Wednesday, 29 July 2009

A Better Tomorrow 2


Directed by: John Woo
Screenplay: Tsui Hark & John Woo
Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Ti Lung & Leslie Cheung

Fans of Hong Kong action flicks need no introduction to the seminal classic A Better Tomorrow. Directed by The Killer and Hard Boiled helmer, John Woo, it is credited with kick-starting the whole “heroic bloodshed” genre: a bunch of guys banding together to blow seven shades of shit out of gangsters/triads/basic scum. Woo and stars Chow Yun Fat, Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung all return for a sequel that was rushed out almost a year after the original and features one of the finest climactic gun battles of Hong Kong action cinema.

There’s no question this is a good film but, having said that, it is somewhat overrated. Or rather, it is flawed in certain aspects. The direction is crisp, the action fierce and the performances convincing but the story just doesn’t gel. Something to do with Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung’s characters infiltrating a notorious gang while Dean Shek (Peking Opera Blues) has a nervous breakdown, becomes mute, heads off to New York to meet Chow Yun Fat (playing the twin brother of his character from the first film), only to snap out of it, pick up some guns and blow the hell out of half of Hong Kong. The two plots are never cohesive, with too much time given to the mounting melodrama of Yun Fat helping Shek become well again. In fact for the first forty minutes or so, this melodrama threatens to kill any tension before Woo wisely reins it in to focus on ballistic action and gangster driven posing. Rumour has it that Woo and producer Tsui Hark (The Blade) disagreed on how the story should develop, each of them taking a stab at the editing. It shows, as the film (at least up until the last twenty minutes) is often patchy and diverse in tone.

However, A Better Tomorrow 2 is by no means a bad film. For all the ripe overacting, Woo still manages to cram proceedings with many standout scenes, characters and heart pumping action sequences. These include the hotel shootout, the mysterious killer with shades, Lung having to shoot Cheung to prove his allegiance, Cheung being shot just as his child is being born and the infamous adrenaline blast showdown that set a benchmark for heroic gunplay. Set in a sprawling white mansion, three of the main characters take on an army of black suited goons in a bloody and brutal gunfight that also finds room for axes, samurai swords and many, many grenades.

While not as perfect as many will have you believe, A Better Tomorrow 2 is still a good film and is essential viewing for fans of Woo, Hong Kong Cinema and gun carnage alike.

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