Multiple Award-Winning Director Benny Chan (Connected, The White Storm) directs a star-studded lineup of action stars in Call of Heroes. Koo stars as the spoiled son of a powerful General who has grown into a vicious and depraved Warlord. Accused of triple murder, his father will destroy the town if his son is convicted and sentenced to death. But injustice cannot go unanswered, and the villagers prepare for the repercussions of punishing a guilty man.
When a particular sub-genre of filmmaking has reached its apex, everything that comes after can feel a bit boorish. When you've seen so many westerns rely on the Mexican Standoff, it's hard to get excited when every western after that has our hero squaring off face-to-face with the villain. Such is the case for the wire-work antics of wuxia kung-fu films. When you see masters of the fighting arts make great inhuman leaps in the air while dispatching dozens of no-good bad guys, you can become a bit jaded. Thankfully, Director Benny Chan and Sammo Hung manage to reinvigorate the wuxia sub-genre with the earnest and entertaining 'Call of Heroes.'
As the Qing Dynasty falls, the countryside is in chaos as warring factions fight for the control of China. Pucheng becomes a refugee town as a teacher and her students flee the violence. But the violence follows in the form of the vicious Cao (Louis Koo) who takes great pleasure from slaughtering people and raiding homes. When the fight reaches Pucheng, Cao meets his match in the form of local sheriff Yang (Sean Lau). When Cao is taken into custody and sentenced to death, his army begins an all-out siege of Pucheng. With the help of the villagers and a mysterious wanderer known as Ma Feng (Eddie Peng), Yang must defy all odds and keep Pucheng safe.
If you watch enough films coming out of Korea, Japan, and China, you've no doubt seen the special effects extravaganza films filled with wild and crazy stunts and CGI effects work. While some of these films are incredibly good, like 'The Admiral' for example, but a number of them have become tiresome. To appease audiences' desire for 3D CGI spectacle, simple stories have become grandiose epics without the feet to fit the shoes. While some are entertaining, others just become half-hearted bores that become increasingly difficult to sit through. That's what I initially thought I was going to be getting into with 'Call of Heroes.' Thankfully, my expectations were way off the mark.
Benny Chan with the help of action director Sammo Hung managed to craft what could be described as an "old school" Shaw Brothers style martial arts film. While the wirework is fanciful, it's not calling attention to itself in a way that so many other wuxia kung-fu flicks of late have. It's also refreshingly dirty looking in that the film doesn't have that lush and vivid CGI clarity working for it. There is a tangible feeling throughout the film that the costumes, extras, and sets were all practical applications and not generated by a team of visual effects artists sitting at keyboards.
On top of bringing back an old school flavor to the film, Benny Chan also manages to create an earnest story without being a sappy melodramatic martial arts film. There is a frankness to the Cao's armies as they slaughter people and raid homes that is a bit startling considering how much of the film feels rather lighthearted and playful. While there are long stretches of simple fun, the filmmakers wisely don't make the mistake of making fun of tragedy. Coupled with a skilled cast of martial arts veterans, 'Call of Heroes' becomes an easily recommended little action/adventure film that knows how to tell a simple story well. I went in expecting to see one thing and came out realizing I'd just seen a smart pseudo-remake of 'Rio Bravo.' It's a solid film I'd recommend to any tired and jaded martial arts movie fan.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Call of Heroes' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc. The disc is housed in a standard snapper Blu-ray case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to trailers for other Well Go USA releases before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
'Call of Heroes' boasts a beautiful digitally sourced 2.35:1 1080p transfer. Details throughout much of the film are exceptional as audiences are allowed to appreciate everything from facial features and costuming to the intricate and impressive production and set design work. To that point, however, it is evident that a number of different camera sources were used as image clarity and quality can shift depending on the scene. Aerial shots were clearly achieved via drone as there is a notable difference, and some flashback sequences differ largely from the main film - but much of these shifts appear to be intentional as they're not sporadic but dedicated to unique moments throughout the film. I mention this only because the quality shift can be a tad distracting, but it's not a deal breaker as so much of the image is pristine. Colors are bright and vivid with a wonderful primary presence. Flesh tones are accurate and healthy throughout. Black levels are solid and inky, there are a couple scenes where they feel a bit soft and can flatten the image, but much of the time the film has a beautiful three-dimensional presence. All around this is a pretty terrific looking film and one of the best-looking ones I've seen from Well Go USA.
In a bit of an oddity, 'Call of Heroes' arrives with a Cantonese and a Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. 2.0 Dolby Digital tracks for both languages are provided but I'd suggest you skip them entirely. I call this an oddity because really there is very little difference. The only way to notice is how in one track the looping may be different for an actor than in the other track. It's not a distracting trait by any means as both tracks offer up clean and clear dialogue. Sound effects have a life-like and somewhat immersive quality to them during the big fight sequences or as people scurry about. Imaging is genuinely fantastic as there is plenty of channel movement that kept the surrounds engaged without long periods of lulls or silence. All around you can't go wrong with either the Cantonese or Mandarin audio mixes. I would just advise you to avoid the 2.0 mixes as they don't have the same pleasing presence as the surround tracks.
Making Of: (HD 15:50) Comprised of incredibly brief features Puncheng City, Eddie Peng, Wu Jing, Wu Jing & Eddie Peng, Louis Koo, Sammo Hung, Sammo & Sammy Hung, Sean Lau, these are brief interviews and behind the scenes bits that offer only slight glimpses into the production.
Trailer: (HD 1:42)
'Call of Heroes' proved to be a nice breach from expectations. When so many kung-fu wirework films have been so cheap looking or laden with irritating CGI effects, it's understandable that one would become cynical. Thankfully, 'Call of Heroes' plays things old school, relying on genuine talent and story rather than CGI trickery to get the job done. Well Go USA does right by 'Call of Heroes' giving the film an absolutely beautiful A/V presentation. Sadly special features are lacking. That said, I'm calling this one recommended. I wasn't expecting to enjoy 'Call of Heroes' as much as I did, so I feel it necessary to encourage others beyond genre enthusiasts to check it out.