A Better Tomorrow

A Better Tomorrow

Infobox Film
name = A Better Tomorrow

caption = Theatrical poster for "A Better Tomorrow"
director = John Woo
producer = Tsui Hark
Film Workshop
writer = Chan Hing-Ka
Leung Suk-Wah
John Woo
starring = Chow Yun-Fat
Ti Lung
Leslie Cheung
music = Joseph Koo
distributor = flagicon|Hong Kong|colonial Cinema City Co. Ltd.
flagicon|USA Anchor Bay Entertainment
released = flagicon|Hong Kong|colonial August 2, 1986
flagicon|Japan April, 1987
flagicon|France July 21, 1993
runtime = 95 min.
country = flagicon|Hong Kong|colonial Hong Kong
language = Cantonese
budget =
followed_by = "A Better Tomorrow II"
amg_id = 1:5168
imdb_id = 0092263

"A Better Tomorrow" (Chinese: 英雄本色; Pinyin: Yīngxióng běnsè; Jyutping: Jing1 hung4 bun2 sik1; literally "True Colors of a Hero") is a 1986 Hong Kong action film which had a profound influence on the Hong Kong movie-making industry, and later on an international scale.

Directed by John Woo, it stars Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung. Although the movie was made with a tight budget and was relatively unknown until it went on screen due to virtually no advertising, it broke Hong Kong's box office record and went on to become a blockbuster in Asian countries. The success also ensured that a sequel would be released: "A Better Tomorrow 2", also directed by Woo, and "", a prequel directed by producer Tsui Hark. Facts|date=March 2007 It is the #2 of the Best 100 Chinese Motion Pictures.


"A Better Tomorrow" depicts mob violence in a romantically surreal fashion. Not only did the movie make Woo and Chow international stars, it started a whole new genre of films which followed its unique style of romanticized violence. One of its most famous followers is the director Quentin Tarantino, whose portrayal of the mob (e.g. "Pulp Fiction", "Reservoir Dogs") bears the distinctive John Woo trademark. Facts|date=March 2007

The plot is one that resonates well with audiences, especially in China. Two friends lead a carefree, immoral life, until suddenly it all comes crashing down. The two friends then take different paths, but ultimately they find that they must come together to set things right again. Despite its criminal content, "A Better Tomorrow" resounds with messages about morality, family, shame, responsibility, and forgiveness.

The film is a standout in a few ways: first and foremost, for the exceptional performance by the actors. In particular, Chow's portrayal of Mark Lee goes through a dramatic transformation from a stylish, cynical crook (Hong Kong teenagers took up the circular-shades-and-duster-jacket look for years) to a shamed, broken man with a dream to regain his dignity. His performance at times elevates the film from a pulp crime story to an emotional quest for understanding and dignity.

Secondly, it was the film that introduced most of Asia to the John Woo style, which includes tightly-choreographed violence and gunplay. It contains one of film's all-time great gun battles, one that is similar to a music video in style and concept.

Although 20 years have passed from the time "A Better Tomorrow" was made to the time of this writing, one can still find traces of its influence in Hong Kong action movies, even though Woo and Chow have long gone on to Hollywood for further advancement in their careers.


Ho and his brother-in-arms Mark work for a triad whose principle operation is focused around printing and distributing counterfeit US bank notes. Ho is the top agent for the crime family and handles the most important transactions while being assisted by his best friend, tough guy Mark. Ho is very loyal to his organized crime family and has the respect of the eldest big boss, having the title of "big brother" and often wears the all-white outfit of the boss when representing the organization in deals.

On a parallel note, Ho has a little brother, Kit, in his real family whom he cares deeply about, along with a surviving father and Kit's live-in girlfriend, Jackie. The irony of the story is that Kit decides to become a police officer and enrolls in cadet school, a route that Ho seems to encourage. Thus Ho has kept his and Mark's participation in the crime family secret from his little brother. There are undertones in the movie that appear to imply that their father knew what Ho was doing and possibly had to do this in order to support the family as he, the father, became infirm.

