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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
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that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

Great Moments in Hong Kong Cinema #1 — Mark Gor Gets Revenge in A BETTER TOMORROW

 ABT 01

Chow Yun-Fat in John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (1984)

Periodically, Ronin on Empty will be taking a look back at some Hong Kong cinema classics, albeit with a specific emphasis on “Great Moments” — i.e. classic scenes that no Hong Kong cinema fan (old or new) should miss. Of course, “classic” will not only entail super-cool, gobsmacking moments, but also the downright ridiculous stuff, too.

The May 6th episode of the NBC comedy Community  featured a dead-on parody of some of John Woo’s films (particularly those featuring Chow Yun-Fat), which got me to thinking about some of the best scenes from Woo’s filmography. For the first installment of “Great Moments in Hong Kong Cinema,” I chose a stylish action scene from John Woo’s 1984 classic, A Better Tomorrow. The sequence, partially an homage to Martin Scorcese’s Mean Streets, features a dashing gangster named Mark (Chow Yun-Fat) getting a little payback for his friend, Ho (Ti Lung). What’s so “great” about it? Well, you’ll just have to watch for yourself.

To find out just who the hell Mark and Ho are, you can take a gander at  a review of A Better Tomorrow a long time ago, quoted here for convenience. If you don’t really care, just skip down to see the scene in question. To quote C-3P0, thank the maker for YouTube. Let’s hope the vid stays up.

Every so often in film history, an accomplished director and a talented actor will become friends and team up for a variety of pictures, thrilling moviegoers in film after film. John Ford and John Wayne, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, and Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro are all good examples. A Better Tomorrow adds to that illustrious list, boasting yet another inspired duo: director John Woo and star Chow Yun-Fat. For John Woo, the film marked the revival of a then-sagging career. And while costar Ti Lung got a similar John Travolta-style career boost, it was Chow Yun-Fat who gained the most from the collaboration as he ascended from mere dramatic actor to a certifiable icon.

The plot of this 1986 film centers on the lives of HK gangsters Ho (Ti Lung) and Mark (Chow Yun-Fat), two triads living the highlife due to their involvement in a counterfeiting scheme. Ho’s younger sibling Kit (Leslie Cheung) adores his elder brother, but before long the two become separated by their professions. While Ho’s a slick crook, Kit’s quite the opposite: a police academy hopeful with something to prove. Despite his criminal ties, Ho vows to walk the straight and narrow for Kit’s sake, but is instead double-crossed on that proverbial “last job” and sent to prison. Adding insult to injury, Ho and Kit are horrified to find that a hitman has murdered their father due to Ho’s shady connections, thereby creating a significant rift between the formerly close brothers. And though super-cool gangster Mark avenges his imprisoned comrade in a fantastic guns-a-blazin’ revenge sequence, the deed comes at a price: Mark’s leg is crippled by an errant bullet.

Time passes, but old wounds do not heal. With his chances for promotion shot straight to hell due to his brother’s checkered past, Kit is a cop on a mission with a huge chip on his shoulder. In addition, poor Mark has fallen from grace in the organization becoming more or less a janitor due to his hobbling injury. On the other hand, Ho finds some luck in his life by getting a job driving a taxicab for a boss (Kenneth Tsang) friendly to ex-cons. But unfortunately, it would seem that Ho’s relationship with Kit is irreparable. Even worse, former lackey Shing (Waise Lee) has become a crime boss in Ho’s absence and has taken umbrage with Ho’s adamant desire to stay honest. Angry at the snub, Shing goes after Ho’s loved ones: Kit gets plugged (he survives) and Mark is beaten half to death. In the end, the trio form an uneasy alliance, fulfilling an earlier philosophical musing by world weary Mark. When questioned about the existence of God, Mark responds, “Yes, I’m one, you’re one. A god is someone who controls his destiny.” And with guns in the hand, they do.

What is perhaps most noticeable about the film are its principal themes of friendship and honor within modern society. In A Better Tomorrow, we encounter characters motivated not by cynicism and self-interest, but by love and mutual respect—a prototype of sorts for future films in the “heroic bloodshed” genre. While A Better Tomorrow may lack the gleeful intensity of its sequel’s gonzo final act, in some cases, these so-called deficits actually work to the film’s advantage. Devoid of much of the overdone “Woo-isms” that populate the director’s later films (and have actually become groan-inducing clichés), A Better Tomorrow is a polished, resonant piece of HK filmmaking and an absolute genre essential. (Calvin McMillin 2002)



One Response to “Great Moments in Hong Kong Cinema #1 — Mark Gor Gets Revenge in A BETTER TOMORROW”

  1. CeeFu Says:

    I didn’t even have to wonder, which scene, cause I knew this was the one! Best use of a potted plant in a movie ever!!

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