A Better Tomorrow: See It Today—Movie

Wild gunfights, almost operatic in nature, help make John Woo’s 1986 “A Better Tomorrow” so much more than your standard violent for violent’s sake movie. Shown as part of the 18th Annual Made in Hong Kong Film Festival (DC), “A Better Tomorrow” gives today’s audience the opportunity to view director Woo’s early work as well as that of actors Chow Yun Fat and Leslie Cheung … and see why all three became big stars.A Better Tomorrow

At its core “A Better Tomorrow” is about two sets of relationships and what happens when they intersect. The first revolves around the friendship of two criminals working for a major Hong Kong crime syndicate involved in counterfeiting–Ho (Lung Ti) and Mark (Chow Yun Fat).  The second centers on Ho and his brother, Kit (Leslie Cheung), who is beginning a career in law enforcement. Kit is unaware that his brother is a criminal and he eventually discovers Ho’s involvement under horrible circumstances.  It’s that discovery which causes an estrangement between the two and drives much of the plot forward.

Chow Yun Fat is a force of nature. He simply dominates the screen without even trying. His wicked smile lights up the room and yet he can give an empathetic turn as well. And I have to note that what he can do with a toothpick is astounding–I have never seen someone smoke with a toothpick in his mouth and, to be honest, I found that fascinating. Leslie Cheung is wonderful as the impulsive and stubborn Kit. Lung Ti’s role is the least flamboyant of the three, but his performance is the heart of the movie and he is terrific.

The supporting cast is very strong. Waise Lee’s understated performance as Shing is riveting. He is wonderful as Ho’s and Mark’s novice partner-in-crime with plans of his own. Mention must be made of Emily Chu’s portrayal of Jackie, Kit’s girlfriend. When we first meet her she is the klutz of all klutzes, but by film’s end she has morphed into someone of substance. In a movie dominated by machismo, she is a real standout.

With “A Better Tomorrow” John Woo’s career as a director took off in earnest and it’s easy to see why. He pays attention to details… from the clothing to the cigarette smoke to the pointing of the guns. His gunfight scenes are something to behold and the movie’s explosive finale merits the price of admission (if the Freer and Sackler Galleries charged admission).  I kept waiting for Mark to shout, “Yippee Ki Yay, mother f**kers!”  It would have been wholly appropriate.

Some of the film’s subtitles make no sense and cause the movie to be hard to follow at times. And, yes, a little of the movie is dated…the music…the technology. But the story itself is timeless and so is the action.

If you’re looking for one of the best in this genre, you can’t do much better that “A Better Tomorrow.”

The 18th Annual Made in Hong Kong Film Festival at the Freer and Sackler Galleries runs through August 4. Admission is free and the final films are a tribute to Leslie Cheung. For more information go to http://www.asia.si.edu/events.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

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