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New Release Review (DVD/VOD) - CALL OF HEROES

The sheriff of a rural Chinese village is caught between peace and violence when a warlord takes over his town.






Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Benny Chan

Starring: Sean Lau, Louis Koo, Ching Wan Lau, Eddie Peng, Jing Wu



If you’re a purveyor of more hard core martial arts actions, you may be thinking it’s all a little bloodless and twee, but still, you settle in to enjoy this wuxia, drawn in by its pretty scenery and dopey fight sequences.


Hong Kong-Chinese action film Call of Heroes opens in the early twentieth century, a time of great turmoil for China, with warring factions staking claim to the newly disparate country following the dissolution of Qing rule. And as ancient dynasties fell and roving warlords filled the power vacuum with brutal violence, so the modern Wuxia genre found its raw material: resplendent Xian architecture, swords and staffs, and superhuman-chop-socky feats.


In Call of Heroes’s opening, delicate Bai, a female teacher, leads about 20 or so of her eight-year-old charges across the sparring countryside, stopping to spend her last renminbi on a bowl of soup in an eatery just outside town. Before you can say ‘I love you HoneyBunny’ however, the diner is robbed by a group of wayward militia, uniformed bullies who throw their weight (and others’), about, demanding coinage from each of the customers at sword point. That is, until they get to the sleeping, bearded sot in the corner… Of course, it turns out that the handsome outsider (Eddie Peng, as if Zain Malik of 1D had applied his creamy good looks to kung-fu films) is something of a drunken master. Through an impressively ramshackle ballet the wanderer gives the robbers what for, much to the coy delight of Bai. The soaring wire-work of Call of Heroes is immediately impressive, as is the film’s epic sweep. But so far, so typical. If you’re a purveyor of more hard core martial arts actions, you may be thinking it’s all a little bloodless and twee, but still, you settle in to enjoy this wuxia, drawn in by its pretty scenery and dopey fight sequences.


And, about 20 minutes or so later, Call of Heroes sneaks up on you like a ninja, smacking you upside the head and making the true brutal and bloody nature of the film abundantly apparent. Not only does a little kiddy get killed by the movie’s chief git (a warlord played by Louis Koo), but poor Bai too. Just a few moments ago, she was being set up for a romantic subplot with Peng’s wanderer! Now she’s been shot point blank in her lovely face, causing Peng to brood majestically. At least the warlord has been captured, right? Well, it turns out that the murderer is the son of Cao, a particularly successful tyrant who has an army at his command. Executing the son would bring a retaliatory invasion to the town. Sheriff (and lead) Sean Lau is caught over a barrel: his war-fearing town, Pucheng, is wary of allowing justice to be done, while the steadfast sheriff argues ‘if we kneel today, will we be able to stand tomorrow’? Matching violence with philosophy, the film chews over this catch-22.


Wuxia’s debt to the Western is well documented, sharing its emotive locations, iconography and themes of machismo, and here Call of Heroes borrows the plot of Rio Bravo also, with the town’s protectors battling the various intruders who manage to break past Pucheng’s walls. Cao junior is a worthy villain, a rotten, grinning coward whose use of a gun defies not only war’s honour, but the raison d'etre of this sort of film itself; spinning, gravity defying violence. And there are some stand out sequences of this sort too, a sabotage upon a bridge traversing a moat is especially thrilling - what is it with wuxia and water that works so well? However, along with the pleasing surprises that Call of Heroes’ narrative throws up - the shock killing of its ostensible lead, for example - there are also odd plot disjoints (we never see Peng’s wanderer drunk again, making his introduction a strange, comic aberration) and, at times, the film is a little too talky as it pores over its, admittedly intriguing, themes of honour and responsibility. However, veteran director Benny Chan’s fight sequences are never far away, ready to take control not only of the film, but the audience’s breath too.

Call of Heroes will be released on DVD, Blu-ray and VoD on January 2nd, 2017.





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