I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

A Better Tomorrow 2

tn_bettertomorrow2A BETTER TOMORROW II is a crazy fuckin sequel. The story is incredibly convoluted, the plot (or plots) divided between Hong Kong and New York, continuing the story of Ho, Kit and Jackie, but also following a new character called Uncle Lung (Dean Shek) in conflict with the police and with two unrelated crime syndicates. The weirdest (and best) part is that they actually used the gimmick that’s always joked about but almost never actually done: Chow Yun Fat plays Ken, the never-mentioned-before-twin-brother of his deceased part 1 character Mark. I probly don’t have to say any more than that to convince you this movie is stupid. I liked it though.

mp_bettertomorrow2Ho is in the joint again, because he let Kit arrest him at the end of part 1. But ever since he helped bust that asshole Shing the cops must expect him to be their new bitch. They’re investigating Ho’s old mentor Uncle Lung, who they think is involved in counterfeiting again, and will let Ho out if he’ll spy on the old guy. But Ho says Lung has been reformed for 10 years and he refuses to take part. So Kit moves in calling himself “Billie” and dating Lung’s daughter Peggy (Regina Kent) so he can get close enough to bug the office and shit. When Ho finds out about this he worries about Kit’s safety so he does take the deal, hoping Kit will drop the case.

Well, Ho was right. Lung is clean, his business is owning a shipyard, but he’s getting threats from gangsters who want to take it from him. Then he gets set up for some murders, etc. Remember in part 1 Ho had Kent (or Ken? that’s what IMDB says but I thought it was Kent), that cool ex-con boss at the garage? He goes to him for help sneaking Lung out of the country and Kent says “This goes against my principles. But principles can be changed.”

(I’m so disappointed in Kent. Sequels seem to take away everybody’s integrity.)

As Lung goes to New York he finds out the Hong Kong gangsters killed his daughter. He goes to stay with a friend whose daughter reminds him of his own, and then she gets killed by different gangsters. He’s starting to approach Paul Kersey levels of tragedy here, nobody should know this guy, it’s too dangerous. But instead of turning him into a vigilante the trauma causes him to shut down. He stops eating and talking and picks up a bunch of strange tics. He kind of acts like a monkey.

Luckily he has Mark’s twin brother to look after him. Ken owns a little restaurant and has a crew of dedicated young people who think he’s awesome because they read about his brother in comic books (!?). His situation is similar to the restaurant owner in WAY OF THE DRAGON – the local gangsters are coming in and causing chaos, demanding protection money. But instead of getting Bruce Lee to stand up for him he does it himself, acting crazy, offering the mobsters a 25 cent bribe, then forcing them at gun point to eat fried rice that was on the floor. I want to emphasize that this is not something they normally do at the restaurant. By all accounts the fried rice is very good and there’s no reason to believe it is served in a manner that is in any way inappropriate. It’s only for these particular mobsters who are threatening him and causing a scene, because they have to be taught a lesson.

So anyway, the mobsters blow up the restaurant.

There are alot of different conflicts here, but after the plot flails around for a while it just comes down to Ken, Lung, Ho and Kit reunited in Hong Kong, getting a whole lot of guns and grenades and going after some gangsters in a mansion.

You know how sequels try to top part 1s? Kit one-ups being an asshole to his wife on her birthday by going to take part in a shootout while his wife is giving birth. Ho actually tells him he should stay with her, and he’s gonna do it until Ken turns and gives him a thumbs-up. The implication is that Ken is so fucking cool that hanging out with him would be worth missing the birth of your own child.

I don’t know, you can judge for yourself but in my opinion Kit made the wrong choice there. I mean Ken is cool, maybe miss a funeral cool, but not miss a birth cool, in my opinion. Also, you know, the shootout doesn’t work out very well for Kit. Spoiler.

I forgot to mention that the artist who drew the comic books about Mark gave Ken Mark’s actual bullet-ridden duster, so he wears that, if that makes any difference to you. Different character, same actor, same coat. Different matchstick, most likely.

Ken gets the most firepower here, including a rifle that sprays sparks and about a dozen grenades. In New York he gets to do a HARD BOILED type shootout, except it’s a traumatized adult he’s bringing to safety instead of a baby. He gets to shoot while falling backwards down stairs. The shootouts are great, but not as good as HARD BOILED because too much of it is one-sided. Not just that the bad guys are missing their shots – they don’t even have guns alot of the time. It’s more of a massacre or a rampage than a shootout. But it’s still got that A BETTER TOMORROW theme song, so it’s hard not to think these guys are awesome. Every time I hear that song I want to stand up and put my hand over my heart. If I wore a hat I would take it off out of respect.

