Call of Heroes is set around the events of China’s warlord era between 1916 to 1928 when the military ran rampant in the north of the country. It opens with school teacher Bai Ling (played by Zhang Shuying) fleeing Stone City after a military coup with several of her orphaned school children. She escapes to her cousins noodle shop in the neighbouring city of Pucheng. When the school mistress and her class stop for food in a shop its held up by bandits who are dispatched by scruffy drifter Ma Feng (played by Eddie Peng) in a fight sequence that wouldn’t look out of place in a western.
The teacher and pupils reach their destination, a large town where sheriff Yang Kenan (Sean Lau Ching-wan) and his small but loyal brigade must protect the civilians. Pucheng is soon visited by the despicable Cao Shaolun dressed in white (Louis Koo), the son of the warlord who attacked the young teachers village. After committing several murders Cao is locked up and Yang tasked to execute him. Cao warns him, however, that if he is dead, his father will be furious, and definitely destroy Pucheng in revenge.
This puts our hero in a dilemma: should he uphold justice and execute Cao, even if it means terrible consequences for all the people of his village? Is doing the right thing worth it if it comes at awful price and sets a ticking time bomb of an invading force in which the small band of heroes must step up to defend there homes.
Call of Heroes is a solid action period movie that gamely pays homage to Westerns from its Morricone rip off score to it’s narrative structure reminiscent of Howard Hawk’s Rio Bravo & Fred Zimmerman’s High Noon.The film has an epic scale to its cinematography and production design with the authentic walled city set of the town Pucheng built from scratch taking five months to be completed in an empty lot.
The cast does a terrific job particularly Lau who offers a standout performance as a grizzled sheriff with an entertaining intensity that makes whip carrying Yang Kenan both compelling and believable, it’s the kind of role that John Wayne would have played in his time.
While Koo’s villain occasionally slips into pantomime bad guy mode this make him memorable. The brilliant action sequences are directed Sammo Hung who has worked in Hong Kong cinema since the 1970’s as director, choreographer, stuntman and actor.
If the film does have its faults it’s with the pacing which occasionally lags, particularly in the middle this is due to the overstated political allegory that runs through proceedings. Then there’s a potentially interesting story elements that are introduced and go nowhere. The obvious use of CGI in effect driven scenes, particularly in the fight sequence that takes place on top of a mountain pile of ceramic pots, is not too convincing and could have done with more rendering time.
This release from Cine Asia contains behind the scenes footage,trailers and interviews with cast & crew while it doesn’t go in depth about its production there’s much to learn about this movie from its supplement material. Call of Heroes is an fun ass kicking movie that fans of Shaw Brothers and Western cinema fans will get a kick out from seeing.
Dir: Benny Chan
Scr: Benny Chan,Doug Wong,Tam Wai-ching,Tim Tong,Chien I-chueh
Prd: Benny Chan
Cast: Sean Lau,Louis Koo,Eddie Peng,Yuan Quan,Jiang Shuying,Wu Jing
D.O.P: Pakie Chan
Music: Wong Kin-wai
Country: Hong Kong,China
Run time: 119 minutes
Call of Heroes available on DVD now