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Heroes Shed No Tears

original title: Ying xiong wu lei

Comparison:

  • Extended Blu-ray
  • South Korean VHS
Release: Feb 05, 2023 - Author: Sun Wukong - Translator: Sun Wukong - external link: IMDB

"WHEN THE MUZZLE OF THE M-60 BURNS RED, HIS WAR BEGINS!" (Korean tagline)

"I've always wanted to do a movie with lots of guns. But not this story, it didn‘t even have a coherent plot. The script consisted of maybe 15 lines of dialogue and the rest was nothing but massacres, drugs, nudity and truly revolting savagery. For example, there was a scene where the Viet Cong captured an American GI: They cut off his foot, dripped the blood into a bowl of rice, and then ate it. What the heck is that supposed to be? This is just disgusting. I was very disappointed. I tried to make it more of a tragedy and it turned into a very different film. I edited The Sunset Warrior at night and it got sadder and sadder. Ultimately, the story ended up being very tragic. The studio was very dissatisfied with this development. They called me 'old fashioned' because of my emphasis on themes like 'loyalty' and 'honor' and that father-son relationship."

John Woo, quoted from "Woo: Leben und Filme" by Thomas Gaschler

Heroes might not shed tears. This film, however, caused its main actor Eddy Ko (who, many years later, would appear in supporting roles in Hollywood productions such as The Martian and Lethal Weapon 4) to shed bitter tears. This spontaneous display of grief had been caused by a cinema screening of this early outing by Hong Kong directing legend John Woo, which had only debuted in Hong Kong after a delay of several years. Ko was shell-shocked by what is shown in theatres, as it bore little resemblance to the early cut that he had seen shortly after production. Although Woo's unmistakable handwriting is still somewhat recognizable in some parts of the final release, the plot is constantly bogged down by groan-inducing attempts at comedy or sleazy softcore erotica. But what almost none of the cinema-goers realised at that point: Woo is not to blame for the insufferable comedic bits (or indeed the bizarre near-constant tonal shifts), as they were committed at the behest of the Golden Harvest Studios, which were responsible for the production.

"That was a blow to me. I believe Woo and I were victims. Because at some point I bought an autobiography of Woo. From the time he started in the industry through his time in Hollywood, he never mentioned this film at all. You can imagine how big a blow it was to him. And after my time on the shoot and after seeing the premiere I stopped acting in movies for over two years. I hunkered down in the TV station and only acted in TV shows. Because I worked like crazy making such a good film, and to see how they changed it... So I feel like I'm also a victim... just like Woo. It's no wonder he never talks about this film." Eddy Ko in an interview on the British Blu-ray

John Woo, who had primarily been known as a comedy director up until that point, was fed up with the assembly line work at Golden Harvest. In the early 1980s, he was ready for a fresh start at one of Golden Harvest's main competitors, Cinema City. But Woo still owed his previous employer one last film. Since Woo wanted to try his hand at action, he was entrusted with an action-laden screenplay by author Chua Lam. The script (which allegedly carried the Chinese title 飲血部隊 - Blood-drinking Squad) had been offered to Woo as early as 1982 (principal photography is generally believed to have taken place some time in 1983, but according to Woo himself it also may have taken place in 1982), but as can be inferred from the introductory quote, Woo was hardly enthusiastic about the material and so he and Chua Lam revised the script together while shooting was already underway in Thailand. Heroes Shed No Tears was produced under the title The Sunset Warrior with an international audience in mind. The cast and crew were a colorful mixture of people from across the globe: Hong Kong Chinese, Thais, Koreans and French attempted to communicate with each other in English as best as they could. The cameraman was Japanese and didn't speak a word of English. Screenwriter Chua Lam, who studied in Japan in the 1960s, proved to be a great help here. Woo's young producer Peter Chan grew up in Thailand and and helped out as an interpreter for the Thai crew. The impromptu changes to the script and the prevailing linguistic chaos cause Woo much concern. "Heroes Shed No Tears was a disaster to shoot. That was my first attempt at making gunfire movies. Things were not ideal. I had to keep tweaking the stories as I shot." 

So dissatisfied were Golden Harvest with the end result that the studio bosses declare the film unfit for distribution. They ordered extensive reshoots to make Sunset Warrior more commercial. More sex! More violence! More humor! After Woo insists on writing the newly shot scenes himself, the studio runs out of patience. The film is shelved and and an unnamed director is hired to do the reshoots. In 1986, after Woo broke box office records in Hong Kong with his seminal gangster classic A Better Tomorrow, Golden Harvest saw the chance to quickly cash-in on that success by finally releasing the film that had been rotting away in their archive. And so, a version defaced with reshot scenes was rushed into cinemas. Golden Harvest's attempted cashgrab proved unsuccessful and the grotesque, incoherent monstrosity they released quietly disappeared after just 6 days and grossing a mere 3 million Hong Kong dollars - not even a tenth of what A Better Tomorrow had made. Woo distances himself from from the released version to this day.

