09:36 - 24th April 2013, by Mary Ainslie

A Better Tomorrow

'The movie that started it all' is a typical John Woo tale of divided loyalties set against the background of the brutal Hong Kong Triad wars. Best known for kick starting the career of famous canto-pop star Leslie Cheung and shooting Woo to western fame, 'A Better Tomorrow' is the original Hong Kong crime thriller.

Cheung stars with a young and ruthless Chow Yun Fat, as fresh police graduate 'Kit' who struggles to forgive his gangster brother 'Ho' (Lung Ti) for causing their father's murder. When Ho returns from prison to make amends and go steady, their brotherly bond is tested against the lure of organised crime and Kit's own ambition to rise in his profession.

Through the two brothers, Woo explores the very different faces of Hong Kong. Kit's legitimate existence of regimented uniforms, cosy apartments and cello-playing girlfriend is a world away from Ho's swanky hotels, glamorous women and expensive cigars. The public face of discipline and the informal gangster network must learn to incorporate each other against a background of the famous harbour skyline. Between this, scenes of a suited Chow-Yun Fat silently smoking and musing in the busy streets of Hong Kong add female appeal to an overly masculine gangster flick. The corporate world of Hong Kong is the place to be, with electro music, snazzy sunglasses and white suits marking the luscious world of organised crime.

The dated feel of this 1986 flick adds much to the gritty violence and blood of the many shoot-out scenes. Aging rusted docklands and bloody, stained hallways lend a gritty realism so often absent in contemporary squeaky-clean depictions, and save the movie from being described as 'cheesy'. Thankfully, this also acts as a convenient distraction from an occasionally complicated plot that seems to lose steam towards the final showdown. As in so many triad gangster movies, this large network of complicated relationships can become confusing. The genius Woo, though, never loses sight of the well-explored motivations driving his central characters, which lead nicely to the inevitable bittersweet ending.

SCORE: 4/5
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