Eye For Film >> Movies >> A Better Tomorrow II (1987) Film Review
In 1986 A Better Tomorrow brought a new dawn for its director and stars. It established up and coming John Woo as one of the most dynamic directors of action thrillers and reinvented Chow Yun-Fat as a hard man action ace. Woo also ushered - or blasted - in a new era of multiple gunplay and body pile up action films. Such was its success, he cranked out a sequel the next year.
A Better Tomorrow II reunites brothers Leslie Cheung and Ti Lung for more fraternal loyalty and violence, this time on the right side of the law. Tse-Ho (Ti Lung) is in prison serving time for his triad days, haunted by flashbacks of his past ordeals (cue montage from the first film). When he’s asked by Chief Inspector Wu Hui to infiltrate a counterfeiting gang and bring down old colleague Uncle Lung Sei he course of refuses. He still holds honour and loyalty high and knows Lung Sei is now trying to keep on the straight and narrow.
With Tse-Ho refusing, the assignment passes to his younger cop brother Billie (Cheung), who is soon putting himself in precarious danger when currying favour with Lung Sei through his daughter, Peggy. When Tse-Ho gets to hear of this he becomes fearful for Billie and insists on infiltrating the gangs as well to protect him. When Lung Sei is then framed for the murder of a rival triad boss merry hell breaks out.
Lung Sei gets shipped off to New York for his own protection, to hook up with Chow Yun-Fat’s ice-cool restaurateur Ken Ging. In a plot device thinner than a noodle, Ken is the identical brother of Mark, the iconic dollar bill-burning gangster Chow Yun-Fat played in the first film, so crow-barring its most enduring character back into the proceedings. He even gets to wear the same bullet-riddled trenchcoat. Pay back is soon on the cards.
The plot is generally as weak as it sounds and at times would verge on the incomprehensible if you hadn’t seen the first Tomorrow. Woo stitches his inconsequential screenplay together with heavy doses of his favoured themes, so there’s revenge, a great deal of Lung Sei’s maudlin familial losses, Tse-Ho and Billie’s fraternal loyalties, Billie’s conflict between doing right by his work and the best by his wife Jackie - and the downright hardass, damn-near psycho honour and stamina of Ken. Of course, the obligatory key character’s death then creates some emotional upheaval that everyone needs to resolve.
Keeping it moving towards this resolution are Woo’s stylish camera roves and swirls. Its raw and rough at times, but the talent is undeniable and you can practically feel his style maturing as things build to the climax.
And what a denouement. When Lung Sei, Tse-Ho and Ken charge a triad stronghold, Woo delivers the types of scenes from which the term 'Bullet Ballet' was cannoned. Viscerally invigorating and dynamically sustained, it is clear that all the loose work beforehand was mere filler for the big pay off. The cacophonic gun play, mayhem and mounting piles of bodies is practically mesmeric with the most convincing blood splatters 80s FX could muster. Nothing as epic and operatic as Hard Boiled was to later give us, it’s an overflowing taster of the way things were soon to go. Does it make up for the overacted hokum beforehand? Not really, but it’s good to go out with a bang.
With a patchy first three-quarters that’s almost a parody of its predecessor, ABT2 is ultimately much less satisfying. Yes, this helped educate Tarantino, black suits, ties, blood and all and saw everyone move onto greater things and perhaps its role in these developments is how it should best be viewed. Another Better Tomorrow, but not a better film.Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2006
If you like this, try:A Better Tomorrow