The South Korean VHS

The sad saga of Heroes Shed No Tears could end here - but similar to Woo's Hollywood debut Hard Target, where Woo's tremendous original cut survived at least in the form of a VHS bootleg, there is a small happy ending here. As mentioned before, Heroes Shed No Tears was shot with the international market in mind. Some Korean actors were also part of the shoot. Unlike the Hong Kong distributor, the Korean distribution company Dong-A Exports released an early, reshoot-free cut to Korean cinemas on November 30, 1984. This version was released on video in Korea on January 30, 1989.

The bonus feature Sunset Warriors Shed No Tears - A Tale Of Two Cuts, which can be found on the UK Blu-ray by 88 Films and the German Blu-ray by Nameless, first drew attention to this obscure version. In this featurette, commentator Brandon Bentley explains that the existence of an alternate version on a South Korean VHS has been rumored among various internet forums but heavily contested. The probable reason for this controversy is quickly found, as there have been a number of VHS releases of Heroes Shed No Tears in Korea over the years, each with different titles, with most of them probably containing the Hong Kong version.

Those lucky enough to get the right cassette will be rewarded with a small masterpiece that – while not quite in the same league as Woo's later Hong Kong classics A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Bullet in the Head or Hard-Boiled - can easily be considered among the director's finest works. Precursors to Woo's trademark stylistic devices, which one will immediately recognize from The Killer or Face/Off, are readily on display in this version. While the Golden Harvest version merely offers a hint at the the action maestro's handwriting, you're offered the real deal here! Both in in terms of style and content, this version feels 100% Woo. In light of the more than 30 minutes of new material that drastically alter the tone of the film (let alone the complete lack of 20 minutes of garbage re-shoots that have tainted the reputation of this film for far too long) it is more than overdue for this unfairly maligned early work to receive the critical re-appraisal it deserves.

It is therefore all the more unfortunate that no studio has so far managed to release the Korean version on DVD or Blu-ray in its entirety. Only the bonus feature Sunset Warriors Shed No Tears - A Tale Of Two Cuts gives a small taste of the Korean version, but at a running time of 14 minutes it doesn't really begin to cover all the changes. One can only hope that a label will soon be able to fix this, especially as it seems that the Korean version is readily available as an HD stream in its home country (including on Google Play!). On top of that, a 35mm copy is apparently stored at the Korean Film Archive. Hopefully, either one of these prints will make its way onto a Blu-ray release as soon as possible, so that John Woo fans can finally enjoy this version that has been forgotten for far too long.

South Korea HD Stream South Korea VHS

A Film By... Sin Wi-Gyun?!?

Before we get into the main movie, a few words about the credits. In the Korean version, the opening credits are all in Chinese. Golden Harvest is known to have renamed the film from its original title (The Sunset Warrior, or 黃昏戰土 in Chinese) to Heroes Shed No Tears (英雄無淚) just ahead of its theatrical release, hoping the new title would allow them to cash-in on the association with Woo's blockbuster hit A Better Tomorrow (英雄本色 - "The True Nature of a Hero"). Curiously, the Korean version uses neither one nor the other title, the title is given as 九死一生, which literally translates to "Nine deaths, one life", but is actually a Chinese idiom that translates to "narrowly escaping death". The Korean Movie Database lists "Close Call With Death" as the English title.

But the confusing mess of titles is just the beginning. Next you may be surprised to learn that the two main actors Eddy Ko and Lam Ching-Ying aren't listed in the credits at all. Instead, names like Ho Yiu-sum and Lam Gun-bo are found. A quick look at Wikipedia brings the explanation: These are the birth names of Eddy Ko and Lam Ching-Ying. Why the actors are credited here under their birth names rather than their usual stage names remains a mystery at first.

Blu-ray South Korea VHS

However, the biggest surprise comes at the end of the opening credits. After the Korean Lee Woo-suk is named as the producer, one actually expects a directing credit for John Woo. But instead of Woo, a Korean gets the sole credit as director: Sin Wi-Gyun. Who is this Sin Wi-Gyun? Could he be the unnamed director of the infamous reshoots?

