HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Call of Heroes
HTS Overall Score:80
I’ve always been a big proponent for Well Go USA and their drive to bring Asian cinema to the states. There really isn’t a whole lot of studios left who push the Hong Kong and Korean cinematic films anymore. We used to have the “Dragon Dynasty” label, which put out some great stuff with Bey Logan in charge, but that well has dried up leaving us with Well Go USA to take the brunt of the labor here. Then there’s my love of Benny Chan. He’s had a long and varied career as a film maker in Hong Kong and has been making John Woo (ish) action films with many of the greats for decades. One of my favorite films of his happens to be an old Jackie Chan flick named “Who Am I”, which has one of THE best boss fight scenes in his career. Now Benny has decided to go back a few decades in style and make an old fashioned Kung Fu period piece that blends elements of the Shaw Brothers, modern Kung Fu, and a little bit of Stephen Chow comedy for good measure. “Call of Heroes” has a few flaws, but is still one of the most FUN Hong Kong films I’ve seen in a really long time.
The plot is pretty simple. We’re back in the time of the Chinese Warlords, where roving warlords were waging war upon the surrounding areas. The fictional city of Pucheng has sent its armies out to the out frontline, leaving the city itself vulnerable to Cao Shaolun (Louis Koo). Cao is a completely cruel and evil lunatic, murdering those whom he wishes and wreaking havoc without mercy due to his status as the son of a roving warlord. After visiting Pucheng and slaughtering three innocent people (including a child), Cao Shaolun is put in prison by the local Sherriff Yang Kenan (Lau Ching-wan). Cao is nonplussed despite his sentence of death. You see, his troops are just a day away and with them come blood and vengeance in their wake if he is not released by dawn.
Yang Kenan is now put to the test. What does he do? Does he let the murdering psychopath go and HOPE against hope that the town is left alone? Or does he stand up and fight the vicious army coming their way despite knowing they will lose. The town is already crumbling at the seams in sheer terror and are just begging their Sheriff to give up, but Kenan is standing firm, despite even his closest allies begging him to reconsider his stance on letting Cao go. This whole scene is watched over by a Toshiro Mifune like Ronin (yes I know, that’s Japanese but same concept) named Ma Feng (Eddie Peng), who holds mysterious ties to the Cao’s 2nd in command (played by Jacky Wu). All we know is, no matter what the Sherriff decides in the morning, this is all leading up to a conflict that will leave many dead, and many wishing they were by the end of the day.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=85978[/img]“Call of Heroes” is not a film that is incredibly deep, but it does a great job of balancing quirky levity during the first act, some absolutely brutal death scenes and some introspective material about what it means to actually do what is RIGHT. If I had to say anything I would have to say that Benny Chan appears to be channeling bits of Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone in this strange period piece action flick. Kenan’s struggle over having to let go or keep his prisoner is the most poignant of the film. He is your steadfast hero who DESPERATELY wants to do what is right, even if it means that he will die as a result. The only problem is that his decision doesn’t affect just him. He is putting his entire village at risk by following his convictions. A decision that knaws at him in the hours before the dawn. At the same time the village people are having to reconcile their own fear with the knowledge that they may actually have to fight for their homes and honor. Something which doesn’t come easily to peaceful farmers who are terrified of a warlord’s army.
While there are a TON of hand to hand combat scenes in the movie, it is also quite brutal. The death scenes never come heroically or make you cheer when they happen. The violence is usually sudden and vicious, leaving the viewer with the uncomfortable feeling that they just witnessed something terrible. Still, the fights are what make the movie a blast to watch. They were directed and choreographed by Sammo Hung himself (who actually makes a 3 second cameo at the end of the movie) and they are nothing short of awesome. The tag line for “Call of Heroes” was that it harkened back to the old Shaw Brothers films and I can see why. The choreography and martial arts prowess is decidedly modern, but the use of wire-fu and overly stages hits make for a decidedly nostalgic feel to them. Even the blows and whistling movements of the swords and spears are actually old 70s and 80s kung fu sounds added in to the fight.
