Director: Benny Chan
Cast: Sean Lau, Eddie Peng, Louis Koo, Wu Jing
Plot: After the collapse of the Qing dynasty, the warlords in China began a civil war. The bloodthirsty son of one of the warlords shows up at a village and kills three people, prompting the town sheriff to arrest him and sentence him to death. The warlord's top lieutenant then appears, threatening to burn the village down unless the sheriff releases him. The sheriff and his fellow guardians, plus a mysterious drifter, are now the only ones who can defend the village against impossible odds.
Review: Chinese wuxia films are like Hollywood westerns, and in the case of Call Of Heroes, even more so. We have a brave sheriff, a dastardly villain, a drifter and a ruthless enforcer who works for the villain. To top it off, director Benny Chan throws in some Sergio Leone inspired musical score in certain scenes.
Call Of Heroes is set in a village called Pucheng, where most of the brave men have joined the army and gone off to the front lines. The village is watched over by a handful of guardians, led by sheriff Yang. One day, a ruthless warlord's son, Cao, shows up and promptly kills three people, including a child. Reason? He just loves killing. Yang arrests him and sentences him to death, but Zhang, who works for Cao's father, arrives and threatens to destroy the village if Cao is not released unharmed. Yang now faces the pressure from the townsfolk to release the psychopath, or face the wrath of Zhang's immense army. Yang's only ally is a drifter named Ma, who happens to be an old acquaintance of Zhang.
It is good to note that Call Of Heroes is as ambitious as Chan's last two films, Shaolin and White Storm, though thankfully it is not as overdramatic, nor does it end ridiculously (seriously the ending of Shaolin was illogical). With the great Sammo Hung as action director, COH scores tremendously in the action department, with some well shot fight sequences, though it would have been better if they used less wirework and CGI. The sequence during a night time prison break was the best one as it was the most practical of the lot.
The story, also written by Chan, is one we've seen before, but still works very well. It's a story about courage, and making choices. Yang has to choose whether to release a killer, or risk the lives of the villagers. The drifter Ma has to choose between doing the right thing, or continue to be indifferent. Even Zhang faces a choice between justice and watching his own back, as Ma points out to him. Chan keeps it all together quite well and not wasting too much time with theatrics this time around.
Acting wise, Sean Lau is the best of the lot as Yang, giving the character the right amount of gravitas and courage to do the right thing. Eddie Peng is alright as Ma, though he never once manages to convince anyone, including the audience, that he is capable of being a scoundrel, though he tries. Wu Jing impresses in the action department as always, but could have been more menacing as Zhang. Perhaps Chan should have erased the idea of his relationship with Ma, it would have done wonders for the character. Louis Koo ends up being the worst of the lot, being totally miscast as Cao. He gives this really fake evil laugh whenever he appears on screen, and the more he does it, the more annoying it sounds. It's probably the poorest casting choice of the year. No offence to Koo, but this role should have gone to Nick Cheung or Nicholas Tse. Special mention goes to the always reliable Liu Kai Chi as Yang's lieutenant.
Aside from Koo's casting and the excessive use of wirework and CGI, COH also suffers a bit from obvious voice dubbing. Hopefully this can be minimised in the future. But at least the film has some great cinematography, particularly the wide shots of the village, valley and a scene of the sun rising.
Bottom line: if you're looking for some wuxia action, Call Of Heroes is a good pick. (7/10)