A Better Tomorrow: Ultimate Edition
July 24, 2006
Some call him the “Mozart of Mayhem,” some, the “greatest action director of all time,” others, “the most popular director from the east,” but he’s simply, John Woo. That’s what this Ultimate Edition 2 disc set is really about, not the film, not the graceful gun battles but the legacy it has created and the man at the helm. In 1986, A Better Tomorrow revitalized the Chinese movie industry (which had previously been oversaturated with comedies and kung fu) as John Woo mixed Eastern and Western conventions for the very first time and brought Hollywood to Hong Kong.
This is the story of two brothers, one good, one bad. The elder brother Ho Sung is involved with the Chinese triads and into all kind of evil doings. The younger, Kit Sung, looks after their ill father and has been accepted into the Police force. After friend and fellow triad is shot, and Ho spends a short time in prison, his exploits are revealed to the world and drives a wedge between the siblings. Ho’s guilt leads him into a life of reform but in a vow of retribution Kit is determined to bring his own brother to justice. Will Ho convince Kit that he has changed or is the call of the triads to much to resist?
The story is simple and basic, brother vs. brother, good vs. bad, cops vs. robbers. It’s that simpleness that makes A Better Tomorrow so watchable, and the script itself is brought to life with the huge heart that it has about brotherhood, friendship, love, loyalty and honor. It is this heart surrounding the many bullets, bits of blood and almost slapstick type violence that gives the film its place in history. The film also introduces us to the auteur’s aesthetic such as his love for mixing action/drama, the slow motion combat shots, prominent montages and the cool, suave characters with black trench coats, sunglasses and brandishing a pistol in each hand. With out John Woo we may never have had The Matrix or Quentin Tarantino.
The reason the film is not a masterpiece, though, is the simple fact is that it was a learning curve for those involved, most importantly John Woo and co-star Chow Yun-Fat, playing his first movie role as the triad friend Mark. A Better Tomorrow misses the mark on so many levels, the violence is too comedic in places and detracts from the real world feel, the score comprises of some god-awful misplaced keyboard/synthesizer crap, that only the eighties could produce and its basic plot leads to predictable scenes.
A Better Tomorrow has to be respected and for its achievements and its remarkable ability to swing between cheesy action flick and high drama storytelling, but remains stunted by the test of time. You can take the film out of the eighties but unfortunately you can never take the eighties out of the film.
Those who worship the legacy of this movie will be please to see the new transfer from a High-Definition master. Although the fruits of that master probably won’t come into full effect until it release on HD or Blu Ray.
Considering the set is titled The Ultimate Edition, the extras seem a little lack. But upon viewing they do create something quite good.
The commentary from Hong Kong film expert Bay Logan is brilliant. Looking at the film retrospectively and putting it in context in modern society and giving us a deeper insight into A Better Tomorrow, John Woo, the actors and many others involved with the making of the film.
Also a very decent doco on John Woo made for the Discovery Channel. Clocking in at 48 minutes and providing a highly educational look at the Chinese movie industry.
The interviews with Chow Yung Fat and John Woo are from 1993 and don’t cover much that hasn’t been covered already but is still nice to hear from the mouth of the men themselves.