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John Woo and Chow Yun Fat – what a great action combination. This film launched Chow Yun Fat into the movies and helps establish John Woo as the much sort after director he is now. Several versions of this film exist on DVD and this latest version is a two disc Special Edition so is it a worthwhile purchase?

The classic A Better Tomorrow shot

The Film
The story is more than a little complicated. The basic premise is thus: two gangsters are involved in counterfeiting money. However a deal they are involved in goes very wrong. They are set up and Mark Lee (Chow Yun Fat) is shot badly in the knee while Ho Tse Sung (Lung Ti) is captured by the police and sent to jail. Ho has a younger brother, Kit (Leslie Cheung). Kit is training to be a police officer which causes a lot of problems for Ho and his father, as Kit is unaware of Ho’s real job and a connection with this results in their father being murdered. Ho is sent to prison for three years after being captured by the police for the counterfeiting deal and when he leaves jail Kit is an officer of the law, trying to break the crime syndicate that Ho and Mark used to work for. Kit now knows what his brother does for a living and is not only ashamed, but angry. Kit harbours strong resentment and hatred towards his brother, blaming him not only for his fathers death, but because his blood relationship with Ho means he is passed over for promotion in the police force. However Ho has changed in his time in prison and now for the sake of his brother, he decides to go straight, however this is not as easy as it sounds.

Mark still works for the gang, but his role has changed from gangster to car cleaner. His leg injury means he cannot walk fast and because of this and that his partner was in jail, he worked his way down the ladder while the young kid he and Ho mentored together is now the crime lord (Shing – played by Waise Lee). Mark wants Ho to re-join the gang, so they can be partners again and regain the respect and money from their old life, but for all the trouble he has caused with his brother, Ho is now on the straight and narrow. Kit does not believe him however, and treats him like a criminal.

Always check your forged currency with a handy portable fluorescent tube
The story is basic but fun with a few twists and a lot of gun fire. There is a constant tension between Kit and Ho which reaches its climax in the final scene. Chow Yun Fat is excellent as the downtrodden Mark who eventually realises that his life is wrong. The change he makes bonds him with Ho and Kit, and this is where everything starts coming together as the films end. The gun fights are well choreographed throughout and it is easy to see how this film really launched him and John Woo into the big time. Chow Yun Fat’s personality really shines through in some scenes and the final few moments of the film are charged with energy not only from the gun fire, but from the strength of the relationship that all three now share. The film is both touching and the situation that each character is placed in can be identified with and so as a viewer it is easy to side with both brothers as one is sorry and has changed, but the other still cannot forgive the man that was indirectly responsible for his fathers murder. The film works on many levels; on some it is an action movie, and on others it is about the relationships between each character. A great film.

Video
While allegedly presented in 1.85:1 it actually is closer to 1.74:1 which is a little strange since the Anchor Bay R0 is presented in1.85:1 - the correct aspect ratio. Anamorphically enhanced, the video in A Better Tomorrow Special Edition has obviously been rinsed in muddy water, left to dry out a bit and then blurred a little. On the plus side there are little dirt artefacts present and the level of grain present is also lower, however I suspect this is because of the darkened picture that the grain is less apparent that it would be on a better transfer. There are even nasty compression problems resulting in pixilation during certain scenes. There is some form of crazy green blob present on a frame at nine minutes and sixteen to seventeen seconds, and for while it is for one frame only it made me do a double take and rewind it to see what I just thought I saw. So to summarise, this video transfer is of really low quality. A shame for such a great film.

What on earth is that green blob?
Audio
Featuring a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track in English and Cantonese, this DVD again disappoints. I was hoping for a clean 5.1 track and instead I am left with mono audio. The Cantonese track is reasonably clean and suffers when trying to reproduce loud action scenes. I did not listen to the English dub as that would just be criminal. The English subtitles however were for the most quite good. They do let the viewer follow the story, however there are some glaring problems here and from what I have read elsewhere, they are essentially a copy of the English dub rather than a more literal translation, which means certain sentences have been changed. I was a little miffed about this however judging by the video and audio present here, it is nothing I should not have expected.

Extras
This should be where this disc shines – after all it is a two disc set, so it surely must be jam packed with extra material, shouldn’t it? Well while you might think that, bear in mind that each disc is single sided and single layer. Why they didn’t merge them onto one dual layered disc is beyond me however here are the extra features.

Prepare to die
First up are the trailers. The first is the Hong Kong trailer which has a Cantonese soundtrack and no subtitles. A reasonably dirty print again, this runs for a little over four minutes. It actually ends very abruptly for some reason, like the last few seconds were cut. The International trailer is cheesier than a whole Edam served inside a bag of Wotsits coated with DairyLea.

<table border=0 width=90%><tr><td>“They’re on the edge, and the odds are they won’t live to see tomorrow. A million to one shot, but they pull it off! They beat the odds! They beat the mob, and they get a brand new chance… a brand new chance to live in … A Better Tomorrow”</td></tr></table>

For some reason not all of the video is presented with the English dub which means we are treated to Chow Yun Fat shouting for several long seconds without a voice.

Following these is a Behind the Scenes featurette with an English soundtrack. Opening with a quick word from John Woo, this nearly eleven minute presentation shows some clips of the film in Cantonese but with the original Chinese and English subtitles that are so great that they don’t all fit on the screen. Also, they don’t make much sense either. In fact some parts of what people say are just totally ignored in the subtitle department altogether! Featuring interview archive footage with John Woo, this time with (decent) English subtitles, the full Hong Kong trailer, footage from Chow Yun Fat’s 1993 UK tour and hosted by some guy with a mullet (heh!) this is great footage as it just lets his great personality shine through. It’s funny and made me laugh.

But Captain, I can't avenge my partner's death with this pee-shooter
The Production/Stills Gallery is a collection of twenty or so pictures and artwork associated with the production. It did not take too long to flick through them so I’d suggest having a look at the different cover art and a few black and white shots of the cast.

There are three interviews present on the disc, one with John Woo, one with Ti Lung and the other with Chow Yun Fat. This again is archive footage from 1993 and takes place in a noisy cinema projector room. Running in at eighteen minutes this is a reasonably solid interview, however I had a distinct felling of déjà vu when watching this. The reason for this is because a lot of this interview if not all of it is present on the God of Gamblers DVD. A little cheeky to be honest. The Ti Lung interview is an extension of the footage briefly seen during the featurette. Running for nearly three minutes it gives us a little background on this actor from his martial arts experience to his acting experience.  

The interview with John Woo is also from 1993 and runs for around eleven minutes. Several subjects are covered including comparing his action movie style to that of action movies in the west, to the casting of Chow Yun Fat for a Better Tomorrow and then the interview heads in the direction of The Killer. Again, not too much new information here as poor Mr Woo seems to get asked these types of questions all the time. There is one final interview which is a four page text interview covering his thoughts and feelings for A Better Tomorrow.  

Last up are Biographies of actors Chow Yun Fat, Ti Leung, Leslie Cheung, Emily Chu, Waise Lee, director John Woo and producer Tsui Hark. Each features a couple of pages about the person, followed by their Filmographies.

Overall
So a great film, presented badly with some less than inspiring extra features spanning two discs when it should have been spanning one. Ropey video and average sound make this one to probably miss unless you are a real fan. I hear that while the R0 Anchor Bay version has less extras and surprisingly worse audio, the picture is considerably improved over this release. It’s a shame that it doesn’t matter which version you purchase, either way you miss out on something.


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