For a movie with so much blood, guns, and deaths, the Hong Kong classic A Better Tomorrow has an emotionally driven storyline that leaves the audience shocked throughout the film. It stars Ti Lung, Chow Yung-Fat, and Leslie Cheung, directed by John Woo. A Better Tomorrow revolutionized the Hong Kong film industry and influenced films across the world with its remnants present in John Wick and The Matrix. John Woo perfectly tells a story of loyalty, brotherhood, and retribution. Before I go on any further, please watch the movie before I spoil the plot. I truly believe that it will be an experience you won’t forget.
I will quickly go over the basic plotline, the full version of which I am sure you can find on Wikipedia. Sung Tse-Ho, played by Ti Lung, is a respected member of the Triad gang. Mark Gor, played by Chow Yung-Fat, is his loyal friend who also works in the gang. Sung Tse-Kit, played by Leslie Chow, is Ho’s younger brother who wants to become a police investigator but is unaware of his brother’s actions. Ho goes on a mission to seal a deal, but is betrayed and arrested. Mark kills the other party of the deal but is shot and becomes crippled with one good leg. Upon Ho’s release, the two have an emotional reunion where Ho refuses to help Mark take down the new leader of the Triad, Shing, due to goals of going straight. Upon meeting Kit, Ho is disowned due to Kit’s belief that Ho was the cause of their father’s death. Kit, now a police officer, aims to take down the Triad. Shing offers to recruit Mark and Ho again, but both refuse. As a result, Mark gets kidnapped and is brutally beaten by Shing’s men and sent to Ho as a warning to cooperate with Shing. Ho and Mark finally decide to take down Shing together. They steal a tape which records all of the gang’s activities and threatens to turn it over to police. Shing’s men meet Ho and Mark in a shootout, where Kit also becomes involved due to his own investigation. Kit refuses to help Ho and Mark dies while trying to reconcile Ho and Kit. Shing reveals that he was the person who betrayed Ho, when he was still a new member of the Triad. Ho kills Shing and handcuffs himself to be arrested by Kit.
The brilliance of this film is in the development of the characters and the complexity of their relationships with each other. One of the best scenes of the movie is Ho’s reunion with Mark after being released from prison. Ho sees Mark working as a degraded errand boy with a metal leg as he awaits Ho’s return. Mark is cleaning cars, living in a parking lot, and picking up others’ money for lunch. It is a stunning juxtaposition to the confident, lighthearted, and highly-respected Mark just scenes before, when Ho and Mark were at the top of the gang, that beautifully showcases Mark’s loyalty to Ho. Ho’s struggles with Kit is also well-executed throughout the movie. As Ho approaches Kit time after time, despite being rejected harder each occasion, the brotherly love and hate is developed with mastery by John Woo to incorporate Eastern Asia’s unique culture of tight-knit families that captivates the audience like none other. Eventually, Ho and Kit’s conflicts results in the death of Mark at the climax of the movie that symbolizes the price of brotherly love. All in all, the complexity of the plot complements the bloodiness of the genre to create a movie that takes the audience through an emotional rollercoaster.
I can’t end this review without praising the acting. Although Ti Lung was considered the main actor, it was Chow Yung-Fat’s extraordinary performance that launched A Better Tomorrow and his career into the upper echelons of the Hong-Kong film industry. From being charismatic as Ho’s friend to shameful as an errand boy, to enraged as Kit refuses to forgive Ho, the range of Chow’s acting made Mark the beloved character that made the final scene so unforgettable and grave. Chow Yung-Fat would follow up with another impressive portrayal in A Better Tomorrow II as Mark’s identical twin, but his character of Mark would only be rivaled by few others in the global film industry in my opinion. Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung were great as well. Cheung would eventually become one of the biggest names in the Chinese pop industry ever, but he was also able to shape Kit into an innocent, naive, and righteous young man who made the audience sympathize with him. Ti Lung did commendable work as well, expressing the painful internal struggles in the shootout when he had to decide between saving Kit or capturing Shing.
A Better Tomorrow easily made my top 5 list of best movies ever. Its complex storyline and incredible acting made me view movies similar to it with a whole new perspective. It showed me that the heroic bloodshed genre can be more than just guns and violence, but also a beautiful story of loyalty, love, and sacrifice.