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In the 1980s, Chinese and Taiwanese films stormed into European and American art-house theatres, while for less fastidious audiences, Hong Kong provided cult action films, first Kung Fu pictures then gangster flicks. John Woo became the Crown Colony's hottest director through his kinetic crime flicks that filtered the lyrical violence of Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, and Walter Hill through an Asian sensibility and re-exported it to the States where Quentin Tarantino became a major admirer. Woo's trademarks are the stand-off, where two or more gunmen hold each other at bay, and the ferocious gunfight in which dozens of people are killed and restaurants blown apart as the hero pirouettes and somersaults while blasting away with two automatic pistols to throbbing, synthesized Western music. "A Better Tomorrow" is a characteristic fable of male friendship, stoicism, courage, and men living by a personal code, in which women are marginalized. It made an overnight star of Chow Yun Fat, who appeared in most of Woo's pictures. The handsome, reserved, athletic Chow is the epitome of Hong Kong movie cool, a moral man in an amoral world, his character is much the same whatever side of the law he is on. The movie also introduced Leslie Cheung, who was to become an iconic figure in mainland Chinese cinema.
Mark and Ho are gangsters for a major syndicate. Ho's brother Kit is
unaware of his brother's lifestyle and himself is an ambitious police
officer. However when Ho is betrayed by the bosses he is sent to jail and
his father murdered, leaving Kit marked within the force and bitter towards
Ho. Mark takes revenge on those who set up Ho but suffers severe damage to
his leg as a result. When Ho comes out of prison Mark is reduced to
cleaning up for new boss Shing. Ho and Mark resolve to move on, but Shing
has other ideas and also plans to deal with Kit to stop him investigating.
With the police and mob closing in Ho, Mark and Kit are forced to take a
As part of my build up to see Bullet Proof Monk I have been watching some of Mr Chow's HK action movies again just to remind me how good an actor he is when he is used well. A Better Tomorrow was Chow's big break through from television to movies and also the film that kick started John Woo's career after a couple of commercial failures. The plot is nicely overwrought and has a strong focus on the male relationship of friends and brothers. Honour plays strong in all scenes and it is actually quite involving despite the focus on gun play and action.
The action is good but dated. This is to be expected after about 20 years but it does still stand up well. The action is pretty over the top but also well choreographed to appear even more exciting than it is. Happily the plot stands up by itself and the film has a lot less action than later Woo films The Killer and Hard Boiled. I really got into the lives and destinies of the men involved and the strength of feeling and, perhaps, debts of honour, between them was palatable.
The strong characters are greatly helped by strong actors in all the leads. Chow is particularly good as he has to play two very different stages of his character and does them both very well (although the supercool part must have come easier to him). Ti Lung is clearly the lead here and does good work even if he is a little too righteous and moral to be a gangster. Leslie Cheung is good after a slow start required by his character. Lee Waise plays a good villain and only the female characters are as weak as they often are in these films.
Overall this film is regarded as a classic and responsible for the birth of the genre and certainly the genesis of many Hollywood action movies of today (how many multiplex goers who marvelled over the lobby shootout in the Matrix have even heard of this film?). It has dated a little bit but the action is still as outrageous as ever and still as exciting, despite a slight feeling of seeing it bigger somewhere else. The film's main strength to me is simply the male characters' relationships within the plot they get me involved in the film and make the action even more dramatic.
The relationship between two brothers on opposite sides of the law, and the loyalty of friends is explored in `A Better Tomorrow,' an action/drama directed by John Woo. As with any Woo film there's plenty of action here, but at the heart of the film is the story itself; and that's what sets Woo apart from all other so-called `action' directors. Woo frames the drama with some astoundingly intricate and well choreographed action sequences (gun play and hand to hand fighting), but integrates the story seamlessly, which raises this film, as with all of his films, levels higher than the average action movie. In this one, older brother Ho (Lung Ti) is a high ranking member of a crime syndicate specializing in counterfeit money; his younger brother, Kit (Leslie Cheung) is beginning his career as a detective. Complicating matters is the death of their father (Feng Tien) and the involvement of Ho's best friend and colleague, Mark (Chow Yun-Fat), and Kit's girl, Jackie (Emily Chu). In the end, at the core of the action, it becomes a story of love and loyalty, and the sacrifices sometimes necessary in life to make it work and give meaning to it all. Woo has impeccable timing, not only in the action sequences, but with the drama as well; he knows how to use the camera to heighten the emotional impact of a pivotal moment, and successfully injects a caesura at just the right time, which maintains the perfect amount of tension that extends the drama and serves to hold the audience enthralled. That he can employ these techniques equally within the action and dramatic sequences is why his movies have such wonderful flow and rhythm; it creates a `whole' as opposed to merely a series of scenes strung together to tell a story. Directors of all genres would be well served to study Woo's techniques. Woo gets the most out of his actors as well. Lung Ti gives tremendous depth to the character of Ho, successfully conveying the inner struggle of this man attempting to make amends with the brother he loves, while the charismatic Chow Yun-Fat gives a riveting performance as Ho's closest friend. His screen presence is dynamic and commanding. Woo firmly establishes the depth of loyalty between the two, and skillfully the actors make it convincing and credible, which makes the final heroics all the more believable. An exciting, memorable film, `A Better Tomorrow' is thoroughly entertaining, and a tribute to a truly great director, John Woo, who seems to get better with every film he makes. For a combination of action and drama, there isn't another director in the history of movies that does it better than Woo. I rate this one 9/10.
