REVIEW / PERIOD ACTION
CALL OF HEROES (NC16)
100 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3 stars
The story: Village chief (Lau Ching Wan) wants to execute the evil son of a general, Cao Shaolun (Louis Koo), for killing three civilians. Cao's massive army of mercenaries, led by colonel Zhang (Wu Jing), storms the village in an attempt to free him. Wandering vagrant Ma Feng (Eddie Peng) is caught up in the village's affairs.
When so many period Chinese blockbusters are all about fancy - and more often than not, unconvincing - special effects, it is refreshing to watch one that uses good, old-fashioned action stunts.
Call Of Heroes feels like a movie that its action choreographer, veteran gongfu star Sammo Hung, could have led in the 1980s, featuring punches and kicks that look and sound realistic.
Some action sequences are tense and original, including one in a cage-like setting using sharp bamboo poles and another on top of a mountain of clay urns.
The story itself, however, is a lot more straightforward, where the good guys save the poor villagers from the bad - which, in this case, is a terribly hammy Koo as a general's vicious son.
His sneers and "evil" laughter are taken straight out of the villain's caricature guidebook.
Supporting actors Peng and the fantastically understated martial artist Wu fare much better as a pair of former mercenary partners whose conflicted friendship is moving and believable.
Wu plays a man who will do anything to fight for his masters, no matter how terrible they are, while Peng questions the price of blind loyalty to his masters.
Taiwanese hottie Peng, who is known for portraying a slick hunk in most of his films, plays against type here, providing some comic relief dressed like a grubby hobo (complete with dirty teeth and unkempt beard), but one who is nonetheless very confident of his looks.
So it would seem that he need not always remove his shirt and rely on those famous six-pack abs to leave a lasting impression.