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HEROES SHED NO TEARS - strong cast in complex swordplay drama
Not to be confused with the 1986 film directed by John Woo, HEROES SHED NO TEARS (1980) is yet another in the long series of Shaw Bros. swordplay adventures directed by Chor Yuen from the novels of Ku Lung. This one's more serious and less playful than earlier entries in the series (e.g. THE MAGIC BLADE) and is far more complicated. It features five strong Shaw Bros. male stars (led by Alexander Fu Sheng) in the roles of five men of more or less equal status and martial arts expertise who come into conflict when one of them seeks to take over the martial arts world and undermine or kill the others. While the production values are, as always, beautiful to behold and the action plentiful, the real draw of this film is in watching the way the men interact, form alliances, turn against each other and gradually piece together the truth of the situation. The five stars--Fu Sheng, Ku Feng, Derek Yee, Yueh Hua, Jason Pai Piao--work well together and make up an exemplary ensemble cast.
Son of a famous martial arts master, the charismatic Zhuo Donglai (Derek Yee) is crafty and ruthless and always confident he'll prevail. Using deceit, betrayal, bribery and manipulation, he sets out to destroy the status and livelihoods of two rivals, Zhumeng (Ku Feng), of the Hall of Braveheart, and Sima Chaoqun (Jason Pai Piao), known as "the Unbeatable," and head of a prominent security organization. Two other champions intervene at various points: Xiao Leixue (Yueh Hua), known as "the man with the wooden box," because of the box of 13 special weapons he carries with him at all times, and Gao Jianfei (Fu Sheng), a young swordsman who carries the special "Sword of Tears," which is engraved with a dire prediction that seems to refer to one of the other characters.
Gao and Zhumeng become fast friends early on when they fight off Zhuo's men in a major confrontation at the border. But their friendship suffers later when they both realize they're in love with the same mysterious girl, "Graceful" (Chiu Ya-Chi), who once danced for three days and nights with Zhumeng. It all culminates in a series of fights at a mountain villa involving all the principal characters.
Given the emphasis on the male relationships, it's no surprise that Chor Yuen found little room for the large numbers of beautiful actresses with which he usually populates his films. "Graceful" is the only major female role and she's played by Chiu Ya-Chi, an actress making her Shaw Bros. debut with this film. She is seen dancing in a couple of scenes. She's beautiful, petite and makes a good impression in a supporting role, but she doesn't have the striking presence and aggressive stance of such other Chor Yuen leading ladies as Lily Li, Ching Li, Betty Pei Ti, Nora Miao, and Candy Wen Hsueh-erh, to name only a few.
The fight scenes, staged by Tang Chia, are frequent and involve mostly spear and sword, but are all fairly short, if nicely staged. There is much leaping around as characters vault up and over rooftops to either flee the scene or continue the fight in another set. The actors are all quite competent in cinematic combat, although one wishes Fu Sheng had been given opportunities to show off the hand-to-hand kung fu skills he displayed so masterfully in his films for director Chang Cheh. But he is just one of an ensemble cast here. The big finale is somewhat anti-climactic and should have been a little more extensive, given the presence of all five lead players.
Still, it's a beautiful, grand entertainment, but one that requires close concentration to keep track of all the shifting relationships. It's also got a great Chinese music score, including opening and closing songs, with translated lyrics. The closing song includes the lines, "Heroes do not shed tears that lightly" and "Heroic tears are not easily shed," sentiments that somewhat contradict the film's title.
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