So once again we have survived.

Heroes Shed No Tears

HEROES SHED NO TEARS is not just a great phrase to tattoo on your back or use as an adult recreational softball team name, it’s also a messy pre-A BETTER TOMORROW John Woo picture. We always talk about how the Hong Kong film scene that Woo thrived in was the Wild West compared to the Hollywood that ruined him. Well, then this was Rome or something. This is Woo when he was a straight up exploitation director. He was filming in Thailand, and shit must’ve been even crazier then than in the Tony Jaa era, ’cause they say they were using live rounds in some of these shootouts. Just shoot at stuff behind the actors. Squibs are too much trouble.

Eddy Ko has a great stoic screen presence as a Chinese mercenary on a mission in Thailand to crush some drug lords. After a battle he comes back to his little shack where his son Kenny and his late wife’s sister are waiting for him. Unfortunately he gets followed by some soldiers and the movie is about these mercs and their non-combatant associates traveling through battle torn rural Thailand trying not to get murdered by soldiers or a native tribe of skilled hunters.

The best and most crucial shot in the movie comes in a scene where they come across soldiers stopping a car full of western journalists and molesting them. It’s the ol’ crosshairs shot – rifle-scope POV on a woman’s back as she runs away. And this is the type of movie where the bad guys do indiscriminately shoot innocent women in the back, so we’re bracing ourselves for it. But suddenly she drops to the ground, out of view of the scope, revealing… Ko in a badass pose pointing his gun right at us! He shoots, and in the next shot we see that he doesn’t just hit, he hits through the scope and takes out the eye. So for the rest of the movie we have a sicko general with a bandage on one eye trailing our guy for revenge.

The movie takes on a little bit of a WIZARD OF OZ feel as they pick up more people along the way – the kid, the journalist, an American war deserter that he knew in his old days. That guy looks like Mathieu Kassovitz and seems to practice the BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES bomb-worship religion. We first meet him in a meditating yoga pose, wearing a bomb vest. I think he has two ladies, and there’s a completely out of place sex scene that apparently the producers added in against Woo’s wishes.

The son is kind of funny. He wears a striped shirt and short shorts and sounds like he’s dubbed by an adult woman, like a kid in a Godzilla or Gamera movie. He must not be a hero yet ’cause he cries alot, and seems like such a liability to have along. But in the end he runs in and rescues dad after he’s been strung up for 3 hours. There’s also a scene where the villains surround Kenny with a ring of fire and he seems to be burned alive, but then crawls out from under the dirt that he buried himself in to survive. (Didn’t Daigoro do that in one of the Lone Wolf and Cubs?)

I actually watched this before you guys recommended it on the EASTERN CONDORS review, but thanks for that anyway. It doesn’t compare to that movie, or to the later John Woos. But it’s got some good stuff in it and is important as a bridge between Woo’s early movies and his revolutionizing of the Hong Kong gangster melodramas. With its funny tangent about some of the other mercenaries gambling with the Natives it definitely reminds me of an old school kung fu movie, but then it gets into some serious gun fights.

It’s not essential Hong Kong cinema, but it’s uniquely enjoyable, an odd little journey just over the border of a place I like to call…


Well, maybe it’s more a state of mind than a place. Anyway, it’s a good zone, whatever it is exactly.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 18th, 2012 at 1:48 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “Heroes Shed No Tears”

  1. Title on that cover art appears to be “John Woo SOLDIER DOGS.” Not sure about the small print kanji above it.

    “HEROES SHED NO TEARS” is obviously a better title, and it’s an ethos I support. Tears are acceptable only for women, small children, and Chicago Cubs fans, with one very brief exemption allowed for some Medal of Honor awardees after they’ve retired their green beret & specially trained billy goat stomach lining and tried to become a peaceful civilian only to kill or maim an entire police department & National Guard battalion in the wake of pissing off a local sheriff due to not being from around there & having long hair & having fought in a different foreign war.

    The squibs/real ammo anecdote definitely piques my interest. I’ll be visiting the Thai proto-WOO ZONE soon.

  2. According to the booklet I got with the UK VHS Special Edition of A BETTER TOMORROW, this was actually called SUNSET WARRIOR,it was shot in 1983, but shelved becuase Woo was not happy with the result. Then when Woo hit bigtime, the movie was re-edited and released as HEROES SHED NO TEARS to capitalize on the success that John Woo earned with A BETTER TOMORROW. How much of the final product is the result of Woo´s vision one can discuss. I don´t think Woo was involved in the release of the movie, since he was unhappy with what he shot.

  3. Knox Harrington

    July 18th, 2012 at 5:22 am

    Much as I love the Hong Kong action flicks, I must admit that what Korea has been doing over the past ten years or so has made them my Eastern Entertainment country of choice.

    Now, they mostly focus on thrillers like The Chaser and Mother (a masterpiece, in my opinion) or great revenge movies like A Bittersweet Life and Old Boy, but their action movies have really impressed me.

    City of Violence really is great fun. It perfectly walks that line between the post-Kill Bill era and the earlier John Woo action classics.

    Then there was The Man From Nowhere, which I loved. Best knife fight in ages.

  4. Knox, I agree. The Korean film industry has done a nice job filling the void created by the decline in the HK film industry.

    I also really dig THE MAN FROM NOWHERE. The knife fight at the end is a favorite of mine.

  5. Chan Wook Park´s revenge-trilogy is what i associate with the korean film industry most. I especially like the first one SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE. Its one of the best revenge-movies ever made but OLD BOY is simply just fantastic as well. Also pretty good; BICHUNMOO.

