A Better Tomorrow (Chinese: 英雄本色; Jyutping: Jing1 hung4 bun2 sik1; literally "True Colors of a Hero") is a 1986 Hong Kong crime film directed by John Woo and starring Chow Yun-fat,Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung.[2] The film had a profound influence on the Hong Kong film-making industry, and later on an international scale.

Although it was produced 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. It is highly regarded, ranking at #2 of the Best 100 Chinese Motion Pictures. Its success also ensured the sequel A Better Tomorrow 2, also directed by Woo, and A Better Tomorrow 3: Love & Death in Saigon, a prequel directed by Tsui Hark.


 [hide*1 Plot


Sung Tse-Ho (Ti Lung) works for the Triad, whose principal operation is printing and distributing counterfeit US bank notes. Ho is a respected member of the organization and is entrusted the most important transactions. Mark Lee (Chow Yun-Fat), another high-ranking member of the group,[3] is his best friend and partner in crime.

Ho has a younger brother, Kit (Leslie Cheung), who aspires to become a police officer. Ho keeps his criminal life secret from his brother and encourages Kit's career choice. However, Ho's father is aware of Ho's criminal activities and appeals to him to go straight.

Ho is sent to Taiwan by the boss to complete a deal. Shing (Waise Lee), a new member, is sent along as an apprentice. The deal turns out to be a trap by the Taiwanese gang. A shootout ensues in which Ho and Shing flee, pursued by local law enforcement. Ho eventually surrenders to the police in order to buy time for Shing to escape. After reading about Ho's capture in the newspaper, Mark finds and kills the Taiwanese gang leader and his bodyguards. However, Mark's leg is shot in the gunfight, leaving him crippled.

While Ho is in prison, Kit and his father are attacked by an assassin; in the struggle, Kit's father is killed. Just before dying, he pleads with Kit to forgive his brother.

Ho is released from prison three years later. Remorseful and determined to start a new life, he finds work as a driver for a taxi company, run by another ex-con. Ho spots Mark during one of his shifts; in contrast to Mark's letters, he realizes ithat Mark has been reduced to an errand boy for Shing (who is the new leader of the Triad). During an emotional reunion, Mark asks Ho to take revenge on Shing and reclaim their positions in the organization, but Ho refuses.

Ho seeks Kit out and attempts to reconcile with his brother (who is now a police officer), but is rebuffed by Kit, who sees Ho as a criminal who is responsible for their father's death. Additionally, Kit is resentful that his familial tie to Ho is preventing him from advancement in the department. In an effort to prove himself to his superiors and further distance himself from his brother's criminal past, Kit becomes obsessed with bringing down Shing's criminal group, despite Ho's warnings to stay away from the dangerous case.

Shing finds Ho and presses him to come back to his organization, offering to reinstate Mark if he returns. Ho flatly refuses. Consequently, Shing begins harassing Ho in order to get him to return, including attacking his co-workers, and having Mark beaten severely. Ho is dismayed but is still hesitant to take action. Meanwhile, Kit learns of a major deal being conducted by Shing and plans to take action against the criminals.

Ultimately, Shing's escalating violence against his friends, a desire to protect his brother, and an impassioned speech by Mark finally convince Ho to join Mark in taking revenge on Shing.

Ho and Mark steal incriminating evidence from the counterfeiting business and use it to ransom Shing in exchange for money and an escape boat. However, Ho has given the evidence to Kit's girlfriend to hand to the police. Using Shing as a hostage, Ho and Mark take the money to a pier, intending to escape in the boat. It is revealed that it was Shing who betrayed Ho three years ago in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, Kit arrives on the scene intending to make an arrest but is captured by Shing's men. Even though he is free to escape, Ho decides to return to save Kit and asks Mark to leave on his own.

Ho returns and offers to exchange Shing for Kit, but the trade explodes into a wild shootout. Ho and Kit are wounded and pinned down, but saved by Mark, who turned the boat around out of loyalty to Ho. After killing many of Shing's men, Mark berates Kit, telling him that Ho's actions had atoned for whatever wrongdoings he had done in the past. Mark is in turn killed by Shing.

As the police approach, Shing mocks Ho (who has run out of ammunition), stating that his money and power will ensure his swift release. Kit, finally seeing eye to eye with his brother, hands Ho a revolver, with which Ho kills Shing.

Immediately afterwards, Ho handcuffs himself to Kit, expressing his desire for redemption and his admiration that Kit always walked the right path. Now reconciled, the brothers walk together towards the gathered crowd of police.


Theme song[edit]Edit

The film's theme song is "In the Sentimental Past" (當年情), performed by lead Leslie Cheung, composed and arranged by Joseph Koo and written by Wong Jim.

Box office[edit]Edit

A Better Tomorrow grossed $34,651,324 HKD at the Hong Kong box office, ensuring that sequels and imitators would not be far behind.[4]

Musical references[edit]Edit

  • During the nightclub scene, the song being played in the background (幾許風雨, Gei2 heoi2 fung1 jyu5) is the Cantonese version of a classic South Korean song called 'Hee Na Ree'(희나리) sung originally by Goo Chang-mo(ko:구창모) in 1985. The Cantonese version in the movie was sung by Roman Tam, considered the "godfather" 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.
  • Also heard in the soundtrack is "Sparrowfall 1", a track from Brian Eno's 1978 album, Music for Films.
  • The film also contains "Birdy's Theme" (from the film Birdy) by Peter Gabriel incorporated into the soundtrack.
  • In the scene where Ho meets Jackie back stage of the music recital to tell her he is leaving, the children's choir is singing Tomorrow will be Better (明天会更好/明天會更好), written by Lo Ta-yu. This is likely the origin of the film's English title.

Film references[edit]Edit

  • 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 英雄本色 (pinyin Yīngxióng běnsè) which has the same Chinese name but a different English name: 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[edit]Edit

  • 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 Wu-Tang Clan also has plans to release their 20th anniversary album which will share its name with the film.
  • The anime series Cowboy Bebop has many references to the film series, including the last fight between Spike and Vicious in the episode "The Real Folk Blues (Part 2)" which parallels the final shoot out in "A Better Tomorrow 2".
  • The character Mr. Chang from the anime series Black Lagoon is closely patterned after Chow's character Mark in both visual design and characterization.
  • Chow wore Alain Delon sunglasses 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.
  • In 2009, Empire Magazine named it #20 in a poll of the 20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've Never Seen* (*Probably)
  • Lupe Fiasco's song "Heat Under The Babyseat", which talks about violence in the youth,[clarification needed] mentions A Better Tomorrow as a source of violent influence.
  • In 1994 Indian film director Sanjay Gupta unofficially remade this film into a highly acclaimed and popular Bollywood film called Aatish: Feel the Fire (meaning: The Fire) that starred Sanjay DuttAtul AgnihotriAditya Pancholi andShakti Kapoor in the lead.
  • In September 2010, prolific Korean filmmaker Song Hae-Sung released Mujeogja (Invincible) which was an official Korean language remake of John Woo's A Better Tomorrow. It opened to positive response at the Korean box-office. John Woo and Terence Chang also serve as Executive Producers for Mujeogja; which was a joint production between South Korea, Japan and China.
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