Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Better Tomorrow series

A Better Tomorrow (1986) * * * *

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung, Waise Lee, Emily Chu, Kenneth Tsang

Directed by John Woo

When it comes to heroic bloodshed A Better Tomorrow literally blows you away. A Better Tomorrow details the complex relationship between a crook (Lung) trying to go legit and the turmoil faced between him and his straight arrow cop brother (Cheung) after being double crossed in Thailand by their employers things get worse as someone hires hitmen to snuff out Lung and Cheung’s dad and Chow Yun-Fat gives the best performance (and the acting is flawless) as a crippled hired gun who sticks with Lung and goads him into a final fight to get revenge on the new generation mobster Lee, Shing (Lee) who turns out to be the one who double crossed Lung in the first place. I must start out by saying A Better Tomorrow is a very impressive film, this is what heroic bloodshed is all about and in many ways this flick holds its own against Goodfellas, but it’s not just that this is a classic heroic bloodshed film but that it is an emotional film. Like, we actually are invested into these characters and while the action is spectacular and supremely bad-ass it’s the film’s flawless narrative that makes this a movie you’ll watch several times. The most credit goes to John Woo for having a keen ear for dialogue and for setting up actual characters as opposed to just mindless cartoons that who are there just for an excuse for the slaughter. Also the action sequences are so suspenseful and exciting (due to us actually caring about the characters) that this film deserves to stand as one of the reasons Woo is considered a master of the genre.

A Better Tomorrow II(1987) 
* * *1/2

Cast:Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung, Dean Shek, Emily Chu, Kenneth Tsang, Regina Kent

Directed by John Woo, Tsui Hark

Although more in the vein of one man army action than in the league with the original, A Better Tomorrow II is in a lot of ways just as exciting and interesting as the first, although the somewhat messy plot threads (due to an excess of them) sometimes gets in the way. The plot this time revolves more around the police investigation and how over the hill mobster Shek is targeted for death by mobsters looking to move him out, of course this includes killing Shek’s daughter (Kent) and numerous causalities that lead to a vengeance fueled showdown which finds Chow Yun-Fat again as the twin brother of his character of the first, suffice to say the story has too much going on to really match the freshness and impact of the original, but despite how messy it all is, A Better Tomorrow II is pretty impressive on its own terms. Indeed the lack of focus is a problem but all the stories are interesting and by the ending we are very much into the plight of the characters. The shootouts (especially the finale) are just as good as the first and just as absorbing. Indeed I can see why Hark and Woo got in each other’s ways and maybe the vision wasn’t what Woo or Hark had in mind, but regardless of this, A Better Tomorrow II is an excellent sequel that doesn’t at all deserve the flack it gets from both Woo and Woo fans. Indeed the climax alone makes this a must see.

A Better Tomorrow III (1990) * * 1/2

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Anita Mui, Shih Kien

Directed by Tsui Hark

It’s clear that the wheels are starting to fall off with A Better Tomorrow III, a watchable action flick with some good action, but unlike Tomorrows 1-2, this one feels somewhat tired and forced. That’s not to say A Better Tomorrow III is terrible, for instance Yun-Fat and Mui share great chemistry and the climax is genuinely great but the problem is, that what was fresh and involving in the first two has gotten stale. A Better Tomorrow III despite being a prequel and taking place in Vietnam, Hark doesn’t exactly know what to do with his backdrop. For instance Chow Yun-Fat and Leung Ka-Fai are both witness to a bombing and all this establishes is that they are in hostile territory. There are some great scenes though (Ironically most of them with Enter The Dragon’s Shih Kien) but the shootouts are operating on no drama at all and this time it’s just watching an action flick. This of course would be fine as a stand-alone film but as it is sequel to two excellent action-dramas, A Better Tomorrow III is ultimately somewhat of a disappointment by comparison, mainly because the drama that the first two had was so absorbing, Yet 3 feels forced and doesn’t kick in until the finale and by then it’s too late.


  1. I haven't seen any of these, but the first one sounds like it has elements of Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill, which I loved. I'll have to check it out.

  2. Te first two are breath-takingly great films. You won't be disappointed.