When this film was made in the 1980's Hong Kong cinema was dominated by wushu films and bizarre swordplay movies involving people flying around and other acid flashback inducing scenarios. John Woo was a young director who had done a string of martial arts films, comedies, and musicals. In 1981 he split from Golden harvest and joined Cinema city, after a couple of comedies, He directed the modern day action film "Sunset Warrior" and it was held on the shelf and not released. After the failure of "Sunset Warrior" he was sent to Taiwan and directed another two comedies. Returning to Hong Kong, Woo had always wanted to make a modern day gangster film. Teaming up with friend and producer Tsui Hark, they made a film that would inspire countless films for years to come. Casting Chow Yun Fat who was mainly a television actor as one lead, an old school Kung Fu actor in another and a singer in the third lead role, it was a risky venture which paid off. The script is great featuring lines such as "Do you believe in God?" "sure i'm one, you are, a god is someone who controls their own destiny". There is strong characterisation of the characters, aided on by perfect performances from the actors, The action choreography was excellent and inspired virtually every film made involving guns ever since. It makes you realise that the only thing "the matrix" didn't take from this film and it's sequels is the plot. This is one of my favourite films of all time, and if everyone in the world saw this, I guarantee that the sales of matchsticks and toothpicks would soar.
John Woo was responsible for creating a whole new genre with A Better
Tomorrow in 1986: the heroic-bloodshed genre. ABT is a groundbreaking movie,
and Hollowood blockbusters like "The Matrix" would never have existed, if it
hadn`t been for A Better Tomorrow. Chow Yun-Fat was launched into
superstardom, after his flawless role in this movie. CYF plays Mark Gor, a
Hong-Kong gangster known for his coolness. The actionscenes introduced John
Woo`s famous twingun-action, and the quality of the actionscenes is very
high. The film is VERY violent, and is not recommended for young people.
Though ABT is getting a bit old, it can still show American action-directors
how to get things right. 7,5/10
This film just works!! Besides Woo's top notch action sequences, I was
amazed by the great story. Chow Yun Fat is great as Mark and Leslie
is very good as Kit. However, I think the main spotlight is on Ti Lung
is amazing as Ho. The story of loyalty & friendship is the main emphasis
here and is essential. Plus, the chemistry between the actors is so
apparent, you can see that they must've had so much fun making this
I can see myself watching this again and again...
John Woo's Ying Huang Boon Sik/A Better Tomorrow(1986) was groundbreaking
when first released because of the stylisitc depiction of the action scenes.
Its success spurred a new genre in Hong Kong cinema known as Heroic
Bloodshed. These films were usually gangster pics which is characterized by
outrageous gun battles, heavy action, and high melodrama. Hong Kong cinema
in the mid 1980s to early 1990s was in the midst of a gangster film craze
similar to Hollywood in the 1930s-1940s, France in the 1950s-1960s, Japan in
the 1960s-1970s, and Italy in the 1970s-1980s. A Better Tomorrow(1986) is
to Heroic Bloodshed what A Fistful of Dollars(1966) was to the Spaghetti
A Better Tomorrow focuses on the age old themes of honor and loyalty. The characters of Ho and Mark are honorable gangsters in an era of double crosses and mistrust. Ho and Mark are at odds with the changing value system and this puts them as people who are outmoded in their principles. Honor and loyalty in A Better Tomorrow(1986) is greatly emphasized as the marks of a good hearted person. Mark Gor is very honorable and loyal in his personalty compared to Shing who is the opposite.
John Woo's main concern is to place high importance on the idea of brotherhood. According to John woo in this film, the tight bonding between men is something that was lost among youngsters at that time. Brotherhood in the film is complex and emotional. The relationship between Ho and Mark is so strong that there is nothing that can smash it. The scene where Mark tells of his ordeals at a nightclub as a first time gangster is nostalgic and touching.
Famous for the clothes Mark Gor wears as for anything else in the film. Began a trend in fashion around Hong Kong when many people started wearing the same kind of outfit as Mark Gor. Quentin Tarantino loved the look of Mark that for weeks he dressed like him to feel and look cool. In John Woo films there is always focus on the fashion of his characters. Mark Gor was the Rick Blaine of the 1980s.
A Better Tomorrow(1986) changed the look of action films with the famous use of pistols by Brother Mark in the restaurant. The first of many elaborate gun battles that dominates the films that follows A Better Tomorrow(1986). Although John Woo would film many wonderful action scenes in the next few years, there never would be a scene like this one which is full of energy and freshness. I enjoyed it when Mark Gor places guns inside flower pots as backup because the idea is cleaver and original. This scene is parodied in the climatic portion of Just Heroes(1987).
