After some delay, Tokyo Shock (a division of Media Blasters) has finally released the Blu-ray version of the movie that began TS's reissues of classic Hong Kong films from Shaw Brothers; it's their second Shaw BD (Deadly Duo Blu-Ray [Blu-ray], their fourth Shaw DVD, was the first to get the treatment, most likely as a "warm up" to working on this one, which is a smart move), and, with a few reservations, it's their BEST one, yet!
Originally titled "Fang Shih-yu and Hung Hsi-kwan" (before somebody realized those names ALONE wouldn't bring in moviegoers, with inserts of the new title cut right into the original trailer), "Heroes Two" (1974) was the first of Director Chang Cheh's "Shaolin cycle" of movies where authentic martial arts of yore (primarily Hung Fist) would be displayed on-screen. After Cheh and co-scriptwriter Ni Kuang, the two constants in this string of seven movies were stars Fu Sheng (not yet billed with "Alexander" in front) and Chi Kuan-chi (he's a background player in "HT", but he would soon get his share of the spotlight); here, Fu Sheng (as Fang) is paired up with Chen Kuan-tai (Return of 5 Deadly Venoms, as Hung) in a tale of two fugitives (from the now burned-down Shaolin Temple) who are pursued by a faction of Manchus, led by General Che (Chu Mu, The Delightful Forest (Shaw Brothers) (Blu-ray)).
Fang and Hung have not met, so it doesn't take much for the Manchus to convince the headstrong, righteous Fang that Hung is a thief and murderer on the run; Fang unwittingly helps them to capture Hung. Eventually, through the intervention of a band of fellow Shaolin escapees (Wu Chi-ching plays the leader), he sees his mistake; in a matter of time (with much help), he frees Hung from General Che. From there, it all leads up to the big, inevitable showdown; it's the Shaolin rebels versus Che and his men (including some "ringers") to finish out the film in grand style!
NO SPOILERS for latecomers!
The main selling points of the BD version of "HT" are the "Three Styles of Hung Fist" featurette and the film itself, both of which are now TRULY HD. Is this BD an improvement over the Heroes Two DVD (as seen through an up-convert DVD player)? Very much so! The only real lapses in picture here are due to the camera equipment the Shaw cameramen had to use back then (a given with ALL Shaw movies); once you get past this fact, it's evident how AMAZING this looks! As the title of this review suggests, the HD picture conveys more strongly how HOT it must have been (indoors and outdoors) when this was filmed in Taiwan; the sweat really shows! Fans of Fu Sheng will be impressed at how even subtle FACIAL GESTURES pop out more noticeably via the BD experience. This may be as GREAT as "HT" will ever look; trust Brother Fang on this!
The audio options (including the commentary by the late Linn Haynes, who, happily, gets a credit on the packaging) are the same as what's on the DVD. The English subtitles are of a smaller size (still yellow, but of a different font) and do not block the screen as much the ones for the DVD; the content of the subs is unchanged from the DVD, too. The majority of special features from the DVD have been brought over to the BD, but now, even more has been added. The original "Hung Fist" short now can be heard in Mandarin or English; even the Celestial reworking of "Hung Fist" is included with language options, too. The "HT" opening title sequence is newly presented in a version without text and --BEST OF ALL-- the ORIGINAL Chinese version, with Cheh's film company logo included (Chi Kuan-chi's the guy pulling back the bow)!
Now comes the warning: the [un-remastered] English trailer and the original Chinese opening are NOT anamorphic. (One will have to adjust the screen format on their LCD TV more than once in order to view that trailer in a non-distorted form.) That Celestial provided the first version of the opening to TS in a non-anamorphic form (as was the case with the source for the DVD of The Master) is a shame, as I think there are SEVERAL fans of this film who would LOVE to have had the ORIGINAL Chinese opening combined with the remastered film as a playback option.
In conclusion, do not let the non-anamorphic elements of this BD steer you away from this upgraded version of a brutal, but fun, movie! The first of Cheh's "Shaolin" films is flawed in many aspects, but they are part of its charm; for the first outing, cut the man some slack. The fine cast is helped along by the great fight choreography of Lau Kar Leung (who knows Hung fist inside and out) and Tong Gaai that is full of energy and vigor which is riveting to watch, especially at the end (only Chu Mu's fighting comes off as stiff as a board). It doesn't require deep thinking to enjoy "HT", which is its greatest asset, and there's a little more to get out of your viewing experience if you buy the BD version. It's an essential buy for fans of Fu Sheng, Chen Kuan-tai, Chang Cheh and "old school" martial arts movies. A strong motivation for somebody to invest in a Blu-ray Disc player if ever there was one!
All the best, Brother Fang.