I was more than ecstatic when I saw that Jacky Wu and Eddie Ping were finally in a film together, and to make it better they actually have a full on battle between the two of them. Jacky Wu is one of the last of the “old guard” in Hong Kong martial artists and he is an amazing athlete. Watching him with Donnie Yen in “Kill Zone” a good decade back was awe inspiring to say the least. Eddie is a new breed of Hong Kong blood and has rapidly been making a name for himself in the Asian martial arts genre and bringing these two together makes the kung fu nerd in me twist and giggle with glee. Eddie surprisingly doesn’t have a whole lot of action in the movie until the very end. He opens a can at the very beginning with a decidedly Stephen Chow slapstick action scene, but then he maintains the watcher status until the final battle begins. Not to say that I’m complaining, the duel between him and Jacky Wu is amazing, and despite a weak finale between the two of them in the final few moments, it was well worth the price of admission. On the flip side of the coin, Louis Koo was delightfully evil (for a chance) as the maniacal Cao Shaolun. He hams it up a bit and is a tad over the top, but it works for the type of character he is in the film.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=85986[/img]Shot mostly using the Red Epic Dragon cameras, “Call of Heroes” enjoys a gorgeous looking Blu-ray transfer that really shines thanks to Well Go USA giving the movie a nice healthy bitrate to breathe. The period piece looks resplendent with the wonders of Asian attention to costumes and each and every one is lusciously colored. The light pale blues of Yang Kenan’s outfit and the earthy browns of the dusty city of Pucheng look well saturated, and the dark shadows of the prison area show very little signs of any banding (and no signs of crush in any real form). Fine detailing along faces and outfits is magnificent, although that DOES allow for us to see the obviously fake beard on Ma Feng and a few of the others, but that’s pretty much par for the course with Asian films. They tend to use less CGI and more obvious wigs and practical effects more than westerners. Well, except for that very obvious pile of CGI wine jars that Eddie Ping and Jacky Wu face off upon at the end. "Call of Heroes" is almost certain to have been a 3D film over in China as there were several moments throughout where there was very obvious "pop out" effects that would have been perfect for the 3D market. Sadly we only get the 2D release in the states like normal.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=85994[/img]“Call of Heroes” offers us two audio language options for our listening pleasure, including both the original Cantonese track (in both DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless and Dolby Digital 2.0 for night listening) as well as the Mandarin dub in the same lossless and 2.0 offerings. I switched between the 2 tracks and while I liked the Cantonese one better overall I still have an affinity for the Mandarin track due to Jacky Wu’s voice being dubbed in the Cantonese version (Jacky Wu doesn’t speak much Cantonese to my knowledge). The 5.1 mix is fairly aggressive and really cranks up when the action is underway. The prison raid is one of the more encompassing scenes in the movie with the sounds of blades clashing in the fore and background as well as the swift crushing of bones, boards and a good mixture of the score to create a really immersive experience. LFE is tight and powerful, but never overwhelming to the ears. It adds weight to the fisticuffs as well as power to the thudding of horse’s hooves and bodies impacting wooden doors and the like. Surrounds are solid, but sometimes the track does get a little front heavy when the action isn’t going on. Dialog is strong and cleanly replicated in the front of the sound system and the overall balance of the track is spot on.
• Original Trailer
• Original Cantonese Version of the film
There’s not a lot of twists and turns to “Call of Heroes”, but it is a wonderfully charming and fun filled romp. The action is hard hitting and Sammo Hung’s direction with the fights make for rousing fight scenes. Benny Chan’s obvious homage’s to Kurosawa and Sergio Leone make for a unique film that is both cheerfully funny and deeply disturbing while maintaining that “action’ vibe throughout. Well Go USA has given us a rather nice Blu-ray package with stunning audio and video, but sadly fail to deliver on the extras. As a huge fan of Hong Kong action movies I had a blast with “Call of Heroes” and have to label it one of the most fun action flicks I’ve seen come from the independent studio in quite a while. Definitely recommended.
Starring: Eddie Peng, Louis Koo, Ching Wan Lau, Jacky Wu (Wu Jing)
Directed by: Benny Chan
Written by: Benny Chan
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: Cantonese: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Cantonese DD 2.0, Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1, Mandarin DD 2.0
Studio: Well Go USA
Runtime: 120 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: December 6th, 2016
Buy Call of Heroes On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Recommended for a Watch
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