  6. Mouth, Rambo doesn’t cry, that is just pure liquid rage leaking out of his eyes.

  7. Shoot, Chan Wook Park is good, but I really like Jee-Woon Kim. THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD and I SAW THE DEVIL are both great films, and just as good if not better than anything Park has done.

  8. Bong Joon-ho is also worth your time. He, Park and Kim all consistently put out stylish, provocative, finely crafted genre films. Na Hong-jin is sort of in that boat too, but I don’t think he’s quite reached their level of artistry or technique.

  9. THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD is definitely a neo cinema classic as far as I’m concerned. I have yet to see many things that could top the excellent staging of this scene here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3ZHP10__Co

    Can’t wait to see what he has in store for us with his upcoming Arnold joint.

  10. I think I’ve mentioned this here before, but while I liked THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD I would have liked it a lot more if it had actually resembled a Leone film in more than just superficial story elements. Stylistically, it’s closer to the kinetic action of Spielberg’s INDIANA JONES movies, or George Miller’s MAD MAX movies. Those are some fine movies to emulate, but I just don’t understand why there is the constant alluding to Leone’s westerns when the film isn’t anything like them.

  11. Charles – I don´t remember liking THE GOOD,THE BAD AND THE WEIRD all that much actually. But
    I´ll definietely will give I SAW THE DEVIL a shot.

  12. Dan – It definitely does remind me more of Miller’s MAD MAX than anything else because of the quirkiness and car stunts. But that’s also why I dug it alot because not many movies could emulate that feel genuinely. More Leone-isms would’ve been nice but it’s also something that doesn’t always work for a lot of filmmakers. For example as much as I love Walter Hill’s movies there are times where the pseudo Leone moments from them seem really forced and generic.

  13. Also has nobody anything to contribute to HEROES SHED NO TEARS? How did this turn into Korean filmfestival all of a sudden?

  14. Nah Shoot this is one of the few Woo’s that I have yet to see. Vern’s review got me into tracking it down now though as usual.

  15. I agree on all the stuff on South Korea, but I think Thailand has been an equally strong contender the last 10 years. I have two words for you; BANG RAJAN! Damn, what a movie!

  16. Broddie,

    I guess it just perplexes me that Kim uses Leone as a template at all in that film. He’s not emulating Leone, and as far as I can tell he’s not making a statement about Leone by reinterpreting his films through a different style. It’s like if someone made a Beatles tribute album, but changed all the music and lyrics and only kept the song titles. What was the point?

  17. Broddie – You should. Its pretty decent b-movie jungle action through and through. Pretty straight forward shit.Don´t expect THE KILLER or HARD-BOILED quality.As far as jungle action goes its one of my favourites.It still is much better than Bruno Mattei´s STRIKE COMMANDO or ROBOWAR ( although those movie are awesome in their own right). Can´t deny the craftmanship and the chinese stuntmen´s recklessness in those glorious day.

  18. Also, fans of THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD might want, if they haven’t already, to check out LET THE BULLETS FLY, a similarly stylish and exuberant eastern-western from China.

  19. Shoot – STRIKE COMMANDO is one of my faves. How Reb Brown didn’t get an offer for EXPENDABLES 2 is beyond me. If this one’s even better than I’m sure I’m in for a treat.

    Dan – I’ll look into that one. I love eccentric westerns like fat people love cake.

  20. I just meant the craftmanship on HEROES…..is much better than STRIKE COMMANDO. Its not as gloriously silly as STRIKE. For instance you won´t see anything legendary bad like the “Disneyland Death speech”, but the action is great and there isn´t much bullshit in the flick.

    I can´t believe I just compared a John Woo-movie with a Bruno Mattei-flick…..

  21. Broddie, I agree that the action and filmatism in TGTBTW seems to be more influenced by INDIAN JONES than any of Leone’s work.

    Actually, I think you can see a lot of Leone is Woo’s films. There is a scope and feel to films like A BETTER TOMORROW & BULLET IN THE HEAD that are reminiscent of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, and THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY. I have always felt A BETTER TOMORROW is a “chow mein” western and maybe Woo’s most Leone-esque film. The almost weepy harmonica score, the dynamic filmastim with extreme close ups & bombastic action, and the themes of greed, honor & revenge are all influenced by Leone’s films.

    Dan, LET THE BULLETS FLY is excellent.

    Shoot, you should make it a priority to see I SAW THE DEVIL if you have not seen it yet, It will blow you away. The less you know going into it the better, but I will warn you it is a brutal movie.

    PS: I believe I SAW THE DEVIL, TGTBTW, and LET THE BULLETS FLY are all available streaming on Netflix.

  22. If I recall correctly, there’s a sequence in TGTBTW where two of the villains are dressed very similarly to Beloq and one of the nazis in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. A pretty clear nod to what I consider to be one of the dominant influences on the film.

  23. This is actually my favorite John Woo movie, because it taps into the same inner 12yr old that EASTERN CONDORS does (even though EASTERN CONDORS is the better film). There’s something about the cheap and clunky action scenes that make them so much more brutal than his later, slicker work. Plus the action is just non-stop. Also, the title is a fucking liar. Outside of killing people, all anyone does in this movie is cry.

  24. Oh yeah, and how about that “black pepper steak” scene? Depending on what translation you’re watching, the steak being cooked is either a year old (causing the guy eating it to vomit) or a piece of flesh cut from a black soldier (making one of the “heroes” a cannibal). Probably the weirdest “gag” in an action movie I’ve ever seen. Does anyone know what the actual translation should be?

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