A Better Tomorrow
1986, NR, 95 min. Directed by John Woo. Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, Ti Lung.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 5, 1993
John Woo's 1984 breakout smash, A Better Tomorrow catapulted the flagging director to the forefront of Hong Kong cinema. Several previous efforts, shot entirely in Taiwan, were substandard efforts that eventually resulted in a serious bout with depression and Woo's near-conviction that, as a filmmaker, his life was over. A Better Tomorrow proved him wrong, though, and went on to break all existing box office records in Hong Kong cinema, establishing a new star on Asian filmmaking's horizon and ensuring Woo's future bankability (not to mention that of his longtime leading man, Chow Yun-Fat) in the international market. As far as his films go, A Better Tomorrow isn't quite as finely polished a gem as his crossover smash, The Killer, nor is it as stylistically compelling or complex as his 1987 riff on the Vietnam experience, Bullet in the Head. It is, however, still very much along the lines of what we've come to expect from this brilliant and entirely unique director. Two brothers, one a cop and the other a criminal, go head-to-head in this (need I say) bloody actioner with equal parts gore and ultra-masculine pathos. “Even as boys, you two played cops and robbers,” mutters their dying father and it's this omnipresent sense of destiny that hangs over the film like funereal bunting. Those who caught Woo's Hard-Boiled during its recent run here may recognize the scene of ultra-suave Chow Yun-Fat secreting his backup 9mm's amongst a row of potted plants from the later film -- apparently Woo isn't above self-plagiarism when it's that good a scene. A Better Tomorrow isn't his best film ever -- that title remains securely attached to The Killer -- but it is required viewing for anyone remotely interested in Hong Kong cinema. After all, there might not be any filmmaking in Hong Kong come 1997.