I like that once again this is about people trying to get out (or stay out) of a life of crime, to find a better tomorrow. But when you think about it this is one of those movies where something really tragic happens but it tricks you into thinking something awesome happened. At the beginning of the movie Lung was a completely reformed criminal. He used to be a gangster and now he was standing up to gangsters to keep his legitimate shipyard business. But the cops didn’t believe he was clean and hassled him. He got framed, his daughter and friend’s daughter were murdered and he was severely psychologically damaged. But our heroes came along and helped nurse him back to mental health… so he could go kill a whole bunch of people!

That’s not a better tomorrow. You turned the reformed man into a killer again. It’s everything he fought against. This is sad. But…

No, I guess it’s not sad. Music doesn’t lie. It’s awesome!

Woo directed again, but apparently he and producer Tsui Hark had alot of the ol’ artistic differences. From what I’ve read Hark wanted it to be more about Lung than Woo did. So the movie ended up getting cut together by some editing company without being overseen by either Woo or Hark. As goofy as the movie is I’m kind of surprised to hear that because it has a whole lot of Woo in it, starting with the opening ballroom dance montage. It’s a crazy mess, but the type of crazy mess I can respect.

http://youtu.be/9C2XNiE9dPg

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, October 15th, 2010 at 1:19 am and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

42 Responses to “A Better Tomorrow 2”

  1. Man, the ending of this movie is better than drugs. And Chow Yun Fat´s Matchstick is cool, in my opinion.

  2. I mean the climax of this movie. The very ending sucks.

  3. So both brothers chew different matchsticks but wear the same coat.

  4. I always loved it when Chow Yun Fat chucks the grenade in the hotel and turns to face the camera with the explosion behind him, but instead of standing still and loooking badass, he shits himelf and flinches!

  5. you know why the critics dumped on Aliens 4? becoz they brought Ripley back from the dead by cloning.

    ABT 2 certainly has the same problem with Mark — a supporting character so popular that they has to bring him back using the twin brother conceit.

    As you say so yourself, the story sucks, the plotting’s bad, so I’m puzzled why you like ABT 2.

    I’ve always thought that ABT 2 is an abomination, something they did to cash in on ABT

  6. Well Brad, you said I don’t understand John Woo’s movies, so how am I supposed to know if this one’s good or not? I didn’t actually intend this to be the finished review, I was really just stalling until you told me the answer. I will now add your post as the last paragraph in my review.

    But you make a good point, it should’ve been clones instead of twins.

  7. I thought John Woo’s flicks were supposed to have bad plots. It was always part of the charm for me. The other part being Chow Yun Fat being a douche bag that thinks he is cool.

  8. Vern, how come your comments are sometimes under Outlaw Vern and other times plain old Vern? Are you twins like Chow Yun Fat?

  9. You mean, CLONES like Chow Yun Fat.

  10. While the action in HARD BOILED is indeed much more refined and better flowing (the continuous shot in the hospital scene is pure mastery), I can’t help but to love the over the top craziness of the ending shoot out in A BETTER TOMORROW 2.

    I mean, it starts as a “regular” action scene, but then quickly turns into a pure massacre. And then, in the end, the good guys and the bad guys don’t even bother to do any sort of action heroics – they just stand there and pump bullets into each other. And both are badass enough to just take it. Like getting shredded into a bloody mess by dozens of bullets isn’t even a big deal. How many films give you that kind of awesomeness?

    In this age of shaky, hyper-edited bloodless PG-13 action and fake looking, floaty, computer assisted supposedly hyperviolent gorefests, I miss the action films with real impact. The real, meaty blood squibs and the real guns (god I hate CGI blood and the fake looking CGI muzzle flashes and actors just faking to shoot a gun). And above all, I miss the masterfully directed, clearly shot and edited, action scenes.

