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Friday, June 21, 2019

HEROES SHED NO TEARS -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

John Woo had already been directing films for 12 years before making HEROES SHED NO TEARS, aka "Ying xiong wu lei" (Film Movement Classics, 1986), but it's the earliest of his films that I've seen which already makes it an interesting watch for a fan of his dazzling, flamboyant directing style.

It was actually completed in 1984 but shelved until Woo's subsequent film A BETTER TOMORROW became a hit.  Sort of a contractual obligation film for Golden Harvest, Woo's heart wasn't completely in it, yet he packed this blazing war thriller with as much bloody, bone-crushing action and tearful sentiment as it would hold.

The story is simple: a group of seasoned Chinese mercenaries are hired by the Thai government to attack the jungle lair of a powerful, loathsome drug lord, destroy it, capture him, and make their way through Thailand, Cambodia, and Viet Nam to the coast and their pickup point.

But once they have him (after the film's first explosive action sequence gets things off to a rousing start), everything goes wrong. The next thrilling scene occurs when the group's leader Chan Chung (Eddy Ko) stops off at his home to check on his family (his son, sister-in-law, and her father), only to find them already taken hostage.

The tense, bullet-riddled mayhem that follows sets the tone for the rest of the film, which will consist of action scene after action scene connected by interludes of both sticky sentiment (Chan Chung and his son have many touching father-son moments) and out-and-out comedy relief supplied by two very gregarious young battle chums.

This is in addition to instances of shocking sadism supplied by an evil Vietnamese colonel with whom the group runs afoul when they rescue a female French journalist from being executed, during which the colonel loses an eye.

He not only orders his own men to go after the group, but also terrorizes a local tribe of villagers into tracking them down as well. With the Thai drug soldiers, the Chinese soldiers, and the native spear-carrying trackers all after our heroes, the film becomes sort of a jungle variation of Walter Hill's THE WARRIORS.

The aforementioned drastic shifts in tone are pretty much all over the place (a quality Woo was aware of while filming), but one hardly has time to take note of this before the next battle fills the air with bullets, blood, and fiery explosions.

At one point Chan Chung runs into an old American friend, one of those "never went home" ex-soldiers whose hut is rigged with about a ton of explosives, all of which will eventually go off when the bad guys find their way there.

Stylistically, the film has little or none of Woo's usual finesse, that certain artistic blend of slow-motion, creative camera angles, and meticulous rapid-fire editing to create a heady visual experience that goes beyond simply recording events.  Here, he uses more of a sledgehammer approach, well-staged but boisterous and bombastic. 

Along the way to their pickup point, our heroic mercenaries go through hell and have their number violently reduced one by one.  It's almost painful to watch when characters we care about are killed and situations go dreadfully wrong, but this is a testament to the relatively crude (by Woo standards) yet viscerally effective HEROES SHED NO TEARS, which is an absolute must-see for John Woo fans.  

Buy it from Film Movement

Film Movement Classics
99 Minutes
Hong Kong
Cantonese, English, Thai, Vietnamese (English subtitles)
Action, Drama

Blu-ray Features

Interview with star Eddy Ko
New Essay by Grady Hendrix
Sound: 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo

DVD Features

Interview with star Eddy Ko
New Essay by Grady Hendrix



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