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Set in 1914 following the collapse of the Ching dynasty, the film tells the story of a group of villagers (lead by Lau Ching Wan and Eddie Peng) who stand up to a cruel young warlord's son (played by Louis Koo) who is protected by a Commander (played by Wu Jing) with proficient martial arts skills as well as a small army. Our main protagonist, the whip-wielding militia captain Yang (Lau Ching Wan's character) has guarded his remote hometown for years, and he alone now stands between the village and this ruthless band of troops who are loyal to the warlord who has been wreaking death and destruction in the region. One morning, the warlord's son saunters into the village and kills a few people, but is quickly captured and prepped for execution. But before the execution can commence, Wu Jing's character shows up and gives the village a deadline to either voluntarily release the warlord's son or face slaughter.
I found the premise interesting because the warlord's son is captured by the villagers very early on, forcing them to decide on whether or not they should execute him. This conflict is at the center of the film for basically the entire runtime – and it's not an easy decision when you put yourself in their place. And most fortunately, this film does take the time to establish the dramatic aspects of everything. "Call of Heroes" isn't just a brainless, dumb action movie. It actually has some character depth and builds anticipation for the action scenes.
It's also anchored by a very good cast, all of whom nail their characters and are fun to watch. Lau Ching Wan has been carrying movies in lead roles for ages, so he's just as reliable as he's always been. If you want some recommendations with him, I would point you to "Lost In Time", "Mad Detective", "The Longest Nite", and "A Hero Never Dies." Louis Koo – who I've covered a bunch of times already on this YouTube channel – is good as the slimy, sadistic bad guy, and his over-the-top performance works. Eddie Peng is an actor who I always enjoy seeing, and here he plays a character who really does not care about the villagers at first but eventually comes to their aid when he sees the injustices they must endure. Some other Eddie Peng titles I would recommend are "Unbeatable" and "To the Fore." And finally, Wu Jing is a convincing villain who is not purely evil like Louis Koo's character. On the contrary, Wu Jing's character simply has a warped set of principles and life philosophies. So it's nice to have four lead characters who are distinguishable from one another, and add something different to the story.
With regard to the action, it is of a good quality. It mostly showcases hand-to-hand combat that is impressive and spaced out nicely, with the finale representing the best set piece. I was particularly surprised that Eddie Peng moves very well for an actor without martial arts background. He has a convincing "fighting presence" that helps to sell the action. A lot of the fights have a hard-hitting, impactful feel to them. But I will say that there is some CGI that is used at times. For example, Lau Ching Wan's whip will occasionally be CGI'd. Also, the ending has one bigger CGI shot, which is a little distracting but I thought it was no big deal. Overall, I was definitely satisfied with the quality of action in this film.
So "Call of Heroes" is definite crowd-pleaser by director Benny Chan. And for some odd reason, I've seen Benny Chan's name before, but I never took the time to check out his filmography. Listen to this resume of highlights: Big Bullet (1996), Who Am I? (1998), Heroic Duo (2003), New Police Story (2004), Invisible Target (2007), Connected (2008), and Shaolin (2011). He's made some other stuff too, but he's contributed enough entertaining action movies to be given special consideration by me. Which means that I will be following him and looking forward to whatever he does next. One thing that I really like about Benny Chan's films – outside of the high octane action itself – is that he seems to have a knack for pacing action flicks. His movies flow very well and rarely feel bogged down or tedious. One reason for this is that he spaced out the action scenes throughout the runtime, but he's also good at showing the development of conflicts and characters enough to bridge the fights. As a viewer, you don't feel like you're just sitting around, waiting for the next action scene. And that's a good thing.