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A Better Tomorrow is a 1986 action film by John Woo and produced by Tsui Hark.
The story follows two brothers on opposite sides of the law. Ti Lung plays Sung Tse Ho, a respected member of a triad whose principal operation is printing and distributing counterfeit US banknotes. Mark Gor, played by Chow Yun Fat in his breakout role, is Ho's partner in crime. Leslie Cheung plays Sung Tse Kit, Ho's brother who has joined the HKPD. Ho cares deeply for Kit and encourages his career choice, but keeps his criminal life secret from him. When a job in Taiwan goes to hell, Ho is arrested while his accomplice, a new guy by the name of Shing (played by Waise Lee) gets away. Mark, as Ho's sworn brother, is mad as hell about this, and in one of John Woo's most iconic action sequences, he takes revenge on Ho's betrayers with both guns blazing, but near the end of the shootout, one of his kneecaps is blown out.
While Ho is in prison, Shing rises in the triad ranks and takes command of the organization. Ho's father is killed by an assassin sent by Shing, and as he dies, he begs Kit to forgive his brother. Anguished and pissed off, Kit holds his brother responsible for their father's death. When Ho comes out of prison, he wants to leave the criminal life behind and finds work as a cabbie, where he comes across Mark again. Mark has been reduced to being a crippled errand boy for Shing, and wants Ho to help him get revenge, but Ho refuses. Shing then makes his offer for Ho to come back to the triad, this time without Mark. Ho refuses again, and when Mark tries to fight Shing on his own, he gets the living shit beaten out of him and is almost killed.
Meanwhile, Kit is becoming increasingly obsessed with Shing, who ordered the hit on their father. He learns of Shing's major deal, but it's a death trap that Shing has laid in retaliation for Ho's refusal. Ho finds out about this and tries to warn him, but Kit won't believe him -- he's still mad at his brother and he wants to kill Shing more than anything. In the movie's final act, Ho and Mark steal the evidence tapes from the counterfeiting business and capture Shing, planning to ransom him in exchange for money and an escape boat at a pier, and Ho gives the tapes to Kit's girlfriend, who gives it to the police. Kit is captured by Shing's men at the pier, and when the converging forces meet, an explosive final shootout ensues, setting the stage for final revenge and reconciliation.
This film put John Woo on the map and kick-started the Heroic Bloodshed genre, along with codifying most of the tropes associated with it. It led to the establishment of Hong Kong's film rating system because of the film's violence. It led to a period where a lot of young people wore longcoats much like Mark (in fact, the Badass Longcoat is still known in Hong Kong as "Brother Mark's Coat"). And it would provide a springboard for Chow Yun-Fat's career as a badass action star.
It would also spawn two sequels: A Better Tomorrow II, which would see Chow Yun-Fat's return as the twin brother of Mark Gor, and A Better Tomorrow III: Love and Death in Saigon, a Prequel directed by Tsui Hark and set in Vietnam War-era Saigon in which Chow Yun-Fat reprises his role as Mark Gor.
The movie received three remakes: in 1994 from India (titled Aatish: Feel the Fire), in 2010 from South Korea, and in 2018 from China (titled A Better Tomorrow 2018).
A Better Tomorrow Provides Examples Of:
- Badass Longcoat: Mark. So, so much.
- Badass in a Nice Suit
- Big Bad: Shing
- Bittersweet Ending: Ho kills Shing, reconciles with Kit, and avenges their father′s death, but Mark dies in the process.
- Blood Brothers: Mark and Ho.
- Cool Shades: Mark wears cool aviator shades.
- Determinator: Mark is rather determined to get his old position back after being demoted by Shing.
Mark: I′ve been waiting for 3 years to take this chance. I've got to show them that I'm not the best, but I want to let them know, that I'll take back what I've lost!
- The Dragon: Shing′s unnamed right-hand man.
- Frame-Up: Shing shoots his own boss and orders the man′s kitchen staff to frame Ho, which they do when the police starts interrogating them.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking
- Guns Akimbo: Trope Codifier
- Handicapped Badass: Mark is forced to wear a leg brace after being shot in the right knee by the Taiwanese gang leader. Not that this stops him from kicking ass.
- Headphones Equal Isolation: Jackie during the attempted kidnapping of Kit′s father.
- Heroic Bloodshed: Trope Maker and Codifier in Hong Kong.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Ho and Kit′s father, who dies after saving the former and Jackie from a triad assassin.
- Leitmotif: Two of them for Mark. The appropriately titled "Mark′s Theme", and "Birdy′s Flight" by Peter Gabriel.
- Man in White: The white suit is used as a status symbol in the triad, and Shing wears a white longcoat in the final showdown.
- Media Classifications: ABT was the first Hong Kong movie to receive a Category IIb rating (equivalent to the American R rating) when the new rating system was introduced.
- Money to Burn: One of the classic shots of this movie comes in the beginning, where Mark Gor does this with a counterfeit bill.
- Neighborhood Friendly Gangsters: Ho's counterfeiters certainly qualify.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Delivered to Mark at the hands of Shing and his men.
- One Last Job: Ho decides to get out of the game once he finds out that Kit's joining the police. He promptly gets arrested.
- Prisoner Exchange: One of these sets off the final shootout of the movie.
- Recycled Soundtrack: Two tracks are recycled from other sources: "Sparrowfall 1" from Brian Eno′s Music for Films album, and "Birdy′s Flight" by Peter Gabriel from the 1984 movie Birdy, which starred Nicolas Cage.
- Red Herring: The movie opens with Ho having a nightmare of Kit dying, which seems to imply that he was having a flashback. Except that he lives; though this ends up foreshadowing the events of second movie.
- Revenge: As the movie progresses, Kit becomes increasingly obsessed with revenge against Shing, who had his father killed.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Mark embarks on a particularly badass one after Ho gets arrested.
- Sacrificial Lion: Mark is blown away by Shing near the end of the movie.
- The Triads and the Tongs: The Trope Codifier for many gangster movies to come in Hong Kong.
- You Killed My Father: Kit's reason for revenge. Ultimately, it's Ho who ends up pulling the trigger on Shing.