Heroes Two [方 世玉與洪熙官] (1974)
AKA Kung Fu Invaders, Blood Brothers, Bloody Fists, Temple of the Dragon
Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chen Kuan-Tai, Fong Sam, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Wong Ching, Wu Chi-Chin, Zhu Mu
Directed By Chang Cheh
Before I get started I’d like to mention that this film is prefaced with a short feature from the Shaw Studios titled Three Styles of the Hung School’s Kung Fu. It features the stars of Heroes Two performing actual solo demonstrations of the Hung style kung fu, which is featured throughout the film. Spoken narration details the characteristics of the style and how it came into being. It makes for a classy introduction, and really piqued my interest as I had no clue the Shaw Studios made shorts as well as features. With the amazing restorations from the folks at Celestial Pictures, I hope these become a more common bonus on these DVDs.
Heroes Two falls into the classic “Manchu vs. Chinese rebels” template that the Shaw Studios loved to crank out in their heyday. Second only to the “rival kung fu school poisons the master who is then unable to do kung fu for three months, so the top student must take revenge” film. What makes this movie stand out is that it tells the quasi-fictional tale of not one, but two Chinese folk heroes. I instantly think back to those Marvel team-up comics from the late ’70s. When you saw both Spider-Man AND The Thing laying the beat-down, you knew that shit was gonna be gold. Heroes Two carries forth that basic concept and features the killer combo of Hung Si-Kwan (Chen Kwan-Tai) and Fong Sai-Yuk (played here by the legendary Alexander Fu Sheng).
Fu Sheng was a badass on so many levels that he really deserves a blog post of his own. He oozes charisma, and casting him as Fong Sai-Yuk, who was pretty much the Rudy Ray Moore of 19th century China, was a no-brainer. He puts the Hung’s crane style on full display here and it is both fluid and effortless. Chen Kwan-Tai on the other hand is simply brutal. His take on the Hung style is a borderline savage dance of in-fighting featuring all kinds of intricate arm locks, wrist grabs, and neck punches. The way this guy completely has his way with his opponents and mows through them with machine-like precision is simply amazing. I remember first seeing him as the old guy who teaches Gordon Liu kung fu in Challenge of the Masters. I used to rent that tape from Blockbuster and watch it religiously. What kept me coming back wasn’t Gordon Liu. It was that stoic, no-nonsense master who was beating the shit out of him with the bamboo every three minutes. I always considered him one of the lesser-sung heroes of the Shaw Studios who never really got his due, both as an actor and as a martial artist. My only beef with his role in Heroes Two is that he spends half of the fucking movie chained to a wall. He completely decimates every other actor on-screen in terms of raw skill for the first 20 minutes or so, leaving you hungry for more… Then you are forced to watch him plastered up there, completely helpless for the next hour, as unworthy opponents point up and talk smack.
Chang Cheh, who was notorious for violence and blood, earning him the infamous handle of “The Tomato Juice Director”, actually shows a little restraint here. But towards the end, we get a decent dose of his wacky shit when the heroes are pitted against four Lamas. Every time a critical hit connects, the screen is bathed in a deep red tint. Sometimes he simply forgoes the tint altogether, literally painting the entire screen red with blood. Yes sir, Mr. Chang certainly had no qualms about letting you know damn well when some poor bastard took a death-blow. Handheld camera-work also makes a few appearances here, but as in virtually all of Chang Cheh’s films, it never feels overbearing or out of place.
Ultimately though, it’s the performances of the lead “heroes” of Heroes Two that saves it from simply being standard Shaw Bros. fare. If you’re a fan of either, I’d definitely recommend you give this one a go.