"The story is so simple it could be a kid's cartoon."
Heroes Two (1974)
AKA: Heroes 2, Blood Brothers, Bloody Fists, Kung Fu Invaders
Director: Chang Cheh
Producer: Shaw Brothers
Cast: Alexander Fu Sheng, Chen Kuan Tai, Fong Sam, Bruce Tong (Yim Chaan), Wong Ching, Zhu Mu, Fung Ngai, Chiang Nan, Fung Hak On, Tino Wong Cheung, Wong Shu Tong, Lau Kar Wing, Chan Chuen, Lee Hoi Sang, Wong Pau Gei, Stephan Yip (Tin Hang), Jamie Luk
Running Time: 91 min.
Plot: Tale of legendary Shaolin avengers Fang Shih-Yu (Fong Sai Yuk) and Hung Hsi-Kuan.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JOE909'S REVIEW: The first of Chang Cheh's Taiwan-produced, mid-1970s Shaolin Cycle, Heroes Two is the low-budget beginning of several films starring Fu Sheng, which culminated with the grand Shaolin Temple in 1976. Fu's later co-star Chi Kuan-Chun isn't in this movie, however; instead, Chen Kuan-Tai steps in as Hung Sze-Kwan, providing a supporting role to Sheng's Fong Sai-Yuk.
The story is so simple it could be a kid's cartoon. The Manchu have burned Shaolin to the ground, and only Hung Sze-Kwan escapes. Hung kills a whole bunch of the Ching bastards, and try as they might, they can't capture or kill him. This is especially troublesome for non-threatening main villain Zhu Mu, a Manchu prick given to sneering and not much else. His second in command, the cruel Fung Hak-On, is more of a believable main villain, but oh well.
Meanwhile, Fong Sai-Yuk makes a name for himself in the Chinese countryside, generally doing good deeds. A quick recap shows us his history: leaving Shaolin by the alley of death and defeating a Manchu dog while fighting on poles. These scenes can be seen more fully in two other Chang/Fu Sheng movies that are part of the Shaolin Cycle: Men from the Monastery and Shaolin Avengers. Fong's a good fighter, but he isn't very bright; the Manchu (foot soldiers, nonetheless, not even the leaders!) easily fool him into thinking Hung's a villain who's been murdering innocent people. Fong attacks Hung (much to Hung's amazement) and captures him for the Manchu, who promptly cart Hung off to be tortured in a dungeon.
Fong finds that the locals are now pissed at him. Only upon being attacked by fellow Shaolin students does our hero realize his screw-up. The movie provides its most touching moment as Fong breaks into the Manchu base, where Hung is chained to a stone wall. Knowing he's outnumbered and can't save Hung by himself, Fong nevertheless dashes into the dungeon as the Manchu attack him, just so he can kneel before Hung and beg forgiveness. Fong escapes, beaten bloody by Zhu Mu's special technique, and becomes a man possessed, devising a way to free Hung.
He soon gets an idea: he can dig a tunnel to free Hung. Unbelievably, this works, although it takes several days. Upon freeing Hung, the Shaolin fighters team together and wait for the Manchu, who of course follow the tunnel to see where it leads. So begins the final battle, with the Shaolin taking on Zhu Mu and his imported band of Tibetan warriors. Chang spices things up, as he does in the other Shaolin Cycle films, by using colored film gels to obscure the bloodshed. Not that the movie's very violent, especially when compared to other Chang Cheh films, but it still looks pretty brutal when these guys get impaled and chopped by swords.
Liu Chia-Liang served as fight choreographer, but the martial arts on display fall into the early 1970s "slow and awkward" category. Especially from Fu Sheng, all of 19 years old at the time, who obviously lacks the kung-fu skills he would later acquire. When he defeats Chen Kuan-Tai, it's hardly believable. I'm not saying the fights are "early Bruce Li" subpar quality, though. It's just that they aren't as good as in later Chang Shaolin movies. However, the quality of the fights increases as the film progresses, with the finale being very well done.
A problem also arises with the characterization. Fong Sai-Yuk is portrayed as a simpleton, easily swayed by anyone with a walnut-sized brain. Hung Sze-Kwan is more of a killer than the worst of the Manchu; I lost track of how many people he killed. Seriously, the guy's an early-model Terminator. The villains are all underdeveloped, particularly the hateable Zhu Mu. All the guy does during fights is lurk around, watching his men take on the Shaolin fighters, just to sneak up and throw in the occasional cheap shot.
The sets are low-budget, compared to later Shaolin films. Most of the movie is filmed outdoors, with the indoor sets mostly relegated to the dungeon and other nondescript locations, though there is a nice reproduction of a village. There's a great film flub when Fong escapes the Chings after his failed rescue attempt on Hung. Fong runs along a roof and jumps over a wall, and if you look close, you can see his shadow on the painted "sky."
In conclusion, there are too many problems with the story and its execution to consider this film a flawless classic. Still, it's recommended for all Chang Cheh/Fu Sheng/Chen Kuan-Tai fans. As a closing note, the film's soundtrack features a fanfare that sounds exactly like a section of the theme from Phantom Menace.
JOE909'S RATING: 6.5/10