At one point in The East is Red (1993), a lovely concubine is actually revealed to be an albino ninja in a diaper, who during his escape leaps into the air and blends into the moon on the horizon. He then gets slashed but, with his last breath, opens his mouth and spits out a messenger pigeon... Seriously, if that ten or fifteen seconds of film doesn't have you sold, then read no further. That pretty much sums up the appeal of the film, and that is not even close to being the wackiest fantasy action moment that the film contains.
The East is Red is also Swordsman 3, though viewing the first two films isn't necessary at all. You even get a nice little recap of the second film's ending at the start of East is Red. The first Swordsman film was an uneasy marriage between stately and elegant veteran martial film director King Hu (Come Drink With Me, A Touch of Zen) and Tsui Hark's production banner, which basically has never met a plot essential scene it couldn't whittle down to 30 seconds in favor of some action. Needless to say, King Hu and Tsui Hark sensibilities were like oil and water so the first film was unwieldy. The two sequel films are more stand alone, whiz, bang, outrageous fantasy action vehicles courtesy of visionary Ching Sui Tung (Chinese Ghost Story, Duel to the Death).
In a pretty quirky move, the villain of Swordsman 2 is the main character in The East is Red. I guess Jet Li, the hero of Swordsman 2, had become too big of a star to return. But, if a villain was ever enigmatic enough to warrant carrying a movie, it would be Asia The Invincible played by Brigette Lin (Chungking Express, The Bride With White Hair, Peking Opera Blues).
The film begins a few years after the menacing, eunuch leader fo the Sun Moon Sect plunged off a cliff, seemingly to his death. Asia The Invincible actually went into hiding, under a disguise, keeping to the ruins of his temple where the superstitious now fear to tread. Officer Koo (Rongguang Yu- Iron Monkey) is escorting a Spanish battalion to the area and aids them in finding some gun ships that were sunk just off the coast. So, a bunch of people poking around his crib sends Asia in to a rage, a rage that is furthered when Officer Koo informs Asia that he has become a mythological figure spawning cults that worship him and imposters that profit from his name.
Turns out, among those impersonating Asia is his old squeeze Snow (Joey Wong- Chinese Ghost Story, Green Snake). There are some ninjas after his head. He has a run in with a cult. Basically, Asia goes on a path of destruction, out to prove he isn't a mere myth and he'll destroy anyone that gets in his way, even his old flame who Koo takes a shine too. Yep, it's a hard life when you're a self-loathing meglomanical guy who sacrificed his sex for supreme martial art prowess and power.
East is Red is a pure cash-in movie. The second Swordsman film proved popular and helped usher in the new wave swordplay films that nestled into the early 90's Hong Kong box office, so they figured why not make another one? You don't need much of a plot, just a thin idea and a bunch of inventive action scenes to hang around it and you're gold. Enjoyment of the film hinges not on the story but one wether or not you want to watch ninja dwarves, transforming ships, and people doing high wire kung fu stunts.
Brigette Lin became the Garbo of Hong Kong cinema, a woman who specialized in strong roles and decided to abandon acting right as she seemed to be reaching a peak. Her role as Asia The Invincible started her being typecast in a wave of fantasy action films where she played cross-dressing badasses. She does a great job, but, unfortunately, one of the things that made the second film so successful was Jet Li. In the absence of a hero character, or anyone that is really an A-list martial arts actor, the action in East is Red is a bit lacking. Sure, Asia can do more gruesome things with a needle than Ed Gein, but overall the film ends up suffering from what I call ‟Stuntman Syndrome,‟ where the stunt performers have to do so much stand-in work for the actors that the action becomes impersonal.
But, again, it does have ninja dwarves...
The DVD: Universe.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Not the greatest image in the world; however it is a vast improvement over the original Universe release. Of course, thats not saying much. The print is a bit spotty, soft, and has a lean towards hues that are a tad too warm, rendering flesh tones too flush with red. Certainly good enough to watch and own, but nowhere near the quality it could be if they actually put some effort into securing a better transfer.
Sound: DTS or 5.1 Cantonese or Mandarin language tracks with optional Chinese or English subtitles. Basically tinkered with eh surround a little but the original fx still comes across as pretty tinny and weak. Personally, I would have liked a little more bass response adding some punch to the score and power to the action. The subtitles are a complete mess, rife with grammatical errors and misspellings. You'll get such gems as ‟Does it worth?‟ and ‟Why do he hang up the flag?‟ It makes the feverish plot much harder to decipher.
Extras: Not much, slipcase cover, trailer, text synopsis, and cast and crew bios.
Conclusion: Well, one would assume a remastered edition of a film wouldn't have lackluster picture quality and terrible subtitles. The folks over at Universe only get away with the ‟remastered‟ tag because their first DVD edition of the film was garbage. As for the film, it is a decent enough HK new wave, fantasy action film, though not quite up to the level of classics like Dragon Inn, Burning Paradise, or Swordsman 2. I'd lean towards a rental for casual fans and a throwaway purchase for die hard HK cinema freaks.