Heroes of the East (1979)

I took a complete random punt on this when I spotted it at my local JB Hi-Fi, I was looking around the Eastern Eye section one day a few months ago and spotted this Dragon Dynasty release there. I didn’t recognise the title, but I spotted Lau Kar-Leung’s name on the box art and decided it had to be worth a try. Closer inspection of IMDB revealed the film is actually better known as Shaolin Challenges Ninja, and Bey Logan’s book regards it highly under that name, so I felt I’d made a fair pick, and on viewing tonight at last I think I was indeed right. Gordon Liu is present (and bewigged—I had a feeling that couldn’t be his real head of hair, and Logan’s commentary confirmed as much) and correct as Ho Tao, the son of a Chinese businessman married off for business reasons to a Japanese girl, who proves—to his less than unmitigated delight—to be something of a destructive tigress when it comes to martial arts, leading to a string of disputes about the merits of Chinese vs Japanese martial arts and culture in general; when she takes herself back to Japan and he sends her a challenge letter, a group of Japanese fighters—including her ninjitsu master former lover—accept it to defend her honour. And the complications don’t quite stop ensuing there. It’s a romantic comedy of a somewhat twisted sort, there’s plenty of such films built around the happy couple squabbling but I can’t think of any other involving a team of martial artists like this… and needless to say there’s no prizes for guessing who will prevail in a Chinese film about a clash between Chinese and Japanese fighters, but Lau was determined to depict all combatants with respect rather than making the Japanese warriors the usual villainous stereotypes. Apart from being great entertainment it must’ve done more good for Sino-Japanese relations than Hapkido, for example…


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