Benny Chan (director)
Cine Asia (studio)
02 January 2017 (released)
02 January 2017
East meets West in this jaw-dropping martial arts action spectacle…that is to say characters and plot lend themselves perfectly to a Wild West version directed by the likes of Tarantino.
It’s the year 1914 and China’s mighty Qing dynasty has all but crumbled. Chaos and terror hold reign supreme, courtesy of a particularly psychotic nasty character called Cao Shaolun (Louis Koo) who likes nothing better than slaughter innocent folk wherever he decides to turn up. First, however, we make the acquaintance of a laid-back and slightly anarchic swordsman called Ma Feng (Eddie Peng) aka ‘The Monkey King’ (presumably so called because of his peculiar beard) who, in true Clint Eastwood style, drifts along the rugged mountainside and ends up wherever his loyal horse happens to kick him off… usually Feng is blindfolded and asleep in the ‘saddle’ whenever this occurs. Perhaps I should add that Feng likes to ride blindfolded because he trusts his horse to pick the most interesting spots! On this occasion he happens to doze in a canteen when he’s crudely interrupted by bandits demanding money from the guests. Among the guests is a female school teacher and a small group of children whose parents had been slaughtered by the aforementioned Young Commander Cao. We get a first taster of the stuff that Feng is made off when he fights off the bandits in true martial arts style and by doing so he also provides some comic relief. In fact, his character is the only one throughout the movie who provides comic relief as the actual saga is rather heavy and incredibly violent.
After the event at the canteen the teacher and her little protégés make their way to the rural village of Pucheng where they have been granted refuge. A little later drifter Feng also arrives and is asked by the teacher whether he’d agree to escort her and the children to a safe place in the mountains. Mistaking her well-meant concern for her protégés for a romantic pass at him he refuses and rides off soon after.
A few days later a stranger arrives in Pucheng and while given food he shoots three people: the cook for daring to serve beef (something the stranger obviously doesn’t like), the young female teacher and one of her pupils. The village’s ‘Sheriff’ – a fair-minded yet resolute man called Yang Kenan (Sean Lau) throws the stranger into prison and it is decided that he should be executed the next day, however, when an army lead by Zhang Yi (Wu Jing) arrives it emerges that the strange prisoner is none other than Cao Shaolun, the son of a sadistic warlord. Yang is instructed to free the prisoner or said warlord will kill all the villagers. Half of the villagers swear to stand by Yang’s decision to execute Cao and by doing so stand up against the warlord and his terrorizing army while the other half of the villagers beg Yang to let the prisoner go so their lives might be spared. During all this arguing and reasoning our anti-hero Feng returns to the village – when he finds out that the young teacher had been killed he feels remorse for having denied her request to escort her and the children. Out of guilt he decides to stay and stand up against the threatening army though things initially change when he recognises army leader Zhang Yi as his former blood brother with whom he shares ‘a past’ (as we learn via flashbacks) until the two fell out. When Zang, eager to restore the old bond, offers Feng a position in the army he refuses.
From that point on this tale of bravery and resistance truly comes into its own as Yang is adamant that the prisoner will be brought to justice without the villagers having to suffer any consequences… easier said than done as for the grand finale it’s only down to him, Feng, and a handful of others to fight off Zhang Yi and his soldiers. The action sequences are breathtaking and we are treated to pretty much everything from fights on spiked bridges to duels fought on heaps of pottery. Liu Kai-chi, who plays Yang’s feisty wife Liu, fights off a soldier with a spliced bamboo tray and what damage this can cause has to be seen to be believed!
The true ‘heroes’ are of course Yang Kenan and Ma Feng and also action director Sammo Hung who is responsible for the entire stunt choreography. Although CALL OF HEROES is primarily an action flick the performances are nonetheless just as important and here all the actors involved do their parts proud. We even have a Ennio Morricone-style soundtrack to savour and the cinematography is also tops!
Plenty of Extras on the Blu-ray and DVD release too though these are unnecessarily broken up into 1-min profiles when it would have been better to present the lot as one big ‘Making of…’ featurette.