'A Better Tomorrow' is where it all started for John Woo's now-signature style of filmmaking. Without this film, there would never have been 'The Killer', 'Hard Boiled' and who knows what else. Bringing the classic themes of brotherhood, redemption and loyalty to the modern day setting of Hong Kong, John Woo has made a film that will appeal to both fans of quality drama and action enthusiasts.
Ti Lung stars as a criminal named Ho, who along with his best friend Mark (Chow Yun Fat) are well-respected and live in luxury. Ho's younger brother Kit is a police officer in training who is unaware of his brother's illegal lifestyle. But when Ho is betrayed and sent to prison, Kit learns the truth and when their father is killed by Ho's associates, Kit disowns his brother.
Upon his release, things have changed for Ho and his best friend is now a down-trodden cripple while Kit is a successful detective who still wants nothing to do with Ho. Very soon, Ho is drawn back into the criminal life and the loyalties of all three men are about to be pushed to the absolute limit.
The dynamic relationship between the three lead characters is utterly believable and is what makes the film work. By the end of the film, you are so anxious to see if the brothers can be reunited and you'll even shed a tear or two. But let's not forget that this is a John Woo film - the action sequences are entertaining but compared to his later films, they are quite static. The trademark dual-pistols makes its first appearance and Chow Yun Fat cements his long-standing relationship with Woo.
My one criticism of this disc, however, is the soundtrack. The audience has been short-changed, by having the original score replaced with modern library footage. At certain times, you'll hear the music from films like 'Speed' and 'Forrest Gump', which have pretty distinctive tunes! Admitedly, the use of those scores do actually fit the drama very well and certainly don't ruin the film - but they still stand out and it's distracting. According to Bey Logan (who does the excellent commentary for this disc), you can actually send off to the manufacturers to have the original soundtrack re-inserted - whether this applies today, I'm not sure.
If you're unsure about 'A Better Tomorrow' and haven't seen it before, your best bet is to approach it as a thoughtful and engrossing drama WITH action rather than a straight-up action thriller (which it is sometimes considered).