East Meets West 2011
aka 東成西就2011 aka Eagle Shooting Heroes 2011
Directed by Jeff Lau Chun-Wai
East Meets West 2011 is an update in tone of Jeff Lau’s 1993 film Eagle Shooting Heroes, a classic comedy film that boasted a huge cast (many of whom were borrowed from Wong Kar-Wai’s Ashes of Time, which was running over budget and needed another film to be made with the core cast to balance the books!) and has become one of the mainstay comedy films due to the crazy and energetic feel to the picture. East Meets West 2011 takes inspiration from that, transports the reincarnated gods to modern day, and adds super hero trappings and some philosophical discussion into the mix. And though it isn’t non-stop zaniness, it is still a good time and is one of my favorite recent Hong Kong films.
While Eagle Shooting Heroes/Ashes of Time are largely based on Jin Yong’s Condor Heroes trilogy, East Meets West 2011 instead takes from another of Jin Yong’s wuxia works, Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. The eight major characters known as the Eight Heavenly Dragons are based on the eight races of non-human entities described in Buddhist cosmology, called Tianlong Babu (天龍八部) the “8 kinds of beings that protect the Dharma” The Eight Races are the Deva, Nāga, Yaksha, Asura, Garuda, Kinnara, Gandharva and Mahoraga. Tianlong 天龍 means Heaven Dragon, but can also translate to deva-nāga “Devas and Nāgas”, the 2 highest categories of tianlong. The lower 6 categories are: yecha 夜叉 “Yaksha; cannibalistic devils; nature spirits”, gantapo 乾闥婆 “Gandharva; half-ghost music masters”, axiuluo 阿修羅 “Asura; evil and violent demigods”, jialouluo 迦樓羅 “Garuda; golden bird-like demons that eat dragons”, jinnaluo 緊那羅 “Kinnara; half-human half-bird celestial music masters”, maholuluojia 摩睺羅迦 “Mahoraga; earthly snake spirits”. And, yes, I ganked all that from Wikipedia.
Jeff Lau’s films are almost always crazy awesome, and he’s very good at bringing Western elements into his work. Lau’s films often look more advanced than their counterparts from the same year, and hold up much longer than normal. His vision can take the simplest tale and give it a grand scope. Even the title of East Meets West 2011 shows the clash of Western and Eastern styles, with the Eastern gods taking up Western super hero visuals in a modern Hong Kong, while still being connected to the ancient past and Jade Emperors and all that jazz. Even the music comes from both the West and East, with a remake of Happy Together used several times, as well as a redo of the James Bond theme (this might be one of the first times I’ve heard the score legitimately used in an overseas film, as I’ve been spending too much time watching old genre films that have been ripping it off wholesale), but also Karen Mok songs.
It is almost impossible to discuss parts of this without spoilers, so I am declaring this review SPOILER FILLED. Don’t come crying to me if you keep reading and everything is ruined.
Sammi is a goth-makeuped makeup lady for a haunted house, the same haunted house her father Kenny Bee works at. She declares she doesn’t believe in love or marriage, despite her monologues on romance on the subject. Her father married one of her classmates from high school – Scarlet – who is now in big debt from a businessman named Charles. Charles was trying to get a reunion tour put together of Kenny Bee’s real life old band, the Wynners, and is now sending goons to go after his money. While avoiding goons, Kenny hears birds talk that tells him and Sammie to jump off a high cliff – they do and land on their feet unharmed.
Sammi and Kenny head to a meeting with Charles (and also Sammi’s intent to “chop up that bitch!” – referring to Scarlet) in city filled with musicians waiting to be discovered – people think they’re managers. Cabbie Wen is intent on becoming an actor, and spends his time trying to impress the duo with his skills. The cab gets mobbed by wannabe pop star Jade and her friend Bing (who turns out to just be the servant of Jade’s rich father sent to convince her to return.) The chaos causes the cab to crash into a mute man covered in flour (Da Xiong) and explode – Da Xiong’s son Xiaofang then is witness to the Jade Emperor telling him the tale of the Eight Heavenly Dragons in full color flash animation!
You see, they’re all reincarnations of the Eight Heavenly Dragons, the seven of which were betrayed by the evil eighth one, who continues to kill them again and again every reincarnation. Also there is an evil Lady Gaga wandering around. And I’m not talking about the real Lady Gaga. No one believes the kid and everyone continues on their way.
While meeting Charles, he cuts Sammi and Kenny’s hair so they have a total makeover. This sparks Sammi’s interest, as she is a believer in love at first sight. Charles declares he must have the Wynners concert, or people will think he is a failure and he’ll lose all his money. Scarlet avoids getting chopped by Sammi for now because they have to hurry and put on a scam fake Wynners concert.
Jade is beaten by her father and then stabbed by Bing, which causes her to transform into her immortal form. She transforms Bing, saves her father from thugs, and then sets out to try to awaken the other heavenly dragons, most of who are now at the concert pretending to be members of the Wynners.
Evil Lady Gaga causes power problems and the stadium begins to collapse, but the Heavenly Dragons transform into heroes and save the people from the falling scaffolding. Charles is saved by Sammi as she transforms into Ashura, causing him to be as interested in her as she is in him.
The Heavenly Dragons set out to do good deeds to inspire people to be good. Charles being saved and then talking to Sammi as Ashura inspires him to be a good businessman, not a corrupt businessman like he was. There is a saving the day montage, and an goofy extended scene where they try to inspire some robbers to be good, though the robbers keep immediately getting shot.
Ashura/Sammi accepts a date with Charles on the roof, but when she leaves for the restroom he is kidnapped, along with family members of other Heavenly Dragons. The whole thing is a trap, and Charles is Yaksha, the evil Eighth Heavenly Dragon and they’re all doomed again. Sammi is hurt enough that she surrenders, and the Heavenly Dragons commit suicide. They then turn into butterflies and enter Charles’s body, unbeknownst to him. There, they begin a cleansing of his soul, starting to turn him good again. This is where the film’s visual elements kick it up a notch into excellent. At one point they are literally tugging on his heartstrings, and his heart grows three times in size.
Charles realizes the pain he has caused the other Heavenly Dragons and especially Ashura/Sammi, whose heart he breaks in every reincarnation. He instead asks for forgiveness from the Jade Emperor and everything is reset back to their current lives, but without Charles remembering anything of his previous lives. It’s now time for the Wynners concert, except this is a real reunion concert, and Sammi organized it. She meets Charles for what he thinks is the first time, but he does not remember her even though he is obviously smitten again. Sammi cannot bare to be around him while he cannot remember her, and her face as she’s walking away is heartbreaking. It is the duty of the other Heavenly Dragons to help Charles learn to be a good immortal again, but they cannot tell him of his previous life or his previous love for Ashura/Sammi
The final line about how she’d “rather forget a love I shared, then remember on that was forbidden” is a haunting testament to what you sometimes must do for love.
East Meets West 2011 takes silliness and emotional issues and blends them together in a nice mix. There is enough crazy things happening that you won’t get too bored for too long, but there is enough other stuff going on under the surface that you’ll start thinking twice. While I have seen some people upset that the film isn’t 100% dumb gags, I for one appreciate when films make effort to stretch beyond their boundaries. Jeff Lau isn’t afraid to try to give a grand vision on even the most dumbest films, and he stretches here and hits it out of the park. Highly recommended.
Rated 8/10 (temperature, bird friend, a real tattoo, every film has Flash animated flashbacks, strict dad, golden tower, the degree of love, young son
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