A Better Tomorrow
Winner of the 1987 Hong Kong Film Award for Best Picture
Mandarin title: Ying Hung Boon Sik(True Colors of a Hero)
AKA: City Wolf
Golden Princess, 1986, 90 min.
Director: John Woo
Stars: Chow Yun-Fat ("Mark"), Ti Lung ("Ho"), Leslie Cheung ("Kit"), Waise Lee ("Sheng"), Tin Fung (Ho and Kit's father), John Woo (cameo as a cop)
Producer: Tsui Hark
Original story: John Woo
Screenplay: Chang Hing Kai, Leung Suk Wah
Cinematographer: Wong Wing-Hang
Editor: Kam Ma
Action directors: Blacky Ko, Stephen Tung
Available on video (pan-and-scanned and dubbed) from Republic Pictures; also available widescreen/subtitled from Tai Seng
Available on DVD from Mega Star - a review can be found here; also available from Anchor Bay
"Brothers by blood. Enemies by chance. Killers by nature."
Mark is a top gangster, working as a counterfeiter for the Triads. His best friend and partner, Ho, wants to get out of "the life" as his brother Kit is about to become a cop, and he knows a gangster with a brother who's a cop quickly becomes a marked man.
Ho offers to do one more job, taking his young protoge, Sheng, along. The job turns out to be an ambush and Ho ends up being captured by the police. Upon hearing about this, Mark takes revenge for his friend, but in the process, he is crippled by a shot to the leg -- leaving Sheng in control of the counterfeiting ring. Then, Ho and Kit's father is killed by an assassin and Kit finally learns what his brother does for a living.
Upon his release from prison, Ho faces many challenges. He wants to go straight -- but the Triad has other ideas. Mark, regulated to being Sheng's servant, wants revenge but also needs Ho's help. Finally, Ho must try to repair his relationship with Kit, who has become a detective. The movie ends with a gut-wrenching climax that features some of the best gunplay ever put on film.
While slow-moving and melodramatic in parts, A Better Tomorrow is simply one of the best action/dramatic films ever made. ABT made stars out of Chow Yun-Fat (who gives a great performance) and John Woo (who would later be credited with kick-starting the "heroic bloodshed" genre), and the action scenes (particularly the one where Mark takes out a restaurant full of gangsters) are phenomenal. Don't let those jaded old-timers on usenet fool you -- ABT is still a great film some fifteen years after its' premiere.
- Producer Tsui Hark has a cameo in the film as one of the judges at Jackie's audition (he's the guy in the sunglasses and goatee).
- A Better Tomorrow is a remake of a sixties HK film called Story of a Discharged Prisoner.
- Even though they became permanetly associated with the "heroic bloodshed" genre after ABT, all three of the principal actors had interesting backgrounds: Leslie Cheung was (and still is) a well-known pop star (in fact, he sings the theme to the movie), Ti Lung was best known for his work in kung fu movies and Chow Yun-Fat (even though he had made some movies) was a popular TV soap actor.
- Upon its release, ABT went on to become the top-grossing film in Hong Kong film history and held that place for several years.
- The translation of some of the characters' names are incorrect on the English versions. "Mark Gor" is inaccurate as in a first and last name. "Gor" is actually a Cantonese way of designating a friend with a name, as westerners do with names like "Johnny" versus the more formal "John."
- The character of Mark Gor proved to be so popular that many young HKers adopted his style (black trenchcoat, sunglasses, match in mouth). Stores around HK were sold out of the distinctive Ray-Ban sunglasses in less than a week after the movie premiered. All this led to a blasting of Woo by critics and government officials that he was glamorizing the Triad lifestyle.
- Woo chose gangsters as the heroes for A Better Tomorrow because he felt there were no other viable "men of action" in the HK popular consciousness.
- Mark Gor is based on a character (the "wandering knight") from a previous Woo film, Last Hurrah for Chivalry.
- Some theatre owners orginally expressed concen to producer Tsui Hark about the casting of Chow Yun-Fat. Even though he was popular on TV, most of his films had been flops. Chow's nickname in industry circles for many years was "box-office poison."
- Even though he is now universally known as an action hero, one of the main reasons John Woo wanted to cast Chow Yun-Fat because he didn't look like one. Chow says in Hong Kong Action Cinema [© 1995 Overlook Press]: "John wanted someone who looked like a family man, but who can really do all those things when he must. Not the typical kung-fu hero."
- Woo says this about ABT in Hong Kong Action Cinema: "It's not a gangster movie. It's a film about chivalry, about honor, but set in the modern world. I want to teach the new generation: 'What is friendship? What is brotherhood?' [It's] what we have lost, what we have to get back."
- Like Ti Lung, Tin Fung was also an actor better known for old-school kung fu movies before appearing in this film. After ABT, Tin found fairly steady work as the old patriarch-type, including Triads: The Inside Story, where he plays Chow Yun-Fat's father.
Thanks to King of Gunfire for this info:
- Mark's legendary speech at the bar was actually a real-life experience for actor Chow Yun-Fat while he was in Thailand with his buddy, director Ringo Lam (City on Fire and Full Contact).
- Chow's character Mark was so popular that Chow continues to reprise the role in TV commercials and was also featured in several Hong Kong comic books (which were shown in the sequel). John Woo later parodied the character in his movie Just Heroes, and HK filmmakers continue to use the image of the character for parody and humor, such as in Jet Li's Hitman, which features a sequence where Li dresses like famous assassins, among them Mark Gor.
- The scene where Mark gets brutually beaten by Sheng's men was initially toned too violent. But John Woo went all out to ensure that the scene remained intact within the film. Woo discussed it with the people at the censorship board that he felt it was important to show just how far gangsters are willing to go.
- Mark was initially supposed to be a small role, but John Woo immediately noticed Chow's talent and re-worked the script to give him a bigger part in the film.
Some thoughts by Woo about A Better Tomorrow from an interview in Asian Pop Cinema [© 1999 Chronicle Books]...
- On the inspiration for the film: "The people, especially the young people, seemed not to care for anything...[they] were losing any feelings of values [or] morality...I began to think about a story that would be about older values...I wanted to make a movie that would show what we had lost, what we had to bring back. And I thought for some time about a character, a hero, someone who could represent the old values. A sense of chivalry. And then I developed this gangster story, I wanted to show my hatred for dictatorships. These gangsters ruled like dictatorships...so I had a political feeling I wanted to express as well."
- On casting Chow Yun-Fat: "I had seen him in one movie where he played a kind of retired killer and I liked him. And then I found out some things about him, that he always helped a lot of people...I thought he was very much the hero in my story. And as an actor he was perfect. He reminded me of all my own personal idols from the movies...and then we talked and I found we had a lot in common...he liked many things that had been in the old days...I had found the hero for my movie."
- On people adopting Mark Gor's distinctive look: "Ha! And you know Hong Kong has a kind of tropical weather...you never need to wear that kind of heavy raincoat...the people wearing raincoats had to be very hot."
- On the movie as a whole: "[It's] not really complete. Only Chow Yun-Fat's character was outstanding. The other characters were still pretty much like soap opera characters."
Back to Movie Review index