Made in the early 1980s, John Woo's first contemporary action film is an entertaining bloodbath about mercenary warfare in the Golden Triangle. Dusted off and recut for theatrical release after A BETTER TOMORROW (1986) made him a household name in Hong Kong, the film received its first official US release on home video in 1998. A band of mercenaries led...read more
Made in the early 1980s, John Woo's first contemporary action film is an entertaining bloodbath about mercenary warfare in the Golden Triangle. Dusted off and recut for theatrical release after A BETTER TOMORROW (1986) made him a household name in Hong Kong, the film received its first
official US release on home video in 1998.
A band of mercenaries led by Chan Chung (Eddy Ko) is hired to bring druglord Samton back to Thailand. Seizing him in a violent confrontation, they proceed to rescue Chan's young son Keung and girlfriend Julie from Samton's men. Later witnessing a double murder, they attack the soldiers responsible
and rescue a French woman from being shot by the Colonel (Lam Ching-Ying).
Having lost an eye in the confrontation, the Colonel forces a tribe of natives to track down and ambush the mercenaries. Chan's men win the fight, but young Keung flees and is trapped in a burning field by the Colonel. Burying himself to escape the flames, Keung is soon reunited with the
mercenaries, who pause to rest in the hut of Chan's old army buddy Louis and his three wives.
When the Colonel, now allied with Samton's men, assaults the hut, the surviving mercenaries flee, leaving behind a wounded Chan to be tortured by the Colonel. Keung blows up the hut to rescue his father, and reunited with Louis they discover the others under siege from Samton's men. Louis
sacrifices himself and his wives in the ensuing battle and both sides are gradually wiped out--leaving the Colonel to kill Julie and be killed by Chan in a hand-to-hand duel.
Woo would return to the concept of an episodic trek through Asian warzones with his 1990 masterpiece A BULLET IN THE HEAD, but by then he'd know enough to make the story character-driven. Here he offers only thumbnail sketches of characterization, dropped into some inspired set-pieces but without
any emotional resonance. Two of Chan's men are given short expository sequences to flesh out their motivation for becoming mercenaries, but both are simple comic asides that only serve to break the mood and narrative flow. The Colonel is actually the most interesting of the bunch, obsessed with
revenge and mainlining local drugs as painkillers, killing his own men when they question his motives, striding through a barrage of explosions without so much as a flinch--an obvious nod to Robert Duvall in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979). In other cinematic references, the natives springing from the earth
and the swamp are heavily reminiscent of Japanese swordplay films, and the child burying himself in a flaming field is a direct lift from LONE WOLF AND CUB, although Woo claims never to have seen the series, averring that--despite the credits--he didn't actually script HEROES SHED NO TEARS.
Whoever did write it, the difference between the various available translations of the film is best summed up when a mercenary eating a steak asks his buddy where it came from and gags on the repugnant response. In the tamer subtitled version for mallgoers: "I've been carrying it around in my bag
for about the last three weeks." In the darker, more cynical subtitled translation for cinema purists: "Sliced it off the ass of that soldier I just killed." And in the original Cantonese import, shown theatrically throughout Asia: "From the corpse of a black soldier..." (Graphic violence, nudity,sexual situations, extreme profanity.)
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