Ying Huang Boon Sik(1986) gave stardom to an actor known for his roles in Hong Kong television named Chow Yun Fat. Before the film's success, Chow Yun Fat was considered box office poison by Hong Kong theatre owners. His charismatic and suave performance as the tragic Mark Gor broke that reputation. Chow Yun Fat is the best actor to come out of Asian cinema since Toshiro Mifune and Jo Shishido. He is the most flamboyant actor in the world who is better than any actor that was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars.
The motif of sacrifice for redemption is part of Woo's religious beliefs. The heroes in his bloodshed films perform sacrifices to purify themselves within. The death of Mark Gor is a big sacrifice because it makes Ho and Kit Brothers again. What's sad about the death of Mark is its the only way for Ho and Mark to reconcile with each other. This motif also plays big in The Killer(1989) and Bullet in the Head(1990).
The story is simple but compelling. Ti Lung made a big comeback with his role after years of mediocrity. He gives a performance that is deeply emotional and mature. Leslie Cheung also performs well as the headstrong but naive and stubborn Kit Sung. Waise Lee is excellent as the pompous and two faced Triad boss, Shing.
Gunfight at the end of A Better Tomorrow is less high body count and refined than in later John Woo films. Still exhilarating and fun to watch. The shootout is filmed in the spirit of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. When Chow Yun Fat comes out shooting like John Wayne, the film is at a high adrenaline level. One of the reasons why I love this movie.
Plot becomes more emotionally intense and less melodramatic with the energetic direction of John Woo. What makes the film work is the large dose of sentlementlty given by John Woo. He films the action and dramatic scenes with much passion and thoughtfulness. He is good at directing Chow Yun Fat and Ti Lung in giving great performances. A Better Tomorrow(1986) made John Woo an action guru after years doing comedies and being known as the king of comedy in Hong Kong cinema.
Two brothers (One a cop played by the late Leslie Cheung, the other a
thief played by Ti Lung) become enemies after the death of their father
while Chow Yun Fat plays a crippled assassin who teams up with Ti Lung
to help protect Cheung from the mob boss that is looking to do him in,
while at the same time try to redeem himself in the eyes of his police
officer brother. A Better Tomorrow is often reported as the best movie
John Woo has done and while it is certainly a superior staple on his
resume, the movie's tone is a little off and although the movie is very
well done the movie gets a tad too melodramatic at times. However that
minor flaw aside A Better Tomorrow provides an unusually rich story
that details a rocky relationship that seems to never be forgiven.
Indeed even at the end, we doubt whether the brothers will ever be as
close as they once were. Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung are very good in
their roles but it really is Chow Yun Fat that sells the movie and his
performance as an out of work assassin provides a tragic figure that is
far more tragic than the relationship between Lung and Cheung. As noted
the acting is flawless with Cheung turning in a flawless 180 degree
turn in his character. A Better Tomorrow while not the best movie from
John Woo, is still a rewarding tale.
* * *1/2 out of 4-(Very good)
In Hong Kong, the gangsters Sung Tse-Ho (Ti Lung) and Mark (Chow Yun
Fat) are best friends. Ho's younger brother Sung Tse-Kit (Leslie
Cheung) wants to be a police officer and does not know that his brother
is a criminal. When Ho travels with another criminal to Taiwan for a
negotiation, he is betrayed and arrested by the police. Meanwhile Mark
kills the gang that betrayed his friend. After three years, Ho is
finally released from the prison and returns to Hong Kong. He finds
that Kit hates him and is investigating the Mafia and Mark is limped
and in complete misery. But Ho promises that he would not return to
life of outlaw and prefers to work as taxi driver. However he is
haunted by his past and the need of protecting his estranged brother. .
"Ying hung boon sik", a.k.a. "A Better Tomorrow", is a great crime film directed by John Woo. The good storyline about brotherhood, friendship and loyalty is full of action. The screenplay is tight and Sung Tse-Ho is a nice character incapable to regenerate due to the corrupt system. In the 80's, this movie had a greater impact but it is still a great action movie. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Alvo Duplo" ("Double Target")
This movie kick-started many things. The very fruitful partnership
between John Woo and Chow Yun Fat, the successful career for of them,
the heroic bloodshed movie (don't try this at home or let kids watch
them) and a lot of imitators! So one should be really thankful to Tsui
Hark, because it's a really good thing he couldn't direct. Otherwise we
most likely wouldn't have any of the above!
But being as it is, you can watch this movie and see how it is done correctly. Replacement Killers eat your heart out! This movie still is superior to imitators such as the named one or a few others. Yes I know that some have argued that it is dated and other movies (such as Matrix) have not only copied some of it's styles, but improved them. Not for me, they haven't! Because it's not only about copying a slow motion effect here, it's about the story too. And the characters and their believes. And of course the acting!
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