A Better Tomorrow ★★★

30 Countries in 30 Days #3: Hong Kong

Having only seen a couple of John Woo's American films, I was excited to finally check out some of his Hong Kong work, which seems to be almost universally hailed as better. Unfortunately, I didn't find that to be the case with A Better Tomorrow. While it's full of the high-action, slow-motion set-pieces that he's well known for, I found it to be a muddled film that tried to cram way too much plot into its 95 minutes, and the gunplay and explosions weren't quite enough to make up for it.

A Better Tomorrow felt to me like a two-hour-plus crime epic that had been sloppily edited down to an hour and a half. It doesn't seem like that was actually the case, but throughout the film I felt like there was just too much going on - "two brothers on opposite sides of the law" is a compelling enough story to hang some great action from, without having to bring in sideplots about cello recitals (with some slapstick humour that didn't really fit the tone of the rest of the film), taxi drivers, forgotten birthdays and a prison montage.

While it's still entertaining - and Chow Yun-Fat cheerfully steals every single scene that he's part of - I can't help wishing this had been more of a lean action movie that had concentrated on the chemistry between its stars and the thrills of its action scenes rather than trying to stuff as much plot in as possible.