The area of Eastern Asia known as the Golden Triangle is a centre of the international drugs trade, and the Thai government has enlisted a group of Chinese mercenaries to track down the drug lord at the head of the operation. Led by Chan Chung (Eddy Ko), the mercenaries are hoping for a new life with the reward they receive from this mission - Chan wants to start over in the United States with his son and his dead wife's sister who are also accompanying him. The operation to seize the drug baron goes well enough, with only a few casualties among Chan's men, but the crime lord's men are persistent, and shortly after it seems there is a whole army out to get the mercenaries as they flee for Thailand...
Can you imagine the sort of film Rambo might have settled down to watch of an evening? Well imagine no more, as surely he would put his feet up in front of the likes of Heroes Shed No Tears (or Ying Xiong Wei Lei if you prefer), the first of writer and director John Woo's modern action movies. Not that it was a happy experience for the cult film maker, as the film wasn't deemed good enough for release and it was only after the success of his later films that it came out to cash in. And in truth, the polish that Woo exhibited in those following movies wasn't so much on show here, as our heroes tend to get into grimy situations that they machine gun their way out of.
The presence of Chan's son was meant to echo the Lone Wolf and Cub series, but the little tyke is more of an irritation than anything else, frequently used to get the characters into tricky situations and what with running around after his father all the time (catchphrase: "Papa! Papa! Papa! Papa! Papa! Papa! Papa! Papa!" ad nauseam) he is responsible for the death of at least one of the mercenaries and the capture of another as they try to get him out of harm's way. The group tend to lose members as they go cross country, but in addition pick up others along the way.
The first to join them is a French journalist who is stopped at a checkpoint, sees her friends gunned down and is then nearly raped but manages to escape thanks to the intervention of Chan's men. This development has the checkpoint soldiers killed except for the officer in charge (Ching-Ying Lam), who loses an eye and is extremely grudgeful about it, vowing revenge on Chan and enlisting the help not only of his soldiers, but a tribe of locals who he forces to act towards his wishes. So a game of cat and mouse follows with Chan and company one step ahead of the mayhem hot on their heels.
You might expect the violence in a Woo film to resemble the balletic gunfights of The Killer or A Better Tomorrow, but in this instance it's pretty grotty, though just as over the top. Anyone who dies in Heroes Shed No Tears does so in an exaggerated a manner as possible, and if it involves a great big explosion then so much the better. There are odd comic interludes, one featuring humorous cannibalism, another with one mercenary gambling with a tribal chief, an apparent lesson in the ills of dice rolling. But really it's the action that Woo concentrates on, and with bodies flying around the screen at every opportunity it's more like a gung ho Vietnam War movie that isn't, which is all very well as far as it goes, but does get a little monotonous. Music by Siu Fung Chung and Siu-Lam Tang.
[The Hong Kong Legends digitally remastered Region 2 DVD has extras that include trailers, an interview with Woo and a tribute to Ching-Ying Lam.]
One of the most influential directors working in the modern action genre. Hong Kong-born Woo (real name Yusen Wu) spent a decade making production-line martial arts movies for the Shaw Brothers before his melodramatic action thriller A Better Tomorrow (1987) introduced a new style of hyper-realistic, often balletic gun violence.
It also marked Woo's first collaboration with leading man Chow-Yun Fat, who went on to appear in a further three tremendous cop/gangster thrillers for Woo - A Better Tomorrow II, The Killer and Hard Boiled. The success of these films in Hong Kong inspired dozens of similar films, many pretty good, but few with Woo's artistry or emphasis on characters as well as blazing action.
In 1993, Woo moved over to Hollywood, with predictably disappointing results. Face/Off was fun, but the likes of Broken Arrow, Windtalkers and Mission: Impossible 2 too often come across as well-directed, but nevertheless generic, studio product. Needs to work with Chow-Yun Fat again, although his return to Hong Kong with Red Cliff proved there was life in the old dog yet.