The enigmatic Sin Wi-Gyun

Anyone looking for Sin Wi-Gyun on the Internet will first come across the Hong Kong Movie Database. There, Sin Wi-Gyun (AKA Chin Wei-Chun AKA Shen Wei-Kun AKA Shin Wei-Chun AKA San Wai-Kwan AKA Shen Wei-Chun) is credited as an assistant director on about a dozen HK productions. What is striking here is that these are exclusively productions in which actors and crew members from Korea were involved. Sin served as an assistant director on the magnificent Shaw Brothers classic King Boxer (which helped start the 70s kung fu craze when it was released in the US unter the alternate title Five Fingers of Death), directed by Korean Jeong Chang-hwa. However, what is even more interesting in connection with Heroes Shed No Tears: Both Sin Wi-Gyun and Lee Woo-suk had already worked together with John Woo on a Golden Harvest production roughly 10 years earlier, on Woo's early girl power martial arts flick The Dragon Tamers (released in Korea as A Dangerous Hero), which again featured numerous Korean actors and was indeed shot in Korea. So there's a high probability that he is not the director of the reshot scenes, especially since the reshoots exclusively feature Hong Kong actors and none of the Korean actors.

Poster of the first Sin/Woo collaboration: The Dragon Tamers

Neither producer Lee Woo-suk nor assistant director Sin Wi-Gyun are named in the Hong Kong credits. Even more bizarrely, Golden Harvest boss Leonard Ho receives sole scriptwriting credits in Korea! The original author Chua Lam is not named in either version, Woo gets the sole author credit in the Hong Kong version. There is likely a simple explanation for these peculiar changes. The German-language John Woo biography "Woo: Leben und Filme" paints a vivid picture of the "absurd situation in the film market in the Republic of South Korea":

Since the dawn of the television age in the southern part of the divided peninsula in the late 1960s, viewers have been turning away from local movie productions and their antiquated technology. In an effort to put an end to this development, the 'Motion Picture Promotion Corporation' (MPPC) pushed through an insane law: A quota system is supposed to protect the local film industry from foreign imports (mainly from Hollywood, but also from Hong Kong), but ultimately it ends up thoroughly ruining the industry for years to come. According to Article 16 of South Korea's Film Law, a film company can only import a foreign film if it exports four domestic productions with a total profit of at least US$20,000. However, resourceful business people quickly come up with an idea how to circumvent 'the worst film law that has ever existed in Korea': professionals from Hong Kong shoot films with Cantonese stars in secret co-productions, which on the one hand look like foreign productions, which goes down well with the Korean audience. At the same time, they‘re listed as 'Korean' productions, so they do not fall under the quota system for imported films. (Of course, the name of the co-producing Hong Kong company was not allowed to appear in the opening credits of the Korean version.)

It is thus likely that Heroes Shed No Tears was officially released in South Korea as a South Korean production. This might also explain why a copy of the film is stored at the Korean Film Archive.

Picture quality

In terms of picture quality, there is of course a world of difference between the Korean VHS and the HD master that is used on current Blu-rays. Nevertheless, it must be said that the HD version suffers from quite excessive cropping. A lot of image is lost at the top and bottom, to the point where in some cases the upper half of the faces of characters are cut off.

Blu-ray South Korean VHS

As is not uncommon with Open Matte, the picture format changes occasionally in the Korean version. Some scenes (mostly action scenes where the camera probably zoomed in closer) are practically in a 4:3 format. Naturally, even more of the frame is lost during cropping in those scenes.

Blu-ray South Korean VHS

Compared to the material seen in "A Tale of Two Cuts", the actual picture quality of the VHS turns out to be considerably more detailed, which is probably due to the fact that the videos for the bonus feature were either re-encoded several times or an attempt was made to cut down on the VHS-typical noise with a noise filter - with questionable results. Considering the age of the cassette (which is more than 30 years old at this point), the picture quality looks quite decent.

A Tale Of Two Cuts South Korean VHS

The uncut Hong Kong extended version featured on the German Blu-ray was compared with the slightly censored alternative version on the South Korean VHS. Exclusive footage Korea: 78 scenes = 31 minutes 55 seconds Censorship compared to the HK version: 4 scenes = 7.2 seconds Hong Kong-exclusive Footage: 18 scenes = 21 minutes 13 seconds Of these, an estimated 5 scenes (19 min 46 sec) are reshoots that the director did not approve of and 8 scenes (28.9 sec) were probably shot by Woo himself. Company logos and copyright notices 3 scenes = 59.5 sec Excerpts from "Woo: Leben und Filme" courtesy of Thomas Gaschler. Side note: Changes to the music and the dialogue are not discussed in detail in this comparison. Basically, the Korean version and the Hong Kong version use the same soundtrack, but the music is often used in completely different places. There are one or two brief voice overs in the Korean version where there are none in the Hong Kong version (notably during the opening credits).

