Heroes Shed No Tears (1984)

Written & directed by: John Woo
Producer: Peter Chan
Starring: Eddy Ko, Lam Ching Ying, Phillip Lofredo & Chin Yuet Sang

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

When you ask a a Hong Kong film fan what initially got them hooked you're likely to hear movies with and by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and John Woo. Fans of those people aren't necessarily of different generations, it just depends what was shown first before them. For me it was the amazing action movies of John Woo. Bullet In The Head, The Killer, Once A Thief and Hard Boiled that inspired me to seek out more films by John and with actor Chow Yun-Fat (who's in most of John's films). I'd never experienced something so beautiful and violent at the same time, which left me wanting more.

In the 70s John Woo worked as assistant director on Shaw Brother's martial arts movies such as Chang Cheh's Blood Brothers and his first directing gig was also in that genre (The Dragon Tamers from 1975). After doing a few period martial arts films, he moved on to do several comedies for Golden Harvest (among them From Riches To Rags and Plain Jane To The Rescue). Then John took on gunplay action, the genre he's synonymous with today and the result was Heroes Shed No Tears.

It's history today remains a bit sketchy (1*) but clear is that when John then finally got his big breakthrough with A Better Tomorrow in 1986, Golden Harvest capitalized on his popularity and brought out a re-edit of what was originally Sunset Warriors as Heroes Shed No Tears the same year.

The Thai government decides to once and for all stop the flow of drugs originating from the so called Golden Triangle (in around Burma, Cambodia and Thailand) and they send a team of Chinese soldiers to capture the head of the drug organization, General Samoan. They manage to capture and flee with him but hot on their tail are the army. The lead Chinese soldier Can (Eddy Ko from The Mission) also has his family temporarily living in the area and need to get them out safely...

I do agree with John that the final film isn't particularly stunning but it has a few watchable aspects, specifically fans will find it interesting to see what kind of vision the director had of action at the time. Everyone thinks of action when John Woo's name is mentioned so let's start talking about that. I find it absolutely amazing how well he had fine-tuned his style between this movie and A Better Tomorrow (the time in between should be 3 years tops). Fact is, the gunplay isn't particularly impressive in Heroes Shed No Tears. It's memorable because there is lots of it but technically it's light-years away from what Woo displayed in the classic restaurant shoot-out in A Better Tomorrow for example.

What he basically shows is a lot of shooting and a lot of people falling over dead. Slow-motion in the middle of intense action is another trademark of Woo's and we find it here as well. Again, the execution and timing of it is lacking but there's occasional glimpses of the greatness he would later constantly display in terms of slo-mo. The scene that stands out here is Eddy Ko's first encounter with Lam Ching Ying's character, setting up the rivalry. The editing and the stunt shown in slow motion is neatly done. Another thing to look out for is similar shots and scenes subsequently seen in John's filmography. The final showdown between Eddy Ko and Lam Ching Ying seems like an distant relative of Hard Target's finale and one of the great shots from Hard Boiled turns up here in almost identical form.

Technically the production feels a little rushed and therefore the word unpolished comes to mind. I always say that the best directors test out things until they get it right in another movie and therefore I'm willing to forgive a completely mistimed wire pull in one of the action sequences. Another thing John injects in his films is high levels of bloodshed and what's seen in Heroes Shed No Tears makes it more related to Bullet In The Head. The effects are pretty crude but I bet there will be viewers that will be uncomfortable with one or two scenes. A scene many will not be uncomfortable with but will agree that it's out of place is the sex scene. I highly doubt Woo was behind having this in the movie and it feels like something the studio wanted to get in there in order to sell the film. Again, it might even have been an addition for the re-edit in 1986.

This is a really fast paced film which is a great plus but because of the really minimal plot, John needs to fill out the short running time . This results in two comedy scenes that are, one, out of place and second of all not even remotely funny. They actually makes some of the soldiers seem rather callous and death played for laughs isn't something that goes hand in hand with an otherwise serious film. Comedy did have a small place in A Better Tomorrow but there it didn't hurt the overall flow as much as it did here. That you could have drama and a high amount of action was something I was truly impressed by after going through my first few John Woo films. The drama does indeed turn up here but instead of loyalty between partners or brothers, Woo focuses more on family bonds. It's portrayed pretty well and while there are a few nicely handled father-son scenes, the overall impression is that it's too melodramatic, something that lessens the effect.

If the high amount of action or drama doesn't sound good then the actors are something to remember from Heroes Shed No Tears, in particular Lam Ching Ying and Eddy Ko. Eddy doesn't have an extremely expressive face but he can achieve a really cold look to it, making him seem more efficient as a killing machine. The mentioned over the top drama is performed well but Eddy is more memorable with a machine gun in his hand. Lam Ching Ying (from Mr. Vampire) pretty much rises above all aspects of the entire film. He makes up for any lack of characterdepth by just showing an extreme determination and relentlessness in the role. All he needs to do is switch to his meanest glare and the screen is his! I absolutely love his performance and it's worth picking up the disc because of that I would say. The little kid (sorry, don't know his name) who plays Eddy Ko's son and western actor Phillip Lofredo also do commendable work.

John Woo's Heroes Shed No Tears holds interest mainly because it's a B-movie by a director who would quickly become part of the A-list. The ongoing development of action from Woo is also what makes his first gunplay movie worth watching...and Lam Ching Ying.

The DVD:

First of all Deltamac managed to screw up the title on the dvd cover by calling the movie Hero Shed No Tears. Besides that little mishap their reissue of Megastar's old disc is very good. The print has very little print damage and the fairly vivid colour of the jungle setting comes off well. Its framed at 1.85:1.

The Cantonese original mono track (in 2.0) is not very impressive but Hong Kong movies never were when recorded in mono. Having said that, the track is clear sounding and I'll have this over a 5.1 remix any day. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.

The English subtitles had quite a few grammar and spelling errors in the beginning but that cleared up as the movie rolled along. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. The only extra is the trailer that's clearly put together after John made it big.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) Various people have informed me that Australia and Korea were the only places of cinematic release initially. In 1984 to be specific and the film was shot the year before. There's even rumors that Woo assembled a longer cut (the more widely seen version runs 85 minutes), an edit that was slightly tweaked upon release in the aforementioned territories (Australian censor board passed a version lasting 113 minutes!). As for availability of this longer version, an Australian VHS is rumored to have surfaced in the 80s but as of today, no one seems to be in the possession of it.

Also clearly a co-production with at least Korea, Australian and Japanese finance were reportedly put into the production but thus far only a Korean production company has been identified.