The Video Store: A Better Tomorrow.

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( We’re back with another John Woo classic from 1986, A Better Tomorrow. Before I dive in let me say this: skip the third in the trilogy. This is technically a two movie series since third wasn’t really A Better Tomorrow in spirit. Actually, the sequel wasn’t either since it was more action-oriented but hey, we’re talking about the first in the series, right?

A Better Tomorrow

After producing Last Hurrah For Chivalry, John Woo saw that he was on to something by mixing high drama with impressive action sequences. It was with that film that the “heroic bloodshed” subgenre of Hong Kong cinema was born. However, A Better Tomorrow is the gold standard for the subgenre and the start of the “bullet ballet” subgenre.

The story follows several characters: Sung Tse-Ho, an important member in the triad, Mark Lee, Tse-Ho’s best friend and an enforcer, and Sung Tse-Kit, Ho’s younger brother who is in training to become a policeman.

Ho ends up going to prison for three years and comes out a changed man. He wants out of the life and finds that the triad has moved in a new direction without him. Mark has been injured in that time and has fallen on hard times. He is no longer part of the triad and is often disrespected by the new wave of mobsters.

When Ho meets back up with Mark, his best friend wants to reignite the old fire and kick out the new blood. Ho wants no part of it and Mark continues to stew in his resentment towards the new generation. Kit is now a police officer and wants to take the triad and its boss Shing out. He is also on bad terms with his older brother. It happens.

The new boss Shing wants Ho back since he was the best at what he did: handling the money and counterfeiting. After Ho declines, his brother Kit is kidnapped to force his hand. This brings Ho and Mark together as they embark on a warpath to get Kit back.

Where It Shines

The story doesn’t seem like much but the interactions between the characters and how everything ties together towards the end works. On top of that, these gun fights are incredible! This is the movie where John Woo’s vision made him a big star in action films and where we get stuff like Face/Off from. As a matter of fact, it helped in building Chow Yun Fat’s star in action as well and their frequent team ups is one of the great tag teams in film.

I can’t remember if the Woo doves make their appearance here but the signature rip chord-style shotgun blast is definitely there. Plus, Mark is like a bullet gawd. He makes ghost towns throughout the film. You get a healthy amount of action to go with that character and drama. You want Ho and his brother Kit to rebuild their relationship and you’re hoping for the best when it comes to Mark. Shing is so unlikeable that you’re praying for his downfall.

Woo nails all of this and keeps a great pace thanks mostly to those berserk action scenes and his love of slow motion.


Find this movie! It delivers on everything if you love action but don’t want too much wire-fu or too much improbable white man—thanks Rod and Karen—jumping from helicopters onto moving trucks or sinking saving the government in over the top fashion. This isn’t just the gold standard of John Woo, Ti Lung, and Chow Yun Fat’s careers but the gold standard in action films overall.

RATING: 10 out of 10 (The Seal of Dopeness)

Staff Writer; M. Swift

This talented writer is also a podcast host, and comic book fan who loves all things old school. One may also find him on Twitter at; metalswift.