A Better Tomorrow I & II John Woo

Although not equal to Woo's classic Hardboiled or The Killer, A Better Tomorrow is the epicentre of the John Woo/Chow Yun-Fat kill-crazy rampage phenomenon. Theirs is a teaming that has influenced action movies the world over for years, with Woo's over the top violence, poetic gun fights and dramatic shots, and Fat's charisma-riddled (and sometimes bullet) performances redefining the action star. The story of an ex-counterfeiting ring mob boss (played by Ti-Lung) who attempts to go legit after being released from jail, only to have his past and partner drag him back in while clashing with his policeman brother, A Better Tomorrow shows glimpses of the genius that was to come from the team of Woo and Fat. More focused on storytelling than violence here, Woo is still learning the filmmaking craft and perfecting his style and it shows. Too much time is spent on a plot that's at times, convoluted and fraught with bad dialogue, and the instances of violence and gunplay are fleeting in comparison to the carnage that's to come. A Better Tomorrow II, however, is Woo establishing himself, especially in its climatic ultra-violent ending, parts of which were used as TV filler True Romance. The sequel revives Fat (he plays the twin brother of Mark, who was killed in the original), and teams him with Ti-Lung's somewhat reformed mob boss character, police brother and another former criminal, Si Lung, to avenge the death of Si Lung's daughter. While the American-set parts of II feel a bit forced and tacked on, and there are some questionable plot holes, A Better Tomorrow II features some of Woo's best, most artistic gunfights (although, sadly, no doves), with Fat coming into his own. The climatic compound assault is still one of the most violent body counts of Woo's career, and its artistry and carnage is impressive. Fans will have to be satisfied with just owning these two pieces of Woo/Fat cinematic history though, as the extras are composed of trailers and talent bios. (Anchor Bay)