Benny Chan, forever associated with directing many a Jackie Chan film including Who Am I? and New Police Story to name but two, brings us his latest movie. Call of Heroes is a Wuxia martial arts action film with action choreography by another legendary Jackie Chan cohort Sammo Hung and the Sammo Hung stunt team.
Whilst China and its warlords are busy fighting amongst themselves, a rural town called Pucheng loses its government allocated army to the front line. Shortly later the Junior Commandant, a ruthless, cold-blooded killer of men, women and children, Cao, played by Louis Koo (Drug War, Flash Point) arrives in the village. He kills three people; a teacher, a pupil and a noodle stall holder and is arrested by the sheriff, played by Ching Wang Lau (Life Without Principle, Running Out of Time).
Obviously, it’s not usually the done thing to arrest a Junior Commandant and soon his army come calling lead by Jing Wu (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, SPL: Kill Zone). The whole village wants the sheriff to release the Junior Commandant fearing the worst but the sheriff knows they were doomed from the moment the Junior Commandant rode into town.
Firstly let’s talk action. Sammo Hung has done a brilliant job with the choreography here. It starts slow and there’s a lot of wire work but it picks up quickly and, whilst the wire work remains, it is occasionally used to breath-taking results as opposed to simply allow people to jump about gracefully.
Eddie Peng (Unbeatable, Rise of the Legend) gets a lot of the action started as a wanderer who ends up getting drawn into the action in Pucheng. He also has all of the laughs and lighter moments in the film, without him, and with Louis Koo killing everything in sight, the film would have been a lot darker.
Benny Chan does his directing credentials no-harm whatsoever with Call of Heroes. There are some great shots and, perhaps best of all, he shows that you can use close up shots, with action and not completely lose everything that’s going on. He doesn’t use it a lot (thank god), but when he does it’s a definite improvement over the Paul Greengrass-Bourne chuck-the-camera-in-and-hope-for-the-best approach.
Ching Wan Lau is very good as the sheriff, his first martial arts film in many years apparently, and makes brilliant use of the whip he has been given with its mix of leather and metal.
The story is a little more complicated than I’ve made out above, it’s interwoven with friends who’ve gone their different ways and fates that bring people together. It’s also about justice and what that means to different people.
There’s no denying Call of Heroes is a good film but it certainly isn’t without its faults either. The ending for example is just truly awful. Of course there was going to be a ‘end of level’ style ‘baddie’ fight but, the way it comes to an end…almost ruins the whole thing. Some of the CGI is also a little, well, less than brilliant shall we say, but you should come to expect that from none-Hollywood films really, they just don’t have the cash to spend.
You can do a lot worse than Call of Heroes. It’s not for the squeamish, but it’s good to see Hong Kong back making these types of movies.