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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Heroes
The Heroes
Tai Seng // Unrated // November 13, 2001
List Price: $14.95 [Buy now and save at Hkflix]
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted February 5, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The Story: The Ching Dynasty is at its end, being overrun by the cruel Mings, who set out to destroy the Shaolin Temple and all of its students. Aiding them is Marshall Kao (Ti Lung), a former Shaolin student. But, as they raid the Shaolin temple, Marshall Kao holds back when the Abbot is attacked, he encourages that the students be captured, not executed, and when he is ordered to burn the temple down, he is silently remorseful as he begrudgingly sets the temple aflame.

Marsahll Kao, is in fact not a traitor, but secretly he has hatched a plan to keep Shaolin alive. He is utterly alone, refusing to possibly spoil his ploy by revealing it to the rogue Ching Patriots or his fellow captured Shaolin brothers. Instead he plays the part of a turncoat, fighting his former friends for the Emperors amusement, and putting his brothers though various forms of torture while asking them to become members of the Ming Dynasty. But, the torture is his way of training his brothers, strengthening them, even though they curse at him and don't realize his intentions. Marshal Kao's scheme puts a heavy burden on his soul, and his sympathies do not go unnoticed by some members of the Ming inner circle. Will Kao be able to keep up his plan? And, as the rebels begin to make their move against the Mings, will either side ever see Kao's true intentions and where his heart lies before it is too late?

The Film: The Heroes (1980, aka The Shaolin Heroes, Story of Chivalry and The Unforgiven of Shaolin) has one of the better plots in kung fu filmdom. A man alone, with a plan so secretive, he cannot even tell those he is trying to help, is looked upon as a traitor, and must act as a friend to an enemy he despises. Even as he witnesses his brothers being beaten and murdered, he has to constantly pretend he is ruthless, a backstabber, and hide any remorse or sympathy for his friends. The film shows his motivation, how he is able to keep up his ruse, by using flashbacks to his days in the Shaolin temple where the Abbot teaches them to hide their pain, take ridicule and scorn, and how "A hero is one how sacrifices himself for others." And, that is something this martial melodrama tragedy does all too well.

In addition to its huge cast of noteworthy names, this is a pretty large scaled independent production, with big sets and colorful costumes. The film was directed by Wu Ma, who also co-stars as a prisoner, and is a classic figure in HK cinema history for his direction of such films as Shaolin Deadly Kicks, Dead and the Deadlyand Just Heroes as well as his large list of acting roles. The action direction was supervised by Robert Tai (Brave Archer, Invincible Shaolin, Thundering Mantis and Five Deadly Venoms). Ti Lung is probably best known for his breakthrough dramatic performance in A Better Tomorrow but this film is from his days as one of the best martial actors in the business, acting in such films as Duel of the Iron Fists, Seven Blows of the Dragon and Avenging Eagle. I have to say, this is one of my favorite Ti Lung performances, especially in the final scenes. Other notable names include big kicker Tien Tao Liang (Hand of Death, Duel of the Devils, Shaolin Invincibles) as a Shaolin Brother, Michael Chan (Mysterious Footworks, Revenge of the Patriots, Chinese Super Ninjas) as the Ming Emperor, and a small role for Danny Lee (The Killer, Dr. Lamb, Rich and Famous, Iron Bodyguards) as a Ching rebel.

Although there are some choppy editing stumbles, considering it is an independent and the fast production of these films, its expected and forgivable. The pacing of the actual story is very tight and includes some great sequences, particularly the assassination attempt by the rebels on Marshal Kao. It involves a celebration in which they have placed one of their assassins in a group of dancing girls, and as she dances she tries to kill Kao. As she and Kao fight, keeping it a secret from the others, its almost reminiscent of a James Bond sequence- trying to maintain the subterfuge that nothing is going on as she tries to stab him and he defends himself, making it all part of the dance sequence. The fighting is what I call "ground fighting" (meaning no crazy acrobatics, wire or trampoline work, or supernatural fu- just two guys, hand to hand, feet to feet). Ti Lung's strong arm kung fu is put to good use, and its a real refreshing change of pace from all the modern fast editing, over the top fights. Sometimes its nice to pop in a movie like this and actually see every move two fighters are making, and not have their prowess amplified (or hidden) by editing tricks and other enhancement. Plus, the film has a great fifteen minute finale, culminating with Marshall Kao and the Emperor fighting the jail courtyard, while the Shaolin Brothers escape from their cells fighting their way out, and the Ching patriots attack the compound form the outside.

The DVD: Tai Seng Video presents one of the better (dare I say "high class?") films in their Martial Arts Theater line. Modestly priced with commentary.

Picture- Pretty fair Ocean Shores video master. There is the wear and tear kung fu fans would expect, with some softness, dirt, waviness, washed out color, and contrast problems, but overall its just your average run of the mill kung fu transfer. There are certainly far worse transfers out there, but this one wont leave you jumping for joy.

Sound- 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono English dub. Rather reverb heavy audio track. Particularly in the fights, which are loud and echo drenched like an old Ultraman episode, but apparently the film dub drops off in the fights, and we are hearing the original audio track, so it was intended to be that over the top.

Extras- 8 Chapters--- Tai Seng trailers for their Martial Arts Theater line, plus The Assassin, Deadful Melody, The Duel, Dragon Inn, Running Out of Time, Armageddon, Body Weapon, and Fist Power--- Commentary by Ric Meyers, of Inside Kung Fu magazine. Kinky fetishist Ric Meyers has made a career out of his gift for colorful hyperbole, industry connections, and having written a film guide that he took sole credit for by removing his co-authors names (their sections being the best written and accurate portions of the book). He is up front about the Ocean Shores video master, pointing out the logo, and then, for those that don't know, gives a nice rundown the story of kung fu distribution and Ocean Shores history with distributing kung fu films. Meyers reads from notes- Lord knows probably innacurate ones- and Meyers acknowledges that he is lost as he gets carried away listing filmographies of the stars (for example: he notes the producer was Kao Fei, who stared in, my favorite, Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, which gets him talking about Pole Fighters infamous finale). The other personal peeve I have is that, in a few spots, he jokingly points out flaws in the logic, or that a actor doesn't know how to fight, or the cheap set design. This sort of mocking would be fine in a less serious feature like Miracle Fighters, Jade Claw, or Enter the Fat Dragon, but in Heroes it only damages the suspension of disbelief in a good, no-nonsense martial arts drama. It is an annoying contradiction that, early on in the track, Meyers points out how these films were derided by critics and looked down upon as cheap and silly, but then Meyers himself falls prey to the same (although, in his case its more innocent) behavior by taking jabs at the film.

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