Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Chang Cheh at the Quad: Heroes Two

Shaolin brotherhood means never having to say sorry for accidentally serving up a comrade to the Manchurian oppressors (but it would still be a nice gesture). At first, Fang Sai-yuk and Hung Si-kuan will fight each other, but they are destined to fight shoulder-to-shoulder in Heroes Two, Chang Cheh’s Shaw Brothers-produced-red-meat-martial-arts-fastball-over-the-plate, which screens as part of the Quad’s upcoming retrospective, Vengeance is His: Chang Cheh’s Martial Lore, co-presented by the New York Asian Film Festival.

Dastardly Gen. Che Kang has razed the Shaolin temple and massacred the Ming loyalists inside, but Hung managed to slip out to fight another day. Unfortunately, Che’s thugs convince the Shaolin trained Fang his brother is actually a violent criminal, using all the battered henchmen he leaves in his wake as evidence. Alas, Fang (a popular wuxia hero since the Qing era) has more enthusiasm than intuition, so he realizes his mistake at the precise moment it is too late.

Wracked with guilt, Fang connects with the last of the local Shaolin remnant. Learning Che is holding Hung in his dungeon (which would have been our first guess anyway), Fang tries a frontal assault, but barely survives the power of the general’s iron-mojo-fist. Instead, he falls back on plan B: tunneling like Bronson in The Great Escape.

Apparently, Chang needed the help of science fiction novelist Ni Kuang to wrestle this super complex screenplay into submission. Okay, so it is a pretty straight forward string of fight sequences, but at least they sketch out a moderately interesting assortment of supporting characters. Bruce Tong Yim-chaan gives the film archetypal depth as Nien Shui-ching, the son out to avenge his father murdered at the temple. Tong convincingly portrays him as a disciple with above-average but not super-human Kung Fu chops. Fong Sam also gives the film some verve as 3rd Sister, the widowed restaurant proprietress affiliated with Shaolin and the Ming underground.

Of course, this film is all about fighting, but happily Fu Sheng (in his breakout role) and Chen Kuan-tai were definitely up to the physical demands. Throughout the film, they are constantly fighting, running, or getting the snot kicked out of them. They have the skills and the right presence for each hero (youthful exuberance or enlightened brooding, respectively).

In many ways, Heroes Two matches the stereotypical image of Kung Fu movies many non-fans have in their heads, but that is also the source of its unfussy, eager-to-entertain charm. You want tiger claw and stork technique, well, Chang and action directors Tony Kai and Liu Chia-liang have you covered. Recommended as old school escapist fun, Heroes Two screens this Friday (5/25) and the following Tuesday (5/29), as part of Chang Cheh’s Martial Lore at the Quad.