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After several years of making relatively unsuccessful comedies and samurai movies, John Woo finally hit the big time in 1986 with A Better Tomorrow, the film that kicked off the ‘Heroic Bloodshed’ genre of Hong Kong action cinema. Upon its release, Golden Harvest decided to release Heroes Shed No Tears, an action film made by Woo in 1984 that had been shelved by the studio. Twenty years later, it has now turned up on DVD…

Heroes Shed No Tears

Feature


Eddy Ko plays Chan Chung, the leader of a group of Chinese mercenaries hired by the Thai government to capture a drug lord, General Sampton, and deliver him to justice. In a fast-paced and exciting opening five minutes, the mercenaries manage to capture the general and escape with his men in hot pursuit, who then team up with the Vietnamese army led by an unnamed corporal played by Lam Ching-Ying.

Heroes Shed No Tears is essentially a road movie, with our heroes stopping off along the way so we can learn about their relationships or to kill off some of the seemingly never-ending supply of bad guys. The relationship between Chung and his son is supposedly based on the manga Lone Wolf and Cub which I have to say I’m not familiar with, but this is the familiar setup of dad-rescues-kid, kid-rescues-dad and they both get the chance to show some emotion.

We also get to see the other members of the team getting into scrapes and running foul of the different characters along their path but one of the problems I found with Heroes Shed No Tears was the pacing. There is a scene where one member of the team goes off into the trees and discovers a dice game which he joins in with. This scene goes on far too long and for the whole time I was asking myself: why is he playing dice when the Vietnamese army is after them? While the acting of the main characters is adequate, the performances of the characters with smaller roles aren’t great and I found the portrayal of a man gambling his wife away far too comedic when compared with the tone of the rest of the film.

Heroes Shed No Tears
There is a scene towards the end of the second act which changes the tone of the film completely. Chung’s team stop off at an outpost run by an old American ally. They share their thoughts on America and when night falls, they all smoke weed and fool around with the masseuses who just happen to be living there. It’s all completely unnecessary and this sequence was forced on Woo by the studio to give the film ‘more production value’ and make it more appealing to Western audiences. Apparently we only like our action if there’s a bit of sex and drugs on the side!

The action sequences are the strongest parts of the film, with plenty of easily identifiable John Woo trademarks on show like slow motion, two-handed gunplay and a wide range of interesting weapons. Fans of his Hong Kong action films like A Better Tomorrow and Hard Boiled will notice some similar shots to those later films and it is at this point that I realised this film is more like a practice run than a bonafide John Woo classic. Taken scene by scene, you can see that John Woo may well have been using this as a chance to hone the skills needed to film action, comedy and dramatic scenes but when pieced together as a whole, it doesn’t quite work, which is probably why it wasn’t initially released by the studio.

Heroes Shed No Tears

Video


This release is touted as being ‘remastered from a high definition source’ and given that Heroes Shed No Tears was filmed over twenty years ago and probably wasn’t looked after very well by the studio before its initial release, it looks pretty good. It is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 and the picture is grainy in parts with the occasional small scratch, but nothing severe enough to detract from the experience. The picture is a little shaky, which is obvious in the opening shots of maps of the region where the action takes place but is not noticeable once the film gets going.

Audio


The main audio track is the dubbed English version, which is supposedly presented in 5.1 surround, although I couldn’t make out anything better than stereo performance. The music on the soundtrack doesn’t sound too bad but the dialogue is particularly muted and fuzzy. It’s not surprising that no great effort appears to have been made to make the dubbing as convincing as possible in a film that was so unloved before its director hit the big time. Also included on the disc are two Cantonese audio tracks in 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 surround and as with the English track, they don't make full use of directional sound and the general quality could have been a lot cleaner.

Heroes Shed No Tears

Extras


The main extra available in this release is an interview with John Woo, where he talks about his work, his influences and his approach to film-making. This is edited in with clips from his early films and an interview with Chow Yun-Fat in which he discusses their working relationship. There’s a little bit more meat on the bones of this that there is in most interview featurettes but there is some wholly unnecessary framing of John Woo in black and white with fire burning in the background. I think the editor was allowed a little too much creative freedom.

We also get the original theatrical trailer which is less of a teaser and more of a three-minute long summary of the best bits in the film and gives away many spoilers so if you get your hands on this release and you’ve never seen the film before, don’t watch the trailer first, whatever you do. There is another trailer, this time the UK promotional trailer for this release in which Voiceover Man tells us that this is the film in which John Woo ‘redefines the Heroic Bloodshed genre’, which perplexed me a little since he hadn’t even defined the genre in the first place when he made Heroes Shed No Tears.

Heroes Shed No Tears
‘A Tribute to Lam Ching-Ying’ is an odd feature, telling us about the actor’s career from his days at school through his work with Bruce Lee to his latest work via rolling pages of text with a musical soundtrack. The only other extras on the disc are trailers and information about other releases from Hong Kong legends (e.g. The Killer, Bullet in the Head), all of which have commentaries by Bey Logan and a better set of extras than we have here.

Overall


Average is an appropriate word to sum up both the DVD and the film itself. Heroes Shed No Tears has its moments and should serve John Woo fans as a glimpse into his early days as an action director while he was warming up to make the classics. The presentation of the feature is about as good as anyone could expect and the extras are not much more than a token gesture to the fans that will pick up this release.


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