Monday, January 6, 2014

Heroes Shed No Tears

“Heroes Shed No Tears” (aka “Ying xiong wu lei”, dir. John Woo, 1986)
Review By Goat Scrote
                John Woo has been making movies for forty years now in a range of genres and styles, and with vastly different levels of budgetary resources. In case you somehow aren’t familiar with the guy, there was a golden period in the late 80s/early 90s when he was widely considered to be the undisputed world heavyweight champion of action movie directors. His elaborately-staged two-fisted slow-mo gun battles have been imitated so many times they’ve become cliché, and it’s possible to forget that the reason his style has been imitated so many times is the originals were so freakin’ great.
“Heroes Shed No Tears” is an action movie, but it is not from that golden window of time, at least not quite. The way the story goes, “Heroes…” was made around 1984 and then put on a shelf to gather dust for a couple of years. Woo’s big breakout success "A Better Tomorrow" was released in 1986 and established his reputation worldwide. The same year, the studio decided to release “Heroes Shed No Tears” after all.
Now that we’ve got all of that backstory out of the way, I’m going to suggest that the best way to enjoy this movie is to entirely forget who the director was. There are some ‘Woo-ey’ touches, but you will not find herein the visual sophistication or emotional depth or badass choreography of his revered classics. What you will find is a moderately entertaining low-budget B-movie with plenty of cartoonish bloody action. Slapstick violence, darkly absurd situations, and the occasional gross-bodily-function joke help lighten the tone even in the middle of some rather grim events. When one of the soldiers gambles away his dinner, he gets revenge by telling the winner where the meat came from… the rump of a dead enemy soldier. When the bad guys attempt to burn a child alive, the kid saves himself with a technique straight out of a cartoon by digging a hole and burying himself until the danger is over. Is that really less believable than being able to outrun an explosion, or guns that never run out of ammo, or anything else in action movies?

I thought it was Sweet and Sour Pork!
The heroes are a mercenary squad raiding a drug trafficking operation tucked away in the jungle somewhere near the Thai/Vietnamese border. They are bad-asses who mow down enemies by the dozens… and that’s before they bring out the flamethrower! Their plan is to capture the General in charge of the operation and bring him in alive for the huge bounty on his head. The wily General leaves behind a trail of tokens from his lucky charm necklace, so his men are never far behind and they are madder than hornets. 
John Woo's Tropic Thunder
The protagonist is a mercenary named Chan and after the raid, the first stop for the squad is Chan’s house, where his family is waiting to be picked up. The black-uniformed bad guys somehow know where the good guys are headed and manage to get there first. They kill kindly old gramps and Chan must rescue his sister and his son, Little Keong.
As if having one army on their tail wasn’t enough, the squad decides to interfere when a whole different set of military toughs in green uniforms assault a pair of journalists and their driver. A gun battle follows, and there is a cool shooting-a-sniper-back-through-his-own-scope move which is one of my favorite bits of the movie. The officer in charge of the checkpoint loses an eye, and Chan’s squad has a new enemy and a second inexhaustible supply of interchangeable thugs hunting them.
The gambling-addicted member of the team ends up in a dice game with stakes involving another man's wife, a four-faced golden Buddha statue, and four kilos of premium heroin. Other squad members likewise find themselves in tricky, slightly absurd situations... and then out of nowhere, in the midst of the light comedy, SURPRISE IMPALEMENT! The trouble just keeps escalating. Now the bad guys have conscripted a local tribe of hunters to take out the squad. There’s just a dash of cannibal-movie vibe as the tribesmen keep popping up to pick them off one by one with traps and ambushes.
Deodato style calisthenics
The squad heads to a place that appears to be a shrine to the God of High Explosives. In the middle of the place, surrounded by beautiful women, is an unlikely high priest: An oversexed expatriate American soldier who sits around meditating and getting high in an explosive vest. He also happens to be one of Chan’s old combat buddies.
the Jungle is nothing compared to the ghetto
Chan explains that he is after the bounty so he and Little Keong can get to the United States, but their buddy from the US warns that nothing is different there. Personally, I'm a little puzzled by this attitude, and I can only assume that this fella grew up in a really shitty part of some inner-city hellhole. In that case, I can see how someone might think it was pretty normal to have private armies funded by drug sales working out their personal vendettas in the streets with automatic weapons.
The mercenaries have it pretty good here, all things considered, but we know that the two armies have teamed up and they are about to bring down their wrath. A massive gun battle follows, and both sides start flinging grenades and things. Somehow all of this fails to set off any of the explosives wired up all over the place, inside and out. The little kid inexplicably decides to go running across the battlefield, a bonehead move which gets yet another squad member killed and leaves Chan seriously injured and apparently dead. The one-eyed officer takes Chan captive and tortures him rather inventively. His eyes are sewn open and he is hung by his arms, staring at the sun, with a spike slowly impaling him. The kid returns to rescue his father... and he actually pulls it off.
Baby doctors use Johnson and Johnson medical wipes

Later Little Keong chews through the stitching around his father's eyes, which is both demented and quite a sweet display of devotion. Not very sanitary, though, even for emergency field medicine. A few battles later, pretty much everyone is dead, except for Chan, the kid, the sister, and the General. The General has been strapped into an explosive vest to ensure his good behavior, but he just can’t help himself and finally gets detonated. Just when things seem resolved, the one-eyed officer shows up for the final-final-FINAL showdown. With all the serious bad guys out of the way, the tribe makes a final appearance, but they no longer have any reason to hunt Chan’s crew, so they let them go. Chan’s still got serious injuries, they’re homeless, and with the General being reduced to a superheated liquid, there’s no bounty forthcoming. Oh well, at least they’re alive, I guess…? Happy ending!

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