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Heroes Shed No Tears
Directed by John Woo in 1986, just before he'd come to international acclaim for his bullet ballet masterpieces Hardboiled and The Killer, Heroes Shed No Tears may lack the poetry of his better pictures but it still makes for a fun time at the movie.
The story follows Chan Chung (Eddy Ko), a tough hired by the government of Thailand to lead his rag-tag group of Chinese mercenaries on a mission to put an end to a local drug problem. Their mission is to cross a border or two and capture, then return to Thailand, the general behind the drug smuggling going on in the area. The men make their way to the target and, after a showdown, make their escape with him only to be followed no just by his troops but a small Vietnamese army whose leader is out to get revenge against Chung… and things all go south from there.
Somewhat famously recut and even partially reshot by production company Golden Harvest, Heroes Shed No Tears sat on a shelf somewhere until A Better Tomorrow proved a hit and renewed interest in the director's other work. As such, it isn't a shock that the movie is all over the place in terms of tone. The movie mixes loads of macho posturing with completely wonky comedy and more serious drama in uneven measure and to mixed results but the picture is a lot of fun if you go into it in the right frame of mind.
Like a lot of Woo's films, there's some interesting moments of male bonding here. Most of this happens between Chung and his son and these scenes, while light on dialogue, are effectively conveyed through some good camera work and quality acting. It borders on melodramatic in spots, even crossing that border more than once, but it's effective in the context of the story being told. These scenes also give the film a bit of a social conscience, as they clearly speak out against the very human cost of war and its impact on not only those that participate, but those their relatives and family members as well. There is at least an attempt here to portray the horrors of war with a sense of realism in that regard, showcasing not only the violence and heroics that war films typically revolve around (though we get lots of that too) but also how innocent bystanders can and do so often get caught up in these things.
That said, this isn't all drama and heavy stuff. There's a lot of action here and some of it is clearly Woo flexing the muscles that he'd fully develop only a few short years later. The director's trademarks slow motion is on full display here, and if it isn't utilized as gloriously as in some of the aforementioned classics that he's signed his name to, it's still stylish and exciting. These moments serve as precursors of what was to come from the man behind the camera, and while the often times over the top and very stylized violence seems clearly at odds with the message that occasionally tries to creep into things, it does make for a fun watch, so long as you're able to selectively turn your brain of and off every few minutes.
Eddie Ko is a lot of fun in the lead. He scowls and flexes his way through the film, mowing down bad guys with a machine gun. He's quite good here, playing the hardened mercenary and the caring father rather well. There are moments where the scenery gets more than a little chewed and moments where you can't help but feel he's aping Stallone or maybe Schwarzenegger but he carries the picture. And yet, you can't help but feel, by the time that it's all over, he's not so much copying the antics of his better known Hollywood counterparts so much as he, and Woo, are making some thinly veiled jabs at the way that these actors and their films portray war in such a typically unrealistic matter. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it. Either way, Heroes Shed No Tears is an interesting and occasionally very effective action picture. Its message can be hard to find at times, but it's there, and despite the studio meddling, it's quite a worthwhile picture.
Taken from a new 2k scan and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed in its original 1.85.1 widescreen aspect ratio, Heroes Shed No Tears looks really, really good on Blu-ray. Grain is moderately heavy throughout but there isn't really any print damage to note at all, this transfer is almost shockingly clean. Colors are handled well and reproduced accurately, the greens of the jungle looking quite lush at times. Black levels stay strong, though never quite reference quality in every single shot. Skin tones look great, nice and lifelike, while fine detail, depth and texture are all very strong across the board. The transfer is free of any noticeable compression problems and devoid of digital tomfoolery like noise reduction or edge enhancement. All in all, fans should be very happy indeed with how the picture quality shapes up on this disc. All vintage Hong Kong films should look this good!
Audio options are provided in Cantonese, Mandarin and English options in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo flavors with optional subtitles available in English only. Sadly, the original mono track has not been included here and the 5.1 tracks do seem to have some sound effects added to them, presumably to flesh out the surround sound aspect of things. The Cantonese tracks are they way to go and would be the most accurate of the three choices provided. Switching back and forth between the 5.1 and stereo tracks, there isn't a huge difference, the 5.1 option does seem to bring some of the score and effects into the rears with a bit of effectiveness. The stereo track sounds a bit more suited to the film, it's not quite as over the top in spots. It's a shame that the original mix isn't included here but at least the quality of the audio is fine.
The main extra on the disc is a twenty-minute interview with actor Eddie Ko who speaks about how he wound up in the film, what it was like shooting the picture in Thailand, how he got along with director John Woo and his fellow cast members (not all of whom spoke the same language), using live ammunition during certain scenes despite the dangers involved, his feelings on the movie and how it's been received over the years and more.
Additionally, the disc includes a selection of trailers for other Film Movement Classics releases, menus and chapter selection. Included inside the case alongside the disc is an insert booklet containing an interesting essay on the picture and its history penned by writer Grady Hendrix.
Heroes Shed No Tears is not the film that John Woo will be remembered for but it is fast-paced, plenty violent and quite exciting. If might be uneven, sure, but it's a very entertaining film. Film Movement has done a nice job bringing this one to Blu-ray, and while it would have been ideal to get the original audio included, the transfer is excellent and the interview with Eddie Ko very interesting. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.