Written by: John White on May 22nd, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: Hong Kong, 1986
Director: John Woo
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung
DVD released: June 26th, 2006
Approximate running time: 90 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo
DVD Release: Optimum
Region Coding: Region 2 Pal
Retail Price: £19.99
Ho is sent to Taipei with his No.3, Shing, and walks straight into a trap which leads to his arrest. Meanwhile in Hong Kong assassins kill his father and his brother Kit, a rookie cop, becomes aware that Ho is really a gangster. With his father’s last words ringing in Ho’s ears, Ho vows to go straight when leaving prison but his brother refuses to forgive him. Meanwhile, Mark, Ho’s No.2, has become crippled when exacting revenge for Ho and Shing is now Head Honcho. With Kit hot on Shing’s trail, Shing refuses to let Ho rest, and Mark and Ho are forced to fight it off with Shing and the unforgiving Kit after them too. Can Ho prove to Kit that he is making up for the past?
Few films deserve the description “genre defining” but A Better Tomorrow does. Taking off where the heroic bloodshed of Chang Cheh left, John Woo defined and created the whole Bullet Ballet craze with this one film of brothers and blood. Similarly this is the film that defined the screen persona of Chow Yun Fat, formerly referred to as “box-office poison”, bolstered the acting credentials of Leslie Cheung and confirmed the enduring talent of Ti Lung. Chivalry, rivalry and a whole lot of lead, A Better Tomorrow is the film that began the new wave of action films from Hong Kong which included great film makers like Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam and is still felt today in the films of Johnny To and the Infernal Affairs series.
The story is one of two sets of “brothers” with Ho as the central character. His real brother is the ambitious idealist Kit and Ho’s brother in arms is the loyal now disabled Mark. Into these central relationships is thrown the deceitful Shing and the remorseless detective Wu, played by John Woo himself. Woo choreographs the action around these dramatic themes of loyalty, betrayal and redemption. In addition to this there is a fair dose of slapstick humour largely played through Kit’s girlfriend who seriously injures a cameoing Tsui Hark.
Deliberately using the violence to create a kind of beauty with slow mo and rhythmically edited gun play Woo hangs his morality tale of a bad man coming good. That this is supreme entertainment is unquestionable but a Better Tomorrow is dramatically satisfying with all it’s male characters well drawn and portrayed. They are also tremendously engaging through the magnetism of Lung, Cheung and Yun-Fat. This is topped off with a tremendously evil villain in Shing, played by Lee Waise.
In a recent Chinese film Industry poll, A Better Tomorrow was voted the second greatest Chinese film of all time. It is undoubtedly excellent even if Woo’s later film the Killer is even better, doesn’t everyone have a copy of this movie?
Optimum have released a 2 disc edition which surpasses previous R2 releases in terms of extras, sound and picture. The picture is good and sharp if a little too dark and grainy. The image seems to have been cropped, something which is very apparent in the opening titles. The sound is goodish dual language stereo which does have occasional distortion. The commentary from Bey Logan is as good as ever. The removable English subs are fine. The menus on the disc are cool animations of gun play from the film done in monochrome which I enjoyed greatly.
The extras on the main disc include trailers from other Optimum releases. The second disc boasts interviews with Woo and Yun Fat in English, but most importantly Crossings, a 47 minute documentary which brings great insight into Woo’s life and influences. There is a fine anecdote about Chang Cheh refusing to watch screen tests of the young Woo because his “future will be behind the camera”.
This is an ok package which English speaking fans will buy for the Crossings documentary but the quality of the main feature in terms of sound and print is outclassed by the previous IVL disc with it’s fine DTS and Dolby 5.1, not to forget a superior print. Comparisons of the two prints follow the end of this review – the IVL disc images are on top. The IVL disc is brighter, less grainy with better colour balance.
If you don’t have this disc and you only have an R2 player then this is better than previous options open to you. There is no choice, everyone should own a copy of A Better Tomorrow.
For more information about A Better Tomorrow and other titles released by Optimum visit their website.