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A Better Tomorrow (HK 1986)


Director : John Woo
Cast : Ti Lung, Chow Yun Fat, Leslie Cheung, Emily Chu, Waise Lee, Fui-On Shing, Kenneth Tsang.

This story is the tale of two brothers: one a successful counterfeiter and the younger a fledgling graduate of the HK police academy. The plot revolves around the split when the younger brother learns the other is a criminal and the efforts of the criminal brother to reform. Along the way are plenty of heists, double-crosses, and shoot outs.

by Edward Tang

Just knowing Hong Kong cinema, you probably have heard of A Better Tomorrow a few times down the road. Over the years, John Woo’s films have become that of legend, people flocking to see his classics such as the Killer and Hard Boiled. But lost in the mix (mostly out of Hong Kong) was this film, the film that made the careers for Chow-Yun Fat and John Woo, and would be one of the landmark films with hundreds of copies and ripoffs. But since Woo has tackled so many different films, with bigger budgets and more gunfire, this film seems a little weaker. But not to worry, Better Tomorrow still holds up as one of the best Hong Kong films ever made, as kids wanted to be Mark Gor (taking his coat and glasses for the famous Triad look) and how over the years, it has become everything from a Wong Jing makeover to now considered in many eyes, a classic. The story is about brotherhood, betrayal, friendship, and honor most of all. Every shot has a purpose and every shot captures you into the simple story of Ho, whose life is turned upside down when his father is killed, and his brother realizes what he does.

The film has a great pace, and an especially catchy song that I hum every once in a while, especially when I’m watching Woo’s latest work (Bleh). The story is basic and was actually taken from an earlier film, which escapes me at this moment. But how the story is played out is why it succeeds. Everything is going great for Ho, he’s a world class counterfeiter, with the world at his finger tips. Along side him is his partner in crime Mark, who shows us his successes as he lights his cigar with a one hundred dollar bill. Ho’s world is turned upside down, when his father is killed and he is captured and sent to prison for three years. When he gets out, he finds out that his brother wants nothing to do with him, the one time lackey of his is now the boss, and his best friend is a shell of his former self. Determined not to be stepped on, with the help of Kit (Ho’s brother played by Leslie Cheung) they eventually destroy the mob boss and re-patch their differences, but not without loss.

This film shows the highs and lows of being alive, and is captured by the performances from the brilliant cast that John Woo casted perfectly. Ti Lung, famous for his days in the Shaw Brothers camp and partner with David Chiang stars as Ho. His performance is great, being one of the only characters not to have a full on makeover and more or less stays the same. Dealing with loss and the sudden impact of being nobody, he acts his way through the roll with power, and you actually feel for the guy at the end. Leslie Cheung does a good job as well, his performance tackles being the happy go lucky brother of Ho until the certain event changes his perspective. Then we know him as a no-bullshit cop, who in the moment of seeing his newly released brother, couldn’t care whether he lived or died. It’s truly a great performance, because Kit made a drastic change in character and eventually patches things up at the end. I like Waise Lee in this film (plays the bad guy Shing) for some reason, just seeing him a little brown-nose and then to be the head honcho, strutting around like king shit. Great stuff. Yes of course, Chow-Yun Fat plays Mark, and is the most famous character out of the bunch (Notice how they had a prequel about this guy and how they couldn’t leave him out of the sequel, so they created a twin brother, well done writers of the future). Chow is a badass, but his transformation is great as well, going from badass to cripple in only a few minutes, his simple nature makes him realize that life isn’t all for taking, and you can get bit in the ass.

The film is basically “heroic bloodshed” and the way the characters are presented, makes them very much likable. You want to see the brothers form a truce at the end of this film, because there are worse people than Ho in the world. The film by itself spawned a whole new genre of film that would be beat into the ground hundreds and hundreds of times. This is who John Woo is, a visual master of showing true emotion for one another and for some kick ass action. This film has probably lost the faith of many because it doesn’t really fulfill the daily action requirement of what something like Hard Boiled dishes out. The few action scenes that are in the film, are great and give this film an added dimension.

With a mix of everything this film counts on relationships and how people eventually evolve from the people they once were. Woo shows his craft in the best way that he could, adding every thing that makes his type of film successful. After winning best picture, being voted as the second best film of all time in Hong Kong, and introducing us to greats of the future, this film has much of what film-making has to offer. So what happened after this film? We were given a sequel and a prequel, the sequel offered more action and I have no idea what the prequel offered. But I enjoyed revisiting characters that I grew to enjoy and showing what John Woo could do with a bigger budget. Less on characters and more on action, who am I to complain?

Watch Better Tomorrow and enjoy it, for what it is. You wouldn’t have the such beloved films as The Killer or Hard Boiled if this film was never made, and thank God it was. But don’t dismiss it like that, everything in this film shows the beginning of a new trend, and the beginning of my favorite period in Hong Kong cinema. See the film and enjoy it, because it has a basic message and still has some f*ckin’ awesome gun fights.

John Woo Rules.

Plot : 4/5
Acting : 4/5
Entertainment : 5/5
Overall : 4/5

Notable Scenes
- The finale shootout
- Mark taking out the guy’s in the tea house
- stealing of the counterfeit disk

Buy this movie at :  YesAsia – A Better Tomorrow

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