A Better Tomorrow

Reviewed by: sukting

August 17, 2010

Rating: three-point-five

How long
1.5 hours

This is the famous blockbuster director by Woo Yu Sum and
produced by Tsui Hark. Do you wish to know why so many
actors were shot to stardom due to it and why it brings a
trend of mobster movie in an international scale?

Story/Introduction on characters

Sung Tse Ho (Ti Lung) works for the triad which prints and
distributes counterfeit US bank notes. He is an important
person in the triad to handle everything personally. Mark
Lee (Chow Yun Fatt) , his best friend, is his helper. Tse
Ho’s big boss trusts him.

Tse Ho’s younger brother, Tse Kit (Cheung Kok Wing) is close
to him. He is deeply in love with Chung Yau (Chu Bo Yee) and
sneaks her out from the hall after her violin practice. (The
background music plays the theme song beautifully.) They
intend to marry soon. Unlike Tse Ho, Tse Kit wants to be a
police officer.

Tse Ho keeps his criminal life secret from him and
encourages Tse Kit's career choice. He even goes to his
police academy graduation with their father. Their father
knows what Tse Ho is doing although Tse Ho doesn’t inform
him but doesn’t tell Tse Kit too.

Tse Ho is sent to Taiwan by the boss to complete a deal. Tam
Shing (Lee Chi Hung), a new member, is sent along to help
him. (It is questionable why the boss selects Shing instead
of Mark as both men are inseparable. Doesn’t the boss worry
that Shing will ruin the deal?)

It turns out to be a police trap as Tse Ho and Shing flee
from a gun battle. Tse Ho surrenders to the police to let
Shing escape. Tse Ho is then imprisoned. Angry and bitter
over Tse Ho's plight, Mark kills the men responsible but
loses his kneecap in the process.

While Tse Ho is in prison, his father is killed by Shing's
assassin (Shing has taken over the organization after
gaining the boss’s trust). It is not said why he does this
but I guess he might have wanted to reduce Tse Ho to the
ruins to prevent him from making a comeback.

Before dying, the father pleads with Tse Kit to forgive Tse
Ho. In great anguish, Tse Kit views Tse Ho as a criminal who
is responsible for their father's death. Yau wants to
meditate between the brothers but Tse Kit wrongs Tse Ho for
wanting to be with his girlfriend. This turns their sour
relationship to become worse. (What a joke – is Tse Kit so
blind? Tse Ho is so much older than Yau and Yau is devoted
to him!)

Their tension causes the counterfeit notes organisations to
rise to the surface. Shing then plans to kill Mark and Tse
Ho as they prove to be a big obstacle. Tse Ho is released
from prison after a few years. Full of remorse and
determined to start a new life, he becomes a taxi driver
under Ken (Tsang Kong) . Tse Ho discovers Mark during one of
his shifts. Mark has been reduced to Shing's sidekick as he
walks with a limp now. Mark wants Tse Ho to return to the
triad and take revenge on Shing, but Tse Ho refuses although
he feels very sorry for him to implicate him.

Later on, Shing finds Tse Ho and presses him to come back to
his organization, this time without Mark. He intends to
throw Mark out. Tse Ho refuses. Mark is almost beaten to
death as he attempts to fight Shing on his own by stealing
the organization’s tape. Tse Ho finds out and is devastated,
but he still refuses to get involved. He wants to prove that
he has a clean life to Tse Kit now. As for Tse Kit, he keeps
finding fault with Tse Ho. He keeps handcuffing him to want
to find evidence from him.

Tse Ho has to tell him that he hasn’t been a ‘big brother’
for a long time but he isn’t convinced. Even Ken can’t take
it and scolds Tse Kit for not giving Tse Ho a second chance.
Tse Kit becomes obsessed to arrest Shing. He learns of
Shing's major deal, but it is a death trap in retaliation of
Tse Ho's refusal to cooperate. Tse Ho realizes this and
warns Tse Kit.

