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November 30, 2016

Call of Heroes

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Ngai Sing
Benny Chan - 2016
Well Go Entertainment BD Region A

Call of Heroes starts off with some visual and musical queues taken from Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, before taking on the brutality more associated with Sam Peckinpah. Chan's film can be read as a sort of western, taking place in rural China, in 1914, where the only mode of transportation is by horse. The main characters resemble the kind of archetypes one often finds in westerns, with Eddie Peng as the wandering hero, Sean Lau as the sheriff in above his head, and Louis Koo as the totally amoral, murderous villain. Without pressing the point to hard here, Call of Heroes would be part of what might be called a cinematic dialogue beginning with John Ford's influence on Akira Kurosawa, reinterpreted by John Sturges, Leone and Peckinpah, and back to Asian filmmakers such as Hideo Gosha and Benny Chan.

Initially, Call of Heroes recalls the Leone produced My Name is Nobody, with Eddie Peng in the kind of role more associated with Terence Hill than Clint Eastwood. Sleeping at his table in the rough little roadside restaurant, the bearded Peng's slovenly appearance belies his lethal capabilities, unleashed when woken up to an attempted robbery in the restaurant. Similar to the kind of laid back ethos of Hill's on-screen characters, Peng blindfolds himself, letting his horse decide on the next destination.

The basic plot would appear to be inspired by Rio Bravo, with Cao, the son of a warlord imprisoned after murdering three people. The small town of Pucheng is threatened with destruction by Cao's army unless the sheriff releases Cao. Any resemblance to Howard Hawks begins and ends at this point.

Action director Sammo Hung gets his screen credit immediately after Chan. The four main characters each have their own weapon, with Peng handling swords, Louis Koo's Cao known for his golden gun, Sean Lau's sheriff wielding a whip, and Cao's right hand man, played by Wu Jing, using a spear. Most of the fights are filmed with two to four characters within the frame, intercut with brief close ups of detail within the the action. Visually, the most impressive of the action set pieces is a duel between Peng and Wu on top of what appear to be thousands of clay urns all laid sideways, on top of each other to form a small hill. One can only guess at how the film might have looked when viewed in 3D as was seen by Chinese audiences, with my favorite single shot that of the camera looking directly at Sean Lau behind his whip swirling in front of the screen.

The blu-ray comes with a "Making of . . " bonus that is essentially a series of very short vignettes. The previously mentioned duel between Peng and Wu took almost three weeks to film. The main set was built from scratch in Shaoxing Province, south of Shanghai. As in classic Chinese language martial arts films, there is a lot of wire work, and here we can see just how complex it is to create the appearance of physical dexterity.

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Posted by peter at November 30, 2016 07:50 AM