Call of Heroes Review
Call of Heroes is a jawdropping film in a number of ways. And for that reason, I will be giving a brief synopsis with minimal details here. Having only seen a (poorly edited) trailer and reading the first few lines of a review, I was satisfied that this film was worth my time. Directed by Benny Chan (who I'm most familiar with as a result of his work with Jackie Chan on Who Am I? and New Police Story), CGI has taken a backseat here to traditional martial arts action and wire based stunts. The sets have been constructed in reality, not designed on a computer, and as a result everything looks fantastic.
Justice is the central theme of Call of Heroes as we join Pucheng, a village with no military protection; it's 1914 and the Qing dynasty has fallen. Warlord Cao YIng is attempting to take over China and the soldiers of Pucheng have gone to the frontlines to fight this threat, leaving the village under the protection of Sheriff Yang Kenan (played by Lau Ching Wan) and his guardians, a small group who are proficient in the use of weapons and martial arts. When Sheriff Yang is forced to take action following a terrible crime, these actions attract the attention of a group of soldiers lead by the warlord's son, Cao Shaolun (Louis Koo). If the sheriff refuses to give in to the demands of the soldiers, they will force their will, killing as many villagers along the way as it takes - but if he does succumb, justice cannot be served. And as soon as this ultimatum is presented we see an action-packed and, at times, moving argument that includes and effects the entire village. Is it worth dying to enforce justice?
As I mentioned in my first sentence, this film has some jawdropping moments. Koo deserves especially high praise for his portrayal as the maniacal villain, Cao Shaolun, and masterfully manipulates the tension and pressure of one of the more memorable scenes in which Benny Chan demonstrates to us that this is no Hollywood action film where everybody gets out alive. It's easy to imagine that Koo would have been a front runner to portray the Joker if he had been Chinese; with his ability to portay a character housing a desire to commit mindless violence, frighteningly insane cackles, and a steely gaze.
But for every villain, we need a hero. When Lau Ching Wan steps onto the scene, you're immediately aware that you have it in droves. There's more than one occasion where he appears and you breathe a sigh of relief as you know that he will 'save the day'. The sheriff and the guardians are also joined by the morally ambiguous wanderer Ma Feng (played by Eddie Peng who also gives an excellent performance) who proves to be a charismatic hero himself while providing a healthy amount of comic relief.
The action in Call of Heroes is also something to behold, using highly skilled choreography and a glorious variety of weaponry—Sheriff Yang's whip being a personal favourite, opting to be handled genuinely by the actor instead of relying upon lazy CGI. All of the warriors make great use of the locations and props around them, displaying the implied initiative the fighters have, ensuring these scenes don't become stale as the film progresses.
Although there are some shocks along the way, the plot plays out somewhat predictably and as a personal preference, I'm not a fan of excessive use of wires in choreographed fights. Since their conception many years ago, they have simply never looked realistic to me; I understand that filmmakers need to portray these heroes as near-mythical, but it undermines the skills and talents of the actors when it is used in each and every fight. That being said, Call of Heroes does as good a job of using them as I have ever seen.
It's exciting to see Benny Chan's work improving through the years and equally as exciting that Call of Heroes has appeared in UK cinemas so soon after its release.