Starring Sean Lau, Louis Koo, Eddie Peng, Yuan Quan, Jiang Shuying, Wu Jing. Directed by Benny Chan / Action Directed by Sammo Hung. (2016, 120 min).
Sometimes the best westerns aren't made in the West at all.
While Call of Heroes isn't technically a western, it plays just like one and wears its influences proudly, from the story, which recalls the likes of The Magnificent Seven & High Noon, to the main characters and music, with more-than-passing nods to Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone. But this isn't a mere homage; with well-drawn characters, sharp dialog and a compelling story, this Hong Kong-Chinese co-production is one of the better action films released this year.
The story takes place in 1914 at the end of the Qing Dynasty. The government is trying to halt the advances of a brutal warlord. With its own army away at the front lines, the town of Pucheng is vulnerable; only Sheriff Yeung (Sean Lau) & his deputies remain to keep everyone safe. The warlord's sadistic son, Cho (Louis Koo), comes into town one day and viciously murders three people just for the thrill of it. Yeung arrests him, which brings Cho's own troops into town, demanding they set him free. When he refuses, the entire town must prepare for an upcoming invasion. Aiding Yeung is a young, charismatic drifter, Ma Fung (Eddie Peng), who's reluctantly drawn into the conflict after his sense of justice is put to the test by a childhood friend who's now serving under Cho.
|"Woah...maybe it's time you got that dog of yours neutered."|
Call of Heroes' tone runs the gamut from fast, funny and frenetic to violent, philosophical and, in one jarring scene, heart-breaking. Yet it's all put together seamlessly, aided immeasurably by a script that makes the most out of a can't miss formula...triumph against insurmountable odds. It's heroes are genuinely complex and likable, boasted by solid performances all around. Lau is to this film what Gary Cooper was to High Noon, playing the sheriff with a stoic sense of duty and honor; Peng (who my wife pointed out looks exactly like an Asian Ryan Reynolds) makes an ultra-cool (and funny) antihero. As Cho, Koo is a truly hateful, despicable villain; you'll likely be praying for his agonizing death within a few minutes of his first appearance.
|No, Louis Koo is not playing a Bond villain.|
Director Benny Chan (with considerable assistance from martial arts legend, Sammo Hung) provide numerous action set-pieces that are wonderfully choreographed – nearly balletic in their complexity – yet brutally intense. Aside from a bit of questionable CGI here and there, we feel like we're right in the middle of the mayhem.
We review a fair amount of Asian action films here, but like both films in The Raid franchise, Call of Heroes transcends its genre. It's simply a great action film that plays like a classic western in all the best ways possible. This definitely a Blu-Ray worth picking up. They should have stuck with it's original title, though, The Deadly Reclaim. Call of Heroes sounds more like a video game.
Making-Of Featurette: In eight 1-3 minute chapters