Quentin Tarantino introduced the world to Vincent
Vega, Jules Winfield, and those wacky Reservoir Dogs,
he watched three cool cats from A Better Tomorrow
II work their magic: Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung, and
Dean Shek. Sure, this oft-imitated John Woo flick
surpassed the box office success of its predecessor
and helped set the standard for the emerging "gun-fu"
crime genre of the 1980s, but is it really any good?
Well, yes and no.
First, a little refresher
course: the first film involved the travails of Ho
(Ti Lung) and Kit (Leslie Cheung), two brothers separated
by their professions. One's a slick crook, the other
an ambitious cop. As fate would have it, the two joined
forces by movie's end, and along with super-cool gangster
Mark (Chow Yun-Fat), vanquished the evil crime boss.
But their victory had a price: Mark's life and Ho's
The sequel follows Ho
as he's freed from prison to infiltrate the inner
circle of suspected criminal Lung (Dean Shek). Ho
agrees to the deal, but only to protect Kit, who is
romancing Lung's cutesy daughter Peggy in an effort
to get closer to the big man. Well, somewhere in the
process Peggy ends up dead and Lung gets set up for
the murder of a rival triad. With the help of Ho,
the innocent Lung retreats to America where, after
experiencing yet another traumatic bloodbath, he promptly
becomes a foaming-at-the-mouth idiot.
Enter Chow Yun-Fat as Ken,
Chinese restaurateur and twin brother of the deceased
Mark, who nurses the helpless Lung back to health.
The two new friends finally return to Hong Kong, reuniting
with Ho and Kit to take down the bad guys. But the
fearsome foursome lasts only so long. Tragedy strikes
yet again, forcing the remaining members to go after
the new crime boss on their own. But don't worry,
they have guns - lots and lots of guns. Let the carnage
A Better Tomorrow II has its moments (Chow Yun-Fat mocking his Mark persona
for one, the ridiculously intense "Eat the rice!"
scene is another), but overall the film is pretty
stale when compared to Woo's other signature films.
But, while Hard Boiled and The Killer might be better flicks, neither can match the pure
aesthetic coolness of A Better Tomorrow II's
exhilarating guns-a-blazin' finale. Up until that
point, just do some laundry - that's what I do. (Calvin McMillin