Heroes Shed No Tears
While still under contract with Raymond Chow's Golden Harvest, where he had been directing comedies and kung-fu films since the mid-70s, John Woo made the now seldom-seen and ultra-rare Heroes Shed No Tears, an explosive and savage war movie that he would later call his "first real film." Shot in Thailand in 1983 but only released when 1986's A Better Tomorrow achieved blockbuster status, the film (also known as Sunset Warrior) borrows liberally from Apocalypse Now and boasts a father-son relationship inspired by the Lone Wolf and Cub series, but plays more like a Hong Kong Rambo: Eddie Ko – with, ill-advisedly, his wife and son in tow – leads a band of mercenaries to capture a drug lord hiding out with his small rebel army in the jungles of the Golden Triangle. Anticipating some of the images of his 1990 Vietnam saga A Bullet in the Head, the film is Woo's first venture into large-scale gun battles—on a shoestring budget and occasionally using live ammunition to save valuable production time. The film's tawdry barbarism departs from Woo's more streamlined later style in many important respects, including an honest-to-goodness sex scene, which the devout Christian and former priest-in-training Woo refused to shoot. But it foreshadows many of the hallmarks of Woo's style and worldview in its not-so-latent homoeroticism and especially in its epic brutality, which has Ko and Co. battling armed commies and even headhunters to a grisly, bone-crunching and tearful finale.
35mm print courtesy of AGFA.
Director: John Woo. 93 min. 1986. 35mm.
Hard Boiled was John Woo's last film in his native Hong Kong, in which he had been writing, producing and directing action pictures of much dynamism and renown for over two decades. It is accordingly a cumulative distillation of his aesthetic tendencies during this time: callisthenic cinematography, moral ultimata between the good and the bad, pistols akimbo and luxurious slow-motion. Woo regular Chow Yun-Fat returns as Officer Tequila Yuen, a morally upright yet anti-authoritarian policeman who nearly single-handedly opposes the local triad, only to become inextricable within a web of violence and double-crossing. The film presents Woo in as assured form as he's ever been, even though his inevitable immigration to the U.S. (christened in Hard Target the following year) catered more clearly to cineplexes than it did to cineastes. Nonetheless, Woo remains one of international cinema's strongest exemplars of the action/crime genre, in which this film stands as perhaps the quintessential Hong Kong entry.
Director: John Woo. 126 min. 1992. 35mm.
Part of the series Not Coming to a Theater Near You, presented by the film blog of the same name.
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