Tse Kit doesn't believe his brother. This man has brawns and
no brains indeed. Tse Kit only wants to kill Shing. Well, as
we have expected, his cover is blown and is seriously
injured. Yau visits him in the hospital when he is
unconscious. Tse Ho also comes to visit him and she begs him
to help Tse Kit. Tse Ho and Mark can take this no longer.
Both burn all the fake notes. Shing pretends to compromise
but later reports this to the police.

Shing's men capture Tse Kit when he has just recovered. Tse
Ho and Mark show up to catch Shing. An exchange is between
the men, but it blows into a wild shootout. Tse Ho is
wounded by Shing. Seeing his best friend shot, Mark berates
and tells Tse Kit that Tse Ho comes to rescue him. Tse Kit
is moved and joins them in the operation.

Then Mark is shot dead by Shing. The cops arrive and Shing
surrenders. Shing mocks the brothers that he has the money
so he will be released soon. Finally seeing eye to eye, Tse
Kit hands Tse Ho the gun. Tse Ho can take it no longer. He
turns and kills Shing. Tse Ho handcuffs himself to Tse Kit,
telling him that he has done the right thing.

Most favorite character
Tse Ho, he makes many sacrifices but too bad Tse Kit doesn’t
appreciate. Mark comes in as a close second as a loyal

Most hated character
Not Shing but Tse Kit. He is totally out of his mind to be
so unreasonable. Can’t he see how much his poor brother has
suffered because of him? How can he treat him like his worst
enemy – even Shing gets better treatment!! Even though this
role is played by the boyish and innocent/charming looking
Kok Wing, I still dislike this role.

The theme song was In the Sentimental Past (當年情) by Kok
Wing. The lyrics was by Mr Wong Jim while the music was
written by Mr Koo Kar Fai. It is a top brilliant song that
you will not find the touching lyrics these days.

Interesting facts

The movie was made with a small budget and was relatively
unknown until it broke Hong Kong's box office record and
also became a blockbuster in many countries. The success
also ensured the sequel A Better Tomorrow 2, and A Better
Tomorrow 3: Love & Death in Saigon, a prequel. It also
garnered the number 2 spot of the Best 100 Chinese Motion
Pictures. In 2009, Empire Magazine named it #20 in a poll of
the 20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've Never Seen.

When Ti Lung was approached to take part in this film, many
voiced disapproval. How can a veteran actor who took part in
so few movies be joining it. Director Woo and Producer Tsui
believed their foresight to insist that. Ti Lung proved them
correct. Chow Yun Fatt wore Alain Delon sunglasses in the
movie. After the movie, Hong Kong was sold out of the brand.
French star Alain Delon sent Chow a personal thank you note.
This is unbelievable.

Tsui and Woo lent their presence in the movie. This was
quite rare. Tsui acted as a music judge when Yau was
performing. Woo was the Taiwanese police chief walking along
the corridor of the blooded restaurant, waiting to arrest
Tse Ho. Chow Sing Chee was also at early stage of his film
career. He played a minor role as a bodyguard of the
Taiwanese triad leader.

This movie spans many other mobster brotherhood movies that
maintain 10 over years. It brings a new direction to Hong
Kong cinema. Chow Yun Fatt and Ti Lung were both nominated
for best actor in Golden Horse awards. Ti Lung won the
award. As he already had one trophy at home, he joked that
he hoped that the two trophies could help him to produce
twins. Sadly, till now, he was unable to scale greater
heights. Kok Wing’s fans demanded to know why he wasn’t in
any nomination. Well, I also thought he was not up to mark
as yet in this movie so the director’s move was

Director Woo won the best director award, best shooting and
recording. Many felt indignant as they thought Chow should
also win. (So did I). However, he had his sweet revenge by
winning the award due to another movie. But he scored at
Hong Kong film awards to be the best actor. Tsui Hark won
the best movie award. Sadly, 當年情 did not win any best
theme song award although it was nominated as 最爱是谁 by Lam
Chi Cheung was the winner.

