Stars: Louis Koo, Ching Wan Lau, Eddie Peng, Jing Wu | Directed by Benny Chan
From traditional martial arts arse-kicking, to fast and furious swordplay, with wire work which does NOT look fake and is used sparingly to emphasise the films fight scenes rather than be the centre of attention – unlike Crouching Tiger for example – Call of Heroes is a modern-day wuxia classic. And that’s even with it’s use of CGI (which does look a little out of place but it’s fleeting and forgivable).
Set in 1914 after the collapse of China’s Qing dynasty, Call of Heroes sees Yang Kenan (Sean Lau – Mad Detective) appointed as guardian to defend the rural village of Pucheng. When a lone man enters the village and takes innocents lives, Yang makes the decision that he must be sentenced to death. It emerges that this man is Cao Shaolun (Louis Koo – Flash Point), son of a sadistic warlord, and his army demands the son is released, threatening to bring death and destruction. The village soon becomes split between those who want to stand against the warlord, and those who want to set Cao free in a bid for peace. As the odds for peace lessen and the pressure mounts for Yang to release the murderous captive, a stirring tale of heroic resistance unfolds as he and a team of skilled villagers make a last stand against the warlord’s vicious army. In the face of insurmountable odds, heroes will rise.
It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen such a superb example of modern kung-fu cinema, even when compared to modern martial-arts masterpieces such as The Raid. Blending brutality, action, excitement and laughs to perfection, Call of Heroes is the kind of action film that fans of the genre crave. There’s not one wasted second of screen time and no lull in the storytelling, which is far removed from some of the more recent historical epics we’ve seen come from the Far East. Frankly, the majority of the so-called “epics” that have been made in this decade have left me wanting – be it because the action is sacrificed for the drama or vice versa. Not so here.
Besides the thrilling – and surprisingly political – story (which is actually a simple yet effective “us vs. them” tale a la Assault of Precinct 13) and the Shaw Brothers-esque furious kung-fu – choreographed by non other than Sammo Hung, one of the main attractions of Call Of Heroes is it’s cast. Honestly, I’d watch further adventures of the wandering Ma Feng in a heartbeat… Eddie Peng is a revelation as the always-sleepy, doesn’t really want to be a hero but is, character. His martial arts skills are superb and his comic timing rivals that of early Jackie Chan – in fact his first scene in the film echoes Chan’s classic franchise Drunken Master.
However it’s not just Peng, Call of Heroes is packed with fantastic performances. From the truly evil Cao Shaolun (Louis Koo), a villain who doesn’t flinch even when killing kids and blowing women’s brains out; to Sean Lau, as the city’s Sheriff and one of the finest examples of old-school martial arts hero-dom in a decade; this is a film that does not sacrifice character development for action – both go hand in hand. Not only do you learn about the films characters by what they say but also what they do; even one mere look can say so much.
This new DVD release of Call of Heroes isn’t packed with bonus features, but what there is – 5 trailers, image gallery and a making of – adds a little extra kudos to what should be an essential purchase for action movie fans. Congrats must go to Cine Asia for kicking off their return to UK stores with such a fantastic film, one which I’m sure is destined to enter the realms of all-time great martial arts movies.
A modern wuxia wonder, Call of Heroes is out now on DVD from Cine Asia.