John Woo Lashes Out
Heroes Shed No Tears features more close-ups of guns than people. This is John Woo fantasizing about his action-laced future, stuffed into a puerile post-Vietnam slaughter. It’s so absurd and alarming, Heroes Shed No Tears appears to satirize American ‘80s violence, shrewdly ripping off Rambo with shots of muscles flexing from machine gun recoil and ammo sprays a mile wide.
Inside is a movie fighting with itself, a story of childhood innocence lost to bloodshed (played to a somber flute) and later an American soldier meditating among an entire weapons arsenal. There’s phony violence, Thai natives, eye gougings, and an entire scene dedicated to a soldier taking a small village for everything they own in a dice game. Heroes Shed No Tears never grasps tone, flip-flopping as if John Woo is taking this opportunity to catch all genres.
While at times playful, Heroes Shed No Tears is ultimately gonzo and angry. While American action cinema at the time focused on winning Vietnam through pure will, Heroes Shed No Tears fearlessly (and arguably, crassly) depicts the war in earnest. Villains seem outrageous, circling a small child with gasoline, igniting flames, and standing back to watch with smiles on their faces. Men die via flamethrower in slow motion. Bodies – obvious dummies – scatter in explosions. Machetes cut off limbs. Much of the budget appears spent on blood squibs.
… the nihilism isn’t dressed with heroism
… the nihilism isn’t dressed with heroism
It’s unhinged and surreal, dubious in its unreality while still tethered to the real world. Five Chinese mercenaries invade a Thailand drug ring looking to cease the trade, but continue to stumble as they march through Vietnam. Everyone and everything is an enemy. With some caution, the nihilism isn’t dressed with heroism. Fighting turns all against each other.
Grisly morals come from Eddy Ko, who in the beginning is a theatrical hero. He’s dedicated to the mission, more so to being a father. By the end, villains stitch his eyes, hang him, and keep him alive with a spear shoved into his spine for support. Humanity is no more here, breaking down into a vicious Golden Harvest studio special kung-fu fight. Then, further disintegration as the brawl turns primal. Ko and his foe grab logs, beating one another in a show of instinct as much as manliness.
Like most, Heroes Shed No Tears becomes anti-war by its conclusion. Tough guy, ‘80s coolness and macho gunplay gives way to a desperate survival tale. Ko cries despite completing the mission. War doesn’t make heroes; it makes victims. Thus, satire of those western films that make it look easy.
Film Movement presents a marvelous 2K scan of Heroes Shed No Tears. The only sign of age comes from the hefty grain structure. It’s a lot, but preserved cleanly. Encoding handles the thickest pockets generated by the film stock. That happens without signs of processing.
Generous levels of detail happen as a result. Heat produces sweat, accentuated in close-ups. Bloody violence and make-up looks ghastly – as intended. In long shots, jungles render tall grasses and trees without trouble. Sharpness for a source of this nature is remarkable.
Also spectacular is color, slightly heated with a small digital touch if saturated to restore the film stock’s attractiveness. Flesh tones exhibit rich tans and the bevy of greenery never slows. Outrageously red blood sticks out.
Credit to the contrast for keeping hearty sunlight overhead. Black levels don’t reciprocate, more on the cheaper film utilized than this transfer. However, that lack of density adds to the grit.
Cantonese, Mandarin, and English come in DTS-HD 5.1 and stereo options. Stick with the Cantonese for accuracy. Rusty-sounding dialog is endemic to something like Heroes Shed No Tears. That’s rough.
In 5.1, surrounds act like stereo clones, adding some mild directionality if nothing discrete. On the stereo track, things settle down; it’s more natural. Fidelity of the action creates some solid low-end activity with explosions and gunshots have enough clarity to question if they were recently added. Without something to compare, that’s only a guess.
Eddie Ko sits down for an interview, running nearly 20-minutes as he discusses his career and this project. Film Movement includes a few trailers on the disc, and screenwriter Grady Hendrix pens a great essay for inclusion in the case.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Heroes Shed No Tears
John Woo directed the bizarre, inconsistent anti-war story Heroes Shed No Tears early in his career, and it’s outlandish enough to watch with interest.
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