A Better Tomorrow ★★★★½

This is the first time I’ve watched A Better Tomorrow since finally catching up with Story of a Discharged Prisoner, the 1967 Patrick Lung Kong film that was Woo’s main inspiration. The early film as the title implies is a social drama about how hard it is for ex-convicts to go straight, with the family drama and gangster plot serving to illustrate the central ideas, Woo’s film invert the logic recognizes all the outsize possibilities in the dramatic material while letting Ti Lung’s desire to proof himself reformed as just a narrative motif. Updates of Cheh’s brotherhood pics to contemporary crime setting had been popping up for years like Kirk Wong’s The Club (1981) or Johnny Wang’s Hong Kong Godfather (1985), but it is fascinating how Woo runs way with the idea. The Cantonese title translates as “The Essence of Heroes”, and for all the talk about weather Lung can go straight or not, it really doesn’t matter in the context of the film, he and Chow are heroes despite being criminals because they love their brothers and are willing to live by their worldview to the bitter end, they are ultimately heroic by the way they carry themselves and are allowed by the filmmaker’s camera to just be; a very Chinese idea that is far away from the western honor among thieves/gangsters concept (it is no wonder during the 90’s the were constant talk about a The Killer remake but never about this one). This worldview was natural in period piece in which stylization made the ideas fly better, but it took a natural purveyor of melodrama like Woo to make them complete believable in a contemporary setting.

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