of these challenges. Yumiko simply disappears from the narrative entirely to make room for Liu to outwit these opponents. It’s unfortunate as women are so rarely integral to Shaw Brothers stories and this could have been an opportunity for Yuka Mizuno to really have a weighty dramatic role here, instead of just inciting a series of escalatingly epic duels. Slight, lighthearted, and loaded with clever fight pairings, Heroes Of The East is wholesome middle tier Shaw. — Ed Travis
It’s almost impossible to watch Heroes of the East and not be reminded of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s iconic comic masterwork Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The fim has Gordon Liu, after a misunderstanding with his Japanese wife (he’s Chinese), having to prove his worthiness to her as a martial artist by squaring off against 7 masters of different martial arts disciplines — one of them being a possible suitor. The film drops the usually tense animosity between the two countries to tell a story about two martial artists in an arranged marriage from Japan and China, who spar both verbally and physically. It’s the Shaw Brother equivalent to a romantic comedy as it’s only when Liu is tested that his wife Yumiko Kōda (Yuka Mizuno) understands how much he actually loves her. It’s surprisingly charming, light and definitely one of the more unique films on the set. I really dug its airy premise that allowed us to take a break from historical epics. — Dan Tabor
Admittedly, I have a bit of Kung Fu-tigue right now. I’ve watched the Shaw set through with the team and a few other Kung Fu films intermittently in the past few weeks too… thus, I hadn’t been excited to press play on Heroes of the East. However, I must admit, the different tone and unique story, as compared to much of what I’d been consuming in this Shaw world as of late, won me over pretty quickly.
The clash of styles was fun, the clash of husband and wife was fun, and the introduction of ninjitsu was also fun. I truly enjoyed the quirks and differences this one demonstrated in these plot points, as well as the strong use of comedic tone throughout tense moments. And, while it didn’t fully overcome the fatigue I’m feeling after weeks of Kung Fu films, it came damn close.
Liu is great, as is expected, but for me Yuka Mizuno’s Yumiko steals every scene she’s in. Maybe it’s because I can’t help but root for badass women kicking ass in the wake of current national events — either way, it’s completely notable that her stubbornness and skill are extremely captivating. She demonstrates great will, at times to a fault. And, it’s fair to ask why she should be the one to acquiesce and not her husband. I admire her gusto.
All in all, this is a fun one and I’m glad I jumped in… even if a bit reluctantly. It was among the stronger entries in this already strong set. — Justin Harlan
And We’re Out.
Shawscope Volume 1 is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video