Back in the very early 2000s, I fell in love with kung fu/wuxia films. While not all were created equal, there was a huge swell of releases in the U.S. Through Iron Monkey, Hero, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and any movie starring Jackie Chan or Stephen Chow, I couldn’t get enough. Full of amazingly choreographed fight scenes and stunning cinematography, try as we did, Hollywood just couldn’t get the recipe right. Chan and Jet Li may have become household names, but something was usually missing. The closest were Jason Statham’s Transporter films and Shanghai Noon/Knights. Needless to say, you had to go back to the source if you wanted to see it done right. The Ip Man series definitely stand out. Even then, most are schlocky with little thought put into the production. It gave me chills to discover that they can still do it right and director Benny Chan’s Call of Heroes is here to show us how it’s done.
In 1914, the Qing dynasty has fallen and the villagers of Pucheng City are in need of a hero. The murderous Cao Siu-lun (Louis Koo) has just killed three innocents — including a child — and the Sheriff, Yang (Sean Lau), resigns after they find out that Cao is the son of an evil warlord. Now, the city must stand against the marauding Cao if they want to stop their city from being overrun, with only the help of Yang, and the food coma-suffering Ma “Pigsy” Fung (Eddie Peng), to save the day.
Well Go USA doesn’t always treat their films to a 50GB disc, but when they do, a visually sprawling film like Call of Heroes gets the room it needs to breathe. Clarity is razor sharp with aliasing never ruining the picture. It could have run rampant with the amount of trees and sharp objects, but everything is as clean as it should be from a new production. Colors are bright with no blooming or bleed, while dark scenes never suffer from crush or loss of shadow delineation. A few seconds of banding are the only anomalies.
To go along with the crystal clear picture, we get two 5.1 DTS-HD MA tracks in both Cantonese and Mandarin. You can pick your poison on which track you select as the dialogue was filmed with a mix of the two there’s always instances of obvious dubbing. But the surrounds keep the action flowing — particularly Sheriff Yang’s whip — throughout the entire soundscape with excellent directionality, plenty of bass, and dialogue clean and crisp no matter how big the battle. Additional 2.0 Cantonese/Mandarin tracks are available, along with English and Chinese subtitles.
The special features are super short, but do manage to show off the cast and crews camaraderie on set. A “Making Of” is broken into eight segments — “Pucheng City” (1:26), “Eddie Peng” (1:28), “Wu Jing” (3:09), “Wu Jing & Eddie Peng” (1:44), “Louis Koo” (2:52), “Sammo Hung” (1:27), “Sammo & Sammy Hung” (1:58), and “Sean Lau” (1:46) — which all play one after the other even though a play all option isn’t available. The most interesting part is seeing that they literally built the entire city from the ground up and listening to director Chan talk about the chemistry between Jing and Peng. The film’s “Trailer” (1:42) is included, along with “Previews” for upcoming Well Go USA releases Operation Mekong, Cold War 2, and Three.
Call of Heroes never tries to rank itself as any kind of be-all-end-all kung fu extravaganza, but it certainly finds itself delivering what fans have been lacking. Full of interesting characters and some extraordinary fight scenes courtesy of action director Sammo Hung, Call of Heroes will make a fan out of any viewer. While the special features may be lacking, the video/audio make a blind buy a no-brainer. Call of Heroes is one of the best action films of the year you didn’t see. With it available on Blu-ray, now’s your chance to play catch up.