After the introduction of the movie, Ho is sent by the boss to Taiwan to finalize a transfer of counterfeit notes in exchange for real money. Instead of Mark, going along though, the new "little brother" member Shing is sent along as a learning experience. As the new guy, Shing is often belittled by Mark and treated with little respect by Ho and even the big boss. However, once Ho and Shing arrive, they discover that the local main boss with whom they have a deal is not present and instead a man who claims to be the boss' nephew is there. The entire buy is actually a setup so Ho and Shing run with guns blazing, leaving the merchandise behind. In order to save Shing, Ho gives himself up when they are cornered by the police who arrive at the scene, claiming that he's the only one there. Thus Ho winds up in prison and Shing manages to escape back to the crime family. In search of vengeance, Mark meets with the original buyer's boss who claims that he is very angry at his nephew who acted completely without his sanction, and gives Mark a time an place at a brothel where his nephew will be vulnerable. Mark, in one of the most stylized shootout scenes in cinematic history, single-handedly kills off the renegade nephew and all of his compatriots, but not before the nephew gets in a parting shot that pierces Mark's knee. So Mark gets his vengeance for Ho but becomes lame in the process and thus no longer useful as an enforcer in the crime family.

Three years later. Ho finishes his sentence and is released from prison. He is met by a police inspector trying to make a name for himself by busting Ho's former associates. The inspector remarks that because Ho did the full three years because he didn't rat on his friends, and even if Ho claims he's going straight, it's not all that easy to change his ways.

During Ho's tenure in prison, a man visits Ho's father, and asks him to go with him. Ho's father tries to fight the messenger, and is finally assisted by Jackie and Kit. However during the struggle, the messenger plunges a knife into the father's heart. His dying words to Kit ask him to forgive his brother Ho.

Once released and back in Hong Kong, Ho tries to see his brother Kit--now a police officer and Jackie's husband--but it ends in a fistfight, with Kit disowning him. He not only blames Ho for their father's murder, but because of Ho's criminal connections, Kit is denied a promotion and is removed from the case against Shing's crew.

Ho then gets work at a taxi service that specializes in employing ex-convicts who are going straight. On one of his runs, he sees his old friend Mark, now reduced to Shing's crippled errand boy. Since Ho was arrested and Mark wounded, Shing has essentially taken over the organization. Later that night, Shing proposes Ho rejoin his crew, but is interrupted when Kit shows up to interrogate him, treating him like a common skel rather than his brother. Finally, Mark steps in and slaps Kit around for disrespecting his brother Ho. Later that night, Kit puts his hand through a mirror in anger.

The next day, Jackie visits Ho at the taxi garage and begs him to leave Hong Kong because she's afraid for Kit's sanity. Ho refuses, insisting that Kit's going to have to accept that he's not going anywhere. Suddenly, Shing's men show up to escort him to a private meeting with the boss. Shing proposes that Ho comes back to the gang, but is turned down. Shing refuses to take no for an answer and insinuates that both Mark and Kit could be in mortal danger. Ho is unswayed and makes a veiled threat of his own to Shing. He then walks out, taking Mark with him.

Shortly afterwards, Kit gets information to suggest that Shing is going to be making a major deal soon--information that Ho discovers is false, a trap laid by Shing to kill Kit.

Kit surprises Jackie with a full garbage can, out of which he digs the "evidence" of Shing's plans, but his boss refuses to let him back on the case, ordering him to write a full report instead. Jackie is furious--not only because she's the one stuck with cleaning up the garbage, but also because Kit's so obsessed with the case that he seems to have forgotten that it's her birthday. Kit pulls out a present that he had bought for her to show that this is not true. When he asks her what she had wished for, he is less than pleased when she tells him that her wish was for him to reconcile with Ho, but he keeps it inside so as not to ruin her birthday. As if by magic, Ho appears at the door, and she invites him in. He tries to convince Kit that Shing's set a trap for him, but the young man refuses to believe, and Ho finally gives up.

Sure enough, Kit tries to get the drop on Shing's crew, but he is shot. Fortunately, he is only wounded. Meanwhile, Shing himself is taking his anger at losing face out on Mark by beating him severely, then on Ho by smashing up the taxi garage. Ho arrives and beats them all up, but he is stopped from killing them by his boss, who warns him about falling back into his old ways. He also sees Mark's battered body and hears the rising wail of police sirens and high-tails it out of there.

Mark wants revenge for what was done to him, but Ho doesn't want him to do it, insisting that he's already lost his family and that he can't lose him as well. Mark explodes in anger at his old friend, informing that he doesn't need his help to live his life. Mark breaks into the headquarters and steals the computer tapes that could bring down the entire organization, and just when his escape seems impossible, Ho shows up to save the day.