Woo won the golden bear lifetime achievement award at Venice
Film Festival in 2010. Organizer chief Marco Muller,
Director Quentin and Tsui presented the award to him.
Quentin was the lead of judges and was not supposed to go on
stage. Muller allowed the exception as he was Woo's fan.

As for Tsui, he was Woo's old friend. Woo was in Taiwan in
the 80s when Tsui invited him to return to hong Kong to
shoot 'A Better Tomorrow'. Due to differences after
shooting "I' and "II", Woo left Tsui's company to set up his
own company and had not worked together since.

Tsui praised Woo's achievement by altering Mark Gor's line '
I want to seek redress for myself. It was not to prove how
capable I was but to tell others that I wish to get what I

Both directors' eyes were watery and Woo nearly cried on
stage. He thanked Tsui for encouraging him when he needed
help very badly and was at his lowest point in life. This
depicted that the filming disagreement did not affect their
friendship after all and was a happy moment for all 'A
Better Tomorrow' fans.

Best quotes by Tse Ho and Mark – I shall let you guess who
said what

I had vowed that I would never let anyone use a gun to point
at my head.

I am God. God is also human. A person who can rule his
destiny is god.

I waited for 3 years just for a chance. I wanted to seek
redress for myself. It was not to prove how capable I was
but to tell others that I must get back what I had lost.

I would never force my friends to do what they did not wish
to do. I have my own principles. I did not want to let
others stop on it.

The problem with the underworld was – when you sink into it,
you will be in trouble indefinitely.

This world had changed. We were unsuitable for it as we
thought too much of the past.

In loyalty, we respected those that we should trust but we
could not condone people who betrayed friends.

Ah Sir, I have not been a big brother for a long time.
(Watch out for Ti Lung’s painful and mournful expression
when saying this!)


There are lots of action as I expected in this mobster
movie. Why was this movie a blockbuster? It is successful
for being able to bring the loyalty between triad brothers
and biological brothers. It provides a lot of insight to let
you see what goes wrong in a triad. Tse Ho has trouble
coming in between Tse Kit and Mark. Both are his brothers
but how is he going to treat them fairly as both have
different demands of him?

Tse Kit and Mark doesn’t see eye to eye with each other.
That makes the three go through a lot in life. They sink
into the deepest pit of their lives. They keep failing,
getting remorseful and seeking revenge. By going through all
the disputes between these people, the film is able to use
the exaggerating squeeze tears effect to move the viewers so
that they can watch the whole film with admiration.

Chow Yun Fatt showed off his impressive acting skills.
Although Ti Lung’s role as Tse Hou isn’t as expressive as
his, he shows well how a brother cares for his family and
triad brothers. He keeps everything to himself and that
makes him also stand out from the movie. But I still think
that Chow has a cutting edge over him as he proves more how
a down-and-out gangster is being treated.

Lee Chi Hung makes a good start although his acting is very
raw at times. His wooden expression can put viewers off. It
is sad that he had a lot of hair then and what happened to
him within a few years’ time? he might have stressed himself
too hard.

Although Kok Wing is given a meat role, I find that he
screws everything up. He is over exaggerated and goes on the
wrong side of acting. He makes Tse Kit to be very immature
and no one can talk sense into his head. He is a spoil

He keeps insisting that Tse Ho is wrong but what has he done
to his brother? He doesn’t give him a chance to explain or
show how repentant he is. Instead, he nearly ruins his
livelihood. When with Chow and Ti, he is definitely the odd
one out. Sorry to disappoint all Kok Wing’s fans. Thus, he
simply can’t be nominated for the best actor award.

After watching this film on television, I have high
expectations for the sequel. That is why I watched it in the
cinema. But to my horror, it was a big letdown and I simply
tear my hair over this. I can’t help feeling shortchanged by
the forgettable plot. This shall be discussed in another
review. It proves the saying that the first movie is always
the best. This is a must watch mobster movie for all fans!

Sukting’s ratings :

On acting : **** (Scale of 5)

On story : ***1/2 (Scale of 5)

On songs : **** (Scale of 5)

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