Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Call of Heroes: High Noon in Republican China

This time around, action film specialist Benny Chan wears his Spaghetti Western influences/homages on his sleeve, but Sheriff Yang Kenan is cut from cloth much closer to Gary Cooper in High Noon. Yang is given a grim ultimatum: release the murderous son of ruthless warlord Cao Ying or the town of Pucheng will face the consequences. Slowly his neighbors turn against their sheriff, but at least the high plains drifter will throw-in his lot in with Yang in Chan’s Call of Heroes (trailer here) releases today on DVD and BluRay, from Well Go USA.

Dedicated schoolteacher Bai Ling (that’s her character, not the actress) leads a small group of children to sanctuary after the sadistic and entitled Cao Shaolun attacked their school in an act of terror. Following her to Pucheng, Cao kills Bai and two others before Yang captures him. Of course, he is sentenced to death, because he is guilty as sin, but representatives of the Cao forces still demand his freedom. They promise to leave the town undisturbed if they comply, but Yang knows that is a lie. So does Ma Feng, a wandering warrior who has some complicated history with Cao’s Colonel Zhang Yi. He also had some chemistry with Bai, but he realized it too late.

It might be Republican era China, but the dramatic vocabulary of Call is pure spurs-and-saddles American western. It starts at the top with Sean Lau Ching-wan, who is all about a man having to do what a man has to do. He has grit and gravitas worthy of Cooper or Alan Ladd, but he is no superman. He is flesh-and-blood, maybe even distantly approaching middle age, which makes his character so heroic yet relatable.

Eddie Peng Yu-yen continues to mature into a legit action star, showing plenty of chops, but also mixing in a comparatively light sprinkling of physical humor. In all honesty, the growth he has shown since his early teen rom-coms has been impressive. Wu Jing and Xing Yu add plenty of real deal martial arts authenticity as Zhang Yi and hired muscle Wong Wai-fu, respectively. Returning to the sort of villainous roles that actually suit him so well, Louis Koo hams it upshamelessly and goes way-the-heck-and-gone over-the-top as Cao Shaolun—and it’s a blast to watch. Yuan Quan adds some glamour and shows some decent moves of her own as Yang’s wife Chow So-so. In fact, Master Sammo Hung keeps everyone on their toes as action director, choreographing some spectacularly cinematic yet still bone-crunchingly old school martial arts sequences.

Just about every element in Call is borrowed from another film, but it is all executed at a very high level by a superstar ensemble, seen at the peak of their powers and playing to their strengths. For martial arts connoisseurs, it might not be the greatest film they have ever seen, but it is a guaranteed sure thing. Easily recommended for fans of Lau, Peng, Koo, and Hung, Call of Heroes releases today (12/6) on DVD and BluRay, from Well Go USA.