The boss is furious, berating Shing for his stupidity. Shing could care less. Ho calls Shing to inform him of his intentions--he and Mark want $2 million US and a boat to leave Hong Kong, or they'll turn the tape over to the police. Shing lies to the boss that Ho will come to dinner to talk things over. He then kills the boss at the dinner table and coerces the servants to accuse Ho when questioned by the police.

Before meeting up with Mark, Ho stops by Jackie's school to see her one last time, telling her that he's going to take her advice and leave Hong Kong after all. But before he goes, he leaves the data tapes with her to give to Kit, along with a voice-recorded message of what they represent. Kit leaves in a rush to arrest his brother for breaking his parole.

Ho and Mark ambush Shing at the exchange and take Shing hostage. But Shing's men have caught Kit sniffing around, and they're going to trade the data tape and Shing for his life. A shootout breaks out during the exchange, and Ho is wounded by a bullet meant for his brother. Mark tells Kit that everything that happened before doesn't matter--he's here for him now. He's unable to finish his tirade, because Shing shoots him in the back several times. As Ho chases after Shing, the cops arrive and yell for Ho to surrender. Ho catches up to Shing, but runs out of bullets. Shing decides to turn himself in, putting himself under the protection of the cops. As he walks by, he smirks and mocks Ho with the remark, "I have money. In two, three days I'll be released. When you have money, you can turn black to white. I learnt that from you." The two brothers, however, have other ideas. Kit hands Ho his police revolver and Ho kills Shing. Then he takes Kit's handcuffs and handcuffs himself to his brother, insisting that for the sake of Kit's own career, he has to be taken into custody--taking the fall for his brother one last time.

Cast and roles include

* Ti Lung - Sung Tse-Ho
* Leslie Cheung - Sung Tse-Kit
* Chow Yun-Fat - Mark 'Gor' Lee
* Emily Chu - Jackie
* Waise Lee - Shing
* Shing Fui-On - Shing's Right-Hand Man
* Kenneth Tsang - Ken
* Tsui Hark - Music Judge (cameo)

* John Woo (cameo), the director, is the Taiwanese police chief walking along the corridor of the bloodshed restaurant in slow motion.
*Stephen Chow, while at early stage of his film career, was playing a minor role as a bodyguard of the Taiwanese triad leader.

Box office

"A Better Tomorrow" grossed a massive $34,651,324 HKD at the Hong Kong box office, ensuring that sequels and imitators would not be far behind. [cite web| url=http://www.hkmdb.com/db/movies/view.mhtml?id=6819&display_set=eng| title=A Better Tomorrow (1986)| publisher=HKMDB| accessdate=2007-03-20]

Musical references

*During the nightclub scene, the song being played in the background is a classic Hong Kong tune sung by Roman Tam, considered the "grandfather" of the musical genre Cantopop.
* In the scene where Kit rushes Jackie to a music recital, the violinist playing before Jackie plays the theme song of the movie.

Film references

* Chow Yun Fat's entrance to the restaurant before the shoot-out is John Woo's homage to "Mean Streets".
* Woo's film was partially inspired by the 1967 Lung Kong film "Ying xiong ben se" ("Story of a Discharged Prisoner"), which is #39 on the Hong Kong Film Awards list of the Top 100 Chinese Films.
* The scene in which Mark Lee tells the story of being forced to drink urine is apparently based on a real incident involving Chow Yun-Fat and director Ringo Lam, according to Bey Logan on the DVD commentary. This scene was recreated in Woo's "Bullet in the Head".

Cultural impact

* After the film, teenage boys in Hong Kong wore long dusters in emulation of Chow's character even though the climate was sub-tropical. In fact, in colloquial Cantonese, trench coats are called "Mark Gor Lau" (literally, Brother Mark's coat).
* The Wu-Tang Clan has a song named after the film on their 1997 album Wu-Tang Forever
*The anime series "Cowboy Bebop" has many references to the film, including the last fight between Spike and Vicious in the episode "The Real Folk Blues (Part 2)".
*Chow wore Alain Delon suglasses in the movie. After the movie, Hong Kong was sold out of Alain Delon's sunglasses. French star Alain Delon sent Chow a personal thank you note.


ee also

* "A Better Tomorrow 2"
* "A Better Tomorrow 3"

* Cinema of China
* Hong Kong in films
* Heroic bloodshed
* List of Hong Kong films

External links

*imdb title|id=0092263|title=A Better Tomorrow

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