Heroes Two Review
In his life time, director Chang Cheh made just over 100 movies, most of which were in association with leading production house Shaw Brothers. It was during the ten year period between 1967 and 1977 that he made his most prolific works of art, directing tales of brotherly bonds, self sacrifice and above all honour that featured high concept martial artistry and a healthy dousing of violent bloodshed.
Heroes Two takes a moment from history that had chronicled a time when the Manchurians burned down the Fukien Shaolin Temple during the Ching Dynasty, from which they began to conquer. This was largely due to an ever present resistance from the Chinese people who were specially trained at the temple and posed a great threat unless drastic measures were taken. When most of the monks living inside were killed, very few escaped and subsequently further Shaolin resistance groups were formed until the Manchurians were finally driven out.
Chang Cheh's film momentarily reflects this period but in all essence it is more inclined toward the tale of two men, brought together by a bond, whose purpose it is to rise up against an evil general and restore honour to their brotherhood.
After Manchurian General Che Kang (Zhu Mu) has his followers burn down a Shaolin Temple, born fighter Hung Hsi Kuan (Chen Kuan Tai) escapes wounded and manages to evade or punish those chasing him, that is until he runs into the famed hero, Fang Shih Yu (Alexander Fu Sheng) who has fallen for the Manchurians' story that Hung is a murderous robber. Shortly after defeating him in a battle, Fang turns over Hung to the Manchurian leader, where he is then confined to shackles in a cave until Che Kang decides upon a time to end his life. Learning that he has made a grave mistake, Fang Shih Yu gathers the help of his close friends and together they fight to free Hung and regain their strength to face General Che Kang and his army in an epic showdown.
Heroes Two is another great spin on the life of two very famous martial art masters, known in Cantonese as Hung Kei Koon and Fong Sai Yuk, the latter of which had been brought to life by Chang Cheh favourite, Alexander Fu Sheng in his first major starring role, playing the part that Jet Li would later step into for Corey Yuen's imaginatively titled Fong Sai-Yuk films. The considerably young 19 year old who wasn't classically trained as a martial artist is helped along by the extreme talents of legendary choreographer, Lau Kar Leung. Although Fu Sheng doesn't always look the part 100% during his fights, he his guided through with veteran Chen Kuan Tai in several high adrenaline sequences, featuring some intricate hand techniques and a good sense of fluidity that can be seen in many drawn out static shots, with a particularly long and gruelling sequence that rounds off the film's final act.
Despite its fight sequences being technically proficient there is a certain amount of silly antics going on that require the viewer to switch off and forget that a man who has been chained up against a wall for several days, with not much in the way of nutrition can suddenly beat up a horde of enemies and not lose any breath, or that it matters not how many times a hero is wounded in a key area from which his skill derives from, he can still kick an enemy to shreds, or that a bloody great tunnel can be dug in such a short time. But that is to be expected as is such the nature of the film, which merely wants to provide as much bloody violence as possible without going too deeply into its underlying theme. There's enough directing flair from Chang Cheh to appease and curiously his artistic vision stretches somewhat toward the end when some of the film's more vicious scenes are colour tinted in an almost blood red, which still carry some weight but may also prove to be an indication of censorship law.
The newly formed Momentum Asia label brings us the first of what is to be an ongoing series of re-mastered Shaw Brother’s releases. These masters have been sourced from the same ones used for IVL/Celestial Hong Kong releases.
For a film made 31-years ago it would be hard to guess when looking at this transfer. To put it simply this is an almost stunning restoration, that had it not been for a couple of slight issues I would have given it higher marks. The image is presented in its original Shaw Scope ratio of 2.35:1 but sadly like its Hong Kong counterpart is non-anamorphic, and due to the positioning of the subtitles it cannot be zoomed in and enjoyed. This is indeed a great shame as it was a perfect opportunity for Momentum Asia to go that extra mile and please us UK fans in that respect. Still the image is often pristine with high levels of detail, particularly during close up shots, with wider shots lacking in focus at times (which seems to be an unavoidable aspect). Colours are vivid but black levels are slightly weaker and this is where a lower contrast wins over the otherwise gorgeous print. As an extra note this image is interlaced.
Already there is no clear winner over the transfer quality of the film but where IVL used a newly created 5.1 track for their Hong Kong release, Momentum Asia give us a great 2.0 Mandarin track, which is all we ask for anyway. Dialogue clarity is rich and the sounds of fists connecting and men grinding and grunting in time to their movements is suitably up tempo. There's very little to complain about, that is unless any super-duper, ultra hardcore fans pick up on something I've missed.
Removable English subtitles are provided and are easy to read, with no noticeable problems.
Unfortunately Momentum Asia have skimped on extras, the least I feel they could have done was provide a little background history, maybe some archive footage or interviews. All that is present on the disc in terms of bonus material are several trailers to promote upcoming Momentum Asia releases which are Heroes Two, The Heroic Ones, Spiritual Boxer, Human Lanterns, Death Duel and The Magnificent Trio.
Heroes Two is a great effort from Chang Cheh which delivers spades of great action amongst a thinner plot, which need not take precedence over what is essentially a testosterone fight fest from start to finish. With charismatic performances from its leads it presents likeable characters and sustains itself well for its run time.
My only complaint with this release is that due to its non-anamorphic presentation and lack of meaty extras the recommended £19.99 price tag is asking just a bit too much, especially when you consider these films can be picked up for almost a quarter of the price from popular online retailers (including one of our own affiliates) the choice isn't a very difficult one to make. Fans may be swayed however by the UK release retaining the original 2.0 audio track.