A Better Tomorrow

A Better Tomorrow (1986)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, Ti Lung, Emily Chu
Extras: Trailers, Biographies

Hailed as one of the best action films ever made, John Woo’s "A Better Tomorrow" is a film every fan of the genre needs to see – that has long been common knowledge among Hong Kong film fans. When I first heard that Anchor Bay Entertainment picked up the rights to this film, as well as its sequel "A Better Tomorrow II," I knew that finally we would get the opportunity to see these landmark films in all their original blazing glory, especially since Anchor Bay is once again bringing us the uncut version of the film in its original running length of 95 minutes. When I finally got the discs on my desk, I could hardly wait to spin them up and give them a look, and let me tell you that I was not disappointed.

Ho Tse (Lung Ti) and Kit Sung (Leslie Cheung) are brothers that couldn’t be more unlike each other. Ho Tse is a mob leader, while Kit is working for the police. Concerned about his little brother’s career, Ho Tse decides to pull out of the mafia and its drug smuggling operations, and with him their common friend Mark (Chow Yun-Fat) also intends to turns his back on the mob – after one last job, that is. Sadly the job goes sour, and Ho Tse is caught by the police and sent to prison. Mark knows the job was a set-up and goes out to seek revenge, killing those responsible (in a truly memorable shoot-out scene).

Realizing for the first time that his brother is a criminal, Kit turns his back on Ho Tse and tries to climb the career ladder inside the police, while Mark is practically throwing his life away when a new leader is taking over the operations.

After spending some time in prison, the police realize that Kit is becoming the target of the mafia, and they release Ho Tse as a bait to break down on the operations. Pulling Mark back together, the two friends infiltrate the mob to claim their old positions. But soon the police question their integrity. Are they really helping to crack down on the mobsters, or are they in fact, back in business?

"A Better Tomorrow" is the movie that created the image of Chow Yun-Fat as a suave, gun-wielding man with strong emotional ties that give his characters sensibility and sensitivity despite the fact that he commits utterly violent acts. It is an image that sticks with the actor to this date, although American audiences have come to see him in different parts as well. For Hong Kong action film fans, the image of Chow Yun-Fat in a long trench coat with sunglasses and two guns in his hands has become an image that has often been copied in a variety of movies by a great many actors. None of them have made the characters as palpable as he does, making films like "A Better Tomorrow" outstanding genre entries that excel on a variety of levels.

Supported by a cast of equally skilled and known actors, "A Better Tomorrow" is a furious thrill ride that offers an unparalleled barrage for the senses. Always with a twist – just check out the scene where Chow Yun-Fat hides his guns in the flower pots for later usage – the film is free of genre stereotypes and many of its elements have since been adopted in many Asian and Western movies. Beautifully acted, the film also has an emotional depth and personal tone that is often missing from contemporary action films, giving it a very distinctive feel.

Another part of the magic is the great action choreography and photography. Lighting, movement, shadows and explosions often come together as a tapestry taking in the viewer’s eye in every corner of the frame. Once again, there is a sophistication in the film that is often missing from such genre films.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has prepared a beautiful DVD version of "A Better Tomorrow." The disc will clearly come as a spoiler to every fan of Hong Kong movies who have gotten used to faded prints with inconsistent colors, scratched prints full of blemishes and defects and images that are overly soft and lack detail through the use of noise reduction. "A Better Tomorrow" comes along in a presentation that puts an end to all this. Although there still is a bit of grain evident in the film print, which is a direct result of the movie’s age and budget restrictions, the image is practically devoid of any speckles or mars. Absolutely stable and with clean colors, the film has never looked anything like this before and offers an incredible level of detail.

The image is correctly framed at a 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. Colors are beautifully rendered, without any bleeding, creating an image that is well saturated and balanced at all times, which is especially noticeable during the countless nighttime shots. Blacks are deep and solid without break-up, and shadows are nicely delineated, never losing definition. The compression of the material on the DVD is also without any problems. Entirely without compression artifacts in the form of <$pixelation,pixelation> or banding, the transfer boasts details you may have never noticed before. Given the fact that "A Better Tomorrow" comes with some very problematic images built-in, this DVD offers a spectacular rendition of the movie, even more so for a Hong Kong movie. Kudos to Anchor Bay for making this film look so good where so many others before them have failed.

The DVD features the movie’s original Cantonese language track in a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> format, as well as an English dub. Unquestionably, the original Cantonese language with English subtitles is once again the preferred format and I am glad that Anchor Bay set the disc up to default to these settings. The audio is dynamic and has a good frequency response. Without notable distortion, the audio sounds very natural and makes "A Better Tomorrow" a pleasing experience. With good low ends and clear high ends, the track has plenty of punch and especially the man scenes of gunplay are nicely coming across.

Other than the original Cantonese trailer and an English trailer, there’s not much in terms of extras on this release. Although there are biographies, they are extremely limited, listing only director John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat, unfortunately leaving the rest of the famous cast unmentioned.

"A Better Tomorrow" is the epitome of modern day Hong Kong action films. Blazing guns, big explosions, strong violence, dimensional characters and unexpected plot twists make up this movie and combined with John Woo’s masterful direction and orchestration of the action, "A Better Tomorrow" has long become a cult classic that has made Chow Yun-Fat the superstar that he is, and John Woo the #1 name in action films since. Don’t miss this brutally impressive masterpiece on this staggering DVD, and if you want some more, check out Anchor Bay’s release of the sequel, "A Better Tomorrow II" which comes along, just as impressively.