|Plot Outline: Ho (Ti Lung) is a counterfeiter for the Hong Kong triad along with his partner and best friend Mark (Chow Yun-Fat). Ho’s brother Kit has recently joined the police force, but isn’t knowledgeable of his brother’s gangster life style. Before Ho can truly give up his criminal past for Kit, he is pushed into one last job on a trip to Taiwan. Ho makes the trip with a new kid named Shing, but they soon find out it was all a trap. The meeting turns into a bloodbath and Ho is forced to turn himself into the police. Back at home things go bad when a thug shows up at Ho’s father’s home and tries to take him away. Ho’s father fights back and Kit is unable to protect him leading to their father’s eventual death. While Ho serves his prison sentence Kit becomes bitter and blames his father’s death on Ho and his friend Mark is shot and crippled while on a job. So after three years Ho is finally released from prison, Mark wants Ho to join him in one last attempt to make it big time, but Ho wants to fly straight for Kit. Not to mention that Shing has become a big name in the Triads and is also pursuing Ho to join them. Ho is torn in all directions. He and everyone around him begin to spiral down until the climatic ending.|
The Review: This is perhaps one of the most important films in recent Hong Kong history. I’ve heard this called the first ever Heroic Bloodshed film and i’m not all that sure it’s not, but even if it isn’t it’s still perhaps the first important film of the genre. Not only did it influence just about every film that’s been made in the genre, but it also launched several careers. John Woo, Tsui Hark, Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung and it even re-invigerated Ti Lung’s career, showing that he could do more than just kung fu films. Not only is the film important, but it’s also pretty darn sweet too.
I would say A Better Tomorrow probably ranks in at second place among Woo’s serious films. Second only to The Killer of course. The film has everything you could want from a Heroic Bloodshed film. It’s got the guns, the style, the unnecesary melodrama and lots and lots of blood everywhere. Now, the action sequences aren’t quite as abundant as the sequel, or even The Killer really, but what is here is quite stellar.
I don’t know, maybe it’s the old school kung fu nut inside me, but i think Ti Lung is really what holds this film together. Chow is of course as charismatic as ever, but Lung is kind of the straight man here. He plays it cool and quite reserved and i think that’s what kind of brings it all together. As i mentioned, Chow is out there in this one. He starts off as the calm cool and collective Mark, and then kind of unravels. Crippled and unbalanced, Chow, although overracting quite a bit, puts in a brilliant performance. Even though he’s beaten like a dog and not a pleaseant sight to behold, you still can’t take your eyes off him and he makes for a great heroe to root for.
Don’t be mistaken though, Chow is certainly playing second fiddle here. Leslie Cheung and Ti Lung are the center points of the story. Chow’s character takes a larger and a whole lot cooler role in part two which i heighly reccomend for a night of fun.
When i first saw A Better Tomorrow i wasn’t all that familiar with Johnn Woo’s work, or even the HK movie scene post 1980 really. So when i first watched it i completely missed the cameo’s by Woo himself and even Tsui Hark. Woo plays the detective in the film and Hark plays one of the judges at Jackie’s recital. He’s also the one that gets the cello through the window.
A Better Tomorrow is number three on my John Woo film list, first would be Hard Boiled followed by The Killer and then A Better Tomorrow. It’s really like comparing Apples and Oranges though, they’re all great in my opinion. If you’re new to Woo’s work though, i would reccomend starting with The Killer or Hard Boiled though. After that it should help you appreciate how great A Better Tomorrow is.