John Woo's influential action film was recently ranked #2 on the Best Chinese Motion Pictures list by the Hong Kong Film Awards. Personally, I think this may be an overstatement as to the quality of the movie, but hey - to each his own.
A Better Tomorrow
Director: John Woo
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung
I think part of the reason this film is ranked so high on their list is that it broke the box office record in Hong Kong when it was released in 1986. The plot is the typical convoluted gangster actioner involving brothers on opposite sides of the law, loyalty, betrayal, redemption, cops, Triads, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. This is Woo's famous breakthrough film as a director, and his style is on full display here.
I wouldn't call this a "must see" for action fans (unlike Woo's later films, The Killer and Hard Boiled - which you should see immediately), but its influence on the genre is obvious and admirable. If you're a fan of these types of films, you'll definitely like this one. There's no question it's better than Dog Bite Dog, City of Violence, or any of the modern Dragon Dynasty garbage they're pumping out these days (Tony Jaa films notwithstanding). I prefer The Killer and Hard Boiled because they don't have rely on as many emotional moments and they concentrate more on gunplay. I think A Better Tomorrow tries just a little too hard to be a legitimate movie instead of fully embracing the potential that the action holds. Most of Woo's films are heavy on the melodramatics, but this one seems like the worst in that regard. This aspect is corrected in the last scene, a long and glorious shootout sequence near a dock. And while that shootout is excellent, it doesn't hold a candle to the pure 40 minute all-action finale of Woo's masterpiece, Hard Boiled.
Chow Yun-Fat shows flashes of his leading man persona that he refined over the next few years, chewing on unlit matches and influencing an entire subculture into imitating his appearance. (That does it - next time you see me, I'm going to be chewing on a match. It just looks so damn cool.) Both Chow and Woo had been working for years prior to this film, but it's the general consensus (salute) that A Better Tomorrow was the movie that took their respective careers to the next level. This began a legendary actor/director team-up that rivals the most famous in film history.
You already know what type of film this is, and you've already made the decision on whether or not you're going to appreciate it. So the choice is now left in your capable hands (or eyes, as it were). I'll leave you with the trailer, which is actually a fairly accurate representation of the amount of violence mixed with cheesy dialogue you can expect if you see this. [Note: the subtitles and dubbing is terrible in this clip, and looks/sounds nothing like that on the DVD.] Until next time...