Directed by Cheng Cheh in 1974 for the Shaw Brothers studio, Heroes Two may not carry the same sort of clout as better known Shaw productions like The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin or The Five Deadly Venoms but that doesn't mean it's any less impressive.
When the picture begins, in the Qing Dynasty, the sinister Manchu lay waste to the beloved Shaolin Temple and burn it to the ground. Not at all happy about this, Hung Si Kuan (Chen Kuan Tai) decides to pay the Manchu back in kind and take out as many of their men as he can, but soon finds that he needs to get out of there while he still can, before General Che Kang (Zhu Mu) captures him. Hung decides to go it alone, wandering around the more rural areas of the country taking on anyone who might dare to challenge him.
Meanwhile, General Kang alerts Fong Sai Yuk (Alexander Fu Sheng) to the presence of a nasty criminal in the area. Fong Sai Yuk, being a great protector and all, decides that he'll lead the General's troops against this menace, who not so surprisingly turns out to be Hung. They succeed in capturing him this time, and promptly imprison him so that he can't cause them anymore headaches. All hope seems lost for Hung, until Fong Sai Yuk is attacked and he clues into the fact that Kang was using him. Fong Sai Yuk springs Hung from prison, and off the pair go to set things right
While the storyline does lean towards predictable, Chang Cheh has nevertheless crafted a remarkably exciting film with this effort. The fights come frequently enough that the pace remains quick throughout and as such the picture is never dull, but we get to know just enough about the various characters that they stay interesting to us. Don't get the impression that you're going to know everyone's life story, that's not the case, but there are enough little quirks and mannerisms that it's easy to keep everyone sorted out, particularly when the lines between good and evil are as clear as they are in this picture.
The fight scenes are what you're here for, however, and on that level Heroes Two absolutely does not disappoint. As mentioned, the fights are frequent but so too are they wonderfully choreographed and really well shot. The different styles used throughout the film by the different participants provides some great visual contrast while the multitude of kicks and punches hit harder than you'd probably expect them to. Alexander Fu Sheng and Chen Huan Tai do most of the heavy lifting, at least as far as what we see on screen is concerned, but even the poor bastards who find themselves going up against them have got some pretty impressive moves, not the least of whom is Zhu Mu as the dastardly general. Tang Chia and Lar Kar Leung handled the fight choreography for this picture and every ounce of their efforts is up there on the screen to marvel.
In terms of the performances, the film is about average for a Shaw Brothers martial arts film of this vintage. Being a Cheng Cheh film and all, it's not a shock that the picture deals with the themes of loyalty and brotherly heroics, and Alexander Fu Sheng and Chen Huan Tai are well suited to their roles here. Once they realize that they're fighting for essentially the same cause and decide to cooperate rather than oppose one another, they wind up making a really great team. Really, when you sit down and watch this one from start to finish, it leaves very little room to complain. It's an efficient film with enough flamboyance to impress on a visual level that delivers a tried and true story with some great performances and a literal bounty of all important ass kicking fight scenes.
Media Blasters presents Heroes Two on DVD in 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is as bright, bold and colorful as it should be. There isn't much in the way of print damage to note, and the restored picture is quite good. Detail is fine, contrast is set right and black levels are nice and deep and show fine shadow detail. There aren't any compression artifacts to complain about and skin tones look nice and natural, if just occasionally waxy here and there.
Mono tracks are provided in English and Mandarin while a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is offered in English only. Subtitles are in English only. The 5.1 track spreads things out fairly well and adds a bit of atmosphere and ambience to the film, but generally the mono mixes sound a bit more authentic. There are no problems with clarity and no issues with hiss or distortion. Overall the three mixes here are clean sounding, and those who want the mono tracks can have their way while those who prefer the 5.1 remixes can also leave happy.
The extras start off with a strong audio commentary from the late Linn Hayes, a self styled kung fu movie historian who definitely knew his stuff. Here he puts this film into context against some of the director's other pictures and offers up some interesting trivia and background information not only on the director but on the principal cast members as well. It's a lively talk with a good amount of information packed into it, one which Shaw Brothers fans and martial arts aficionados will certainly appreciate.
Media Blasters have also provided and Interview WithChen Kuan-Tai (8:34), who talks about how he worked on this film at a young age and what it was like being involved with the various people he worked with on this project. He also talks about the film's themes a bit. It's a bit on the short side, but still quite interesting, particularly when he starts giving us his take on what it was like to work with Cheng Cheh.
Rounding out the extras are the original English language opening, the original version of the Three Styles Of Hung Fist (9:01) sequence (narrated in English and taken from a poor VHS source but great to see never the less) which played before Heroes Two during its original theatrical run, a still gallery, three different trailers for the feature, trailers for other, unrelated Media Blasters properties, static menus and chapter selection. The film is available to watch with or without the Three Styles Of Hung Fist intro, the one that plays before the feature (not to be confused with the one in the extra features section), runs nineteen seconds longer.
While Heroes Two may seem a bit familiar, story wise, to those seasoned in Shaw Brothers period martial arts films, it's so well done that you probably won't care. The direction is tight and rock solid, the performances enthusiastic and impressive, and the fight sequences border on jaw droppingly good. Media Blasters has done a pretty admirable job on this disc, offering up impressive audio and video and more extras than most Shaw Brothers releases available at the time of this writing. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.