“HEROES SHED NO TEARS”
Trademark Style of Hyperkinetic Action and Violence
Never Before Released on Blu-ray in North America, “Heroes Shed No Tears” is a high-octane release from Film Movement Classics with new extras including an interview with star Eddy Ko and a new essay by Asian film authority Grady Hendrix. “Heroes Shed No Tears” ix a precursor to his breakout film “A Better Tomorrow” and demonstrates the beginning of his trademark style of hyperkinetic action and violence. Woo identifies this as his “first real film” after a series of low-budget slapstick farces. This film built the foundation for his over-the-top genre films that would follow.
Hong Kong action veteran Eddie Ko stars as soldier-of-fortune Chan Chung, the leader of an elite Chinese commando force enlisted by the Thai government to capture General Samton, a powerful drug lord from the Golden Triangle. After a successful raid on the general’s headquarters, the mercenaries cross into Vietnam and meet a barbaric colonel (Lam Ching Ying), who is determined to stop them at any cost. Now pursued by both Samton’s henchmen and the colonel’s troops, the heroes flee for the border of Thailand, outmanned and outgunned by their enemies.
The film has a brilliant new 2K digital restoration for optimal viewing experience and while it is over 30 years old but the carnage is still unflinching and holds nothing back in its onslaught of staged combat.
This is the sort of movie that Hollywood loves to make the characters are so dislikeable, the plot so formulaic and the political undercurrents so dubious that the best action in the world is not going to make things right.
To some director Woo is the king of modern action cinema and he starts the film with a bang. The first time we lay eyes on the squad they’re already at General Sampton’s camp and ready to attack, and the moment the opening credits finish they’re off. In many respects what follows is familiar action movie stuff – the commandos have big weapons, shoot from the hip and kill twenty black-dressed bad guys in a single sweep, while the heavily armed would-be protectors of the multi-million dollar drug business run around and shoot wildly in the air. The action itself is briskly shot and staged and the battles peppered with slow motion and Woo’s signature two-handed gunfights, first with pistols, then later with assault rifles and grenade launchers.
It is early in the film to start sympathizing with the bad guys. This is a story of a band of warriors fighting their way back to home base against the odds.
The problem, is character development, of which there is little. The one-dimensional and ruthlessly evil villains will come as no surprise to those who have seen Hong Kong action cinema. The dice-addicted Chin, for example, who is happy to gamble with a local tribal chief and relinquish him of valuable religious relics, but when the chief reacts by threatening Chin’s life, he escapes by blowing the man and his companions to smithereens and cracking a joke. Then there’s Chau, who’s clearly only joined up for the money. At one point he goes on a looting spree by stripping bodies of their valuables, but when a man he mistakes for dead refuses to give up his gold teeth and bites Chin’s fingers, Chin responds by blowing his brains out. When he is killed a few minutes later I couldn’t help thinking he’d asked for it.
Collectively the platoon tend to shoot first and not ask any questions later and are prepared to kill anything that makes moves against them. To up the stakes a little, a second bunch of bad guys is introduced led by a particular nasty military officer who wears dark glasses, makes a ritual of dressing, and shoots people without a flicker of emotion. To prove how ruthless he is, he has a couple of members of a local tribe strung up and shot to pieces, threatening dire consequences for the rest of them if they do not attack. For the first time I felt real sympathy with characters in the film – these people live a simple existence and have no interest in this conflict but are forced to participate to protect the lives of their families. The commandos know nothing of this and don’t waste time investigating – when the tribesmen attack they just slaughter them.
As the action intensifies, the implausibility factor increases, culminating in a grisly scene in which a character is shot, has his eyes sewn open and is hung in the air with a pole wedged in his behind for three hours, an ordeal from which he emerges with his vision intact and his body in fighting fit shape.
There are moments throughout where the brutal and the beautiful come together. The drugged-up sex scenes were added at the insistence of the studio.
- Interview with star Eddy Ko
- New essay by author, film programmer, and Asian film expert, Grady Hendrix