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0:00:00
The Fortune Star logo is absent in the Korean version. No surprises there, as it was not initially part of the film and only got added in the 2000s.
35,3 sec



0:00:35
The Golden Harvest company logo is absent.
19,2 sec



0:00:54
The introduction differs both visually and in terms of content. In the HK version, the backstory and character motivations are briefly outlined in a relatively neutral fashion (Note: the following quote retains the original subtitles' punctuation and grammar):
"Golden Triangle lies in the delta area amidst Burma, Combodia and Thailand Where produces 75% of world's drug February this year the Thai government determining To destroy it and its tycoon Samton Sent out a recruited troop Which was made up of several Chineses Some join for idealism Some join for return of a U.S. green card Some join to escape from family And some for money They all gathered here to kill"

In stark contrast, the Korean version dishes out some heavy-handed propaganda right off the bat (Please note that this is a machine translation of the opening crawl and as such may contain errors):
"After the red invaders of the Viet Minh Army had occupied the mountains of free Vietnam, an organization emerged which provided more than half of the world's drug supply through opium cultivation in the Golden Triangle, on the border between Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. It's name was 'Black Division'. Another organization led by Korean Jin Ho-geol, who fought alongside the whites as a warrior in Vietnam. He had lost his beloved wife to the Viet Cong and took his five-year-old son to the Thai border. One day, Jin Ho-geol, victorious against the cruel North Vietnamese army, received a secret assignment from INTERPOL: to capture Samton, the leader of Black Division, alive and transport him."
HK: 36,2 sec
KR: 39,2 sec

Blu-raySouth Korean VHS



0:01:30
A fade-in is missing.
2,1 sec



0:01:35
Both the "A Film by John Woo" credit and the title are missing in the Korean version.
No difference in running time
Blu-raySouth Korean VHS



0:02:01
The Chinese-English credits for the main and supporting actors are absent in the Korean version.
No difference in running time
Blu-raySouth Korean VHS



0:02:20
The alternative Chinese title is shown in the Korean version.
No difference in running time
Blu-raySouth Korean VHS



0:03:53
Additional producer credit for Lee Woo-suk
No difference in running time
Blu-raySouth Korean VHS



0:03:58
John Woo is credited as the director in the HK version, Sin Wi-Gyun is credited in the Korean version.
No difference in running time
Blu-raySouth Korean VHS



0:04:19
Chau Sang reloads his grenade launcher.
3,1 sec



0:04:39
After Chan mowed down about a dozen of Samton's troops, the gunfight goes on for a bit longer.
6,3 sec



0:04:53
The baskets of opium are riddled with bullets during the firefight.
4,6 sec



0:05:33
An additional shot of Samton's burning troops.
1,6 sec



0:05:44
Chin wastes some of Samton's goons.
3,1 sec



0:05:49
While Chin hides behind a pillar, Samton tries to make a run for it.
5,1 sec



0:06:04
The beginning of this shot was shortened to give the impression that he getaway vehicle arrives more quickly.
1,2 sec



0:06:11
Ah Yee shoots some bad guys off a tree.
5,3 sec



0:06:19
Chan runs out of the car, Chin gives him cover.
1,6 sec



0:06:21
The first true highlight that was removed at the behest of Golden Harvest: Chan rushes to aid his beleaguered comrade. But Ah Yee wants a hero's death and has to dissuade Chan from his rescue attempt at gunpoint. The two shake hands one final time.
29,7 sec



0:06:22
A brief shot of Samton's approaching men that had been in the previous removed scene was cut inbetween a shot of Ah Yee lying on the ground in the HK version.
0,8 sec
Blu-raySouth Korean VHS



0:06:30
Chan gets back in the car while Samton's men give chase.
5 sec



0:08:30
Julie looks sad after telling Kenny that his dad won't be back anytime soon.
5,5 sec



0:10:52
More philistinism: A slow-motion shot was shortened.
0,4 sec



0:11:05
A startled Julie runs to the back of the hut.
1,2 sec



0:13:10
We're now treated to the first reshot scene in the Hong Kong version: An incredibly stupid bit of "comedy", culminating in the hi-larious punch line that Chin is eating human flesh. "I just killed a black soldier and cut off the butt of the corpse." In the English dub, this has been toned down and by simply turning it into into 3-weeks-old rotten meat. [The "black soldier" probably refers to one of Samton's people, but the old Engrish subtitles of the Hong Kong version leave some room for interpretation here]
134,1 sec



0:13:10
The Korean version instead features a scene in which Chin tells Kenny that he should always eat his rice so that he'll grow big and strong. After that, there is some dialogue between Julie and Chau Sang.
38,8 sec



0:17:55
Additional shots of the border guards slacking off.
11,5 sec



0:18:25
The fanatical commander is rather displeased by his troops' lack of work ethic. He especially objects to them listening to the radio (which he then promptly shoots). He then gives them a short speech.
65,3 sec



0:19:35
A short but meaningful moment is lost: while Chan is hiding in the bushes watching the border guards, the commander glances in his direction. It remains unclear whether the commander actually sees Chan, but the inevitable confrontation between the two opponents is hinted at.
4,5 sec



0:20:16
The Frenchman is threatened with a gun in additional shots.
3 sec

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