Baylor Barnett’s review published on Letterboxd:
Watched on the Anchor Bay dvd realeased in 2001. Some thoughts of that are at the bottom of the review.
I love John Woo's films, particularly Hard Boiled and The Killer, because of how effortlessly I feel he's able to marry melodrama and kinetic action together in such a seemless manner in those movies. That point extends to this as well.
A Better Tomorrow does a really good job of handling its themes of the meaning of brotherhood and forgiveness, as well as having a pretty nuanced discussion on the treatment of ex-cons released from prison into a world that doesn't often wish to give them a second chance. The pacing of the story is particularly stunning, something I feel tends to be what drags down his US productions that I've seen (Face/Off, MI:2, and Windtalkers).
Of course, plot and nuance isn't the chief reason to see a John Woo film, it's the perfectly executed mayhem of the action scenes, which are honestly just as good here as they are in Killer and Hard Boiled even with a clearly lowered budget. Rooms are still obliterated and the explosion at the docks at the end of the film is just as cathartic as it is impressive. The film scratches my explosion-loving, squib-adoring lizard brain in a way I feel like only Woo has ever been able to do to this excessive extent.
Regarding the DVD release, it's pretty rough, as Hong Kong films tend to be due how poorly handled the elements often are. There are two dots burned into what I assume are the second or third reel used for this version, which is pretty annoying since one is in the direct center of the screen and there doesn't seem to be any effort made to fix up some of the warping/occasional holes in the negative, which is already incredibly grainy due to what I can assume is a 3rd or 4th generation print of the film. The audio itself also has a couple weird moments, like a complete loss of audio for about 10 seconds near the beginning and some minor odd stuff like clipped off scene transitions and things of the like. My hope is that a company like Criterion or Arrow does new versions of these considering the recent wave of interest in Asian cinema that resulted in stuff like the Police Story and Bong Joon Ho films getting new releases.