  11. hey vern and gang, sorry to be completely off-topic, but did you see that there’s a trailer for DRIVE ANGRY? i found it at chud (via yahoo):

    http://chud.com/articles/articles/25903/1/WATCH-TRAILER-DRIVE-ANGRY/Page1.html

    vern, i know you were really lookin forward to this one, and so am i. i disagree with chud-writer-who-is-not-devin-faraci when he says that it looks like GHOST RIDER cage, as opposed to BL: POCNO/KICK-ASS cage. i mean, from the little we can glean from a short trailer, it certainly doesn’t look like we will be getting mega-acting per se, but it also doesn’t look like boring cage. it doesn’t look like he is pulling out all the stops, but it also looks like he is having more fun than in crap like NEXT or SORCEROR’S APPRENTICE. and it’s got a pretty cool supporting cast – billy fuckin fitchener as the bad guy! it’s always great whenever that guy turns up, but it’s an especially rare treat to have him as a second lead in a motion picture. overall, it looks like it could be silly, over-the-top fun, kind of like what the neveldine/taylor puctures (the CRANK series, etc.) wish they were. it’s got potential.

  12. (sigh) puctures = pictures (obviously)

  13. Vern,
    I would miss the birth of all my children (hell even the birth of Jesus, but not the birth of Jackie Chan) to take part in a shoot out with Ken.

  14. “I always loved it when Chow Yun Fat chucks the grenade in the hotel and turns to face the camera with the explosion behind him, but instead of standing still and loooking badass, he shits himelf and flinches!”

    I’m sure I read something somewhere sometime (sorry for the vagueness!) about this. It was one of those classic Hong Kong film productions where health and safety goes right out the window and the explosion ended up being far bigger than anyone expected. Still, I agree, it makes for an awesome scene!

  15. One Guy From Andromeda

    October 15th, 2010 at 5:12 am

    Apart from Chow Yun Fat being scared to death by the explosion my favourite moments of the shootout in the end are those were they just try to ramp up the body count by cannon fodder (being the movie with the highest body count was a hot thing for some reason inthe eighties). There’s one particular shot i remember, were countless henchmen run into a small corridor just to get mowed down. They keep coming and coming, like they just can’t wait to be shot.
    I also adore the weird monologue Chow Yun Fat gives in the New York restaurant. At least i remember adoring it, it’s been a long time since i saw this. Something about fried rice and how the gangsters are supposed to appologize to it. Classic stuff.
    A goofy movie.

  16. The guys who keep on gushing out of the doorway only to get mowed down is amazing. And they just kept flying in! The more I read about these films, the more I am tempted to go through them again for the sake of the body count!

  17. My favourite moment (that I can remember) is when Ken comes face-to-face with the evil guy in the shades, the Belloq to his Indy. Without saying a word, they come to an agreement….they both drop their guns….there’s a long, tense stand-off and then….they both hit the deck, go for their guns, and start shooting! Love it! Am I right in thinking that Robert Rodriguez ripped off/payed homage to this scene in Desperado? Back in 1997, when I was 16, John Woo really was the greatest director in the universe. I was so excited when I first saw the trailer for Face Off. Nicolas Cage’s coat flapping in the wind….in slow motion? Sold! :)

  18. Another thing I’ve just remembered! Alabama is watching A Bette Tomorrow 2 when Clarence returns from Gary Oldman’s crackhouse….hurrah for movie references!!

  19. Yeah John Woo really does take me back to my high school days – the memories of running around town, stopping by Asian grocery stores to see if i could find a Woo movie on VHS and then showing off to all my nerdy friends like I was Anthony Michael Hall showing off a pair of panties. Ah, the days before Netflix/youtube/the internet when being a movie fan was hard work/a pain in the ass.

  20. I love the stand off between Ken and his sun glasses nemesis (the Indy/Belloq comment from Henry Krinkle was hilarious). The silent understanding and respect, the dropping of the guns, the time to put a matchstickin his mouth… pure gold.

    The more we talk about this, the more and more I want to see them again!

    I am even looking for a match to chew on!

  21. Also I love the shot at the beginning dance scene where Peggy looks over at Kit and he waves her broken shoe at her, grinning like an idiot.

  22. That clip from BT2 in True Romance was many people’s first glimpse of John Woo action. I can still hear the gasps from the audience watching TR when Ken and the other guy spin around and start blasting each other…

    And I used to haunt local libraries for terribly dubbed, imported-from-Hong-Kong Woo VHS tapes. (One of the benefits of towns with a healthy Asian population.) How I first saw The Killer, Bullet In The Head, