Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Yuko Mizuno, Yasuaki Kurata, Simon Yuen Hsiao-Tien, Lau Kar-Leung, Wilson Tong Wai-Shing, Norman Tsui Siu-Keung, Cheng Miu, Lee Hoi Sang, Ouyang Shafei, Cheng Hong-Yip, Poon Bing-Seung, Ha Ping, Hoh Lin-Dai, Wong Bat-Ging, Peter Chan Lung, San Sin, Lee King-Chue, Hsiao Hou
Written by: Ni Kuang
Directed by: Lau Kar-leung
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Mandarin/Cantonese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 104
Date: 12/30/1978

Heroes of the East (1979)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Shaolin vs. Ninja

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If King Hu's Come Drink with Me seemed like a breakthrough with its tough girl hero, just get a look at this culturally sensitive film filled with dazzling battle sequences -- and no casualties. Gordon Liu stars as Tao, a Chinese man who agrees to an arranged marriage with a Japanese woman, Kuda (Yuko Mizuno). No meek and mild-mannered housewife, she quickly makes it clear that she intends to hang onto her own Japanese rituals in her new Chinese house.

When she practices her martial arts, she cheerfully destroys the garden and annoys the neighbors. She disregards her husband's Chinese weapons, so he challenges her to a battle, which she loses. But she doesn't lose gracefully: she hurls dishes at the dinner table, then packs up and leaves for Japan. Tao writes her a letter, but the letter is misunderstood as a challenge, and so seven Japanese masters of seven different martial arts arrive to fight him.

Tao must figure out which Chinese methods he can use to effectively combat his opponents. But the cultural divide keeps entering into the equation. When Tao wins a swordfight, his opponent offers his sword to Tao; ignorant of the custom, Tao refuses, thereby insulting his opponents further. In another sequence, Tao studies drunken boxing and adapts the technique into his own fighting style. But can he face the "sneaky, underhanded tricks" of the ninja?

There's a concerted effort to acknowledge the cultural divide, which is fascinating. Amazingly, the Japanese warriors are treated -- more or less -- as actual human beings and not the usual sneering bad guys seen in most Chinese movies. (Although, given the country's history, this is understandable.) Director Lau Kar-leung (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Mad Monkey Kung Fu, etc.) emphasizes each battle over the outcome, and the result is dazzling and refreshing.

The Dragon Dynasty DVD, (#28), released in conjunction with Come Drink with Me, comes with another Bey Logan commentary track, a tribute to Lau Kar-leung, an interview with Gordon Liu, an interesting little featurette about the weapons of China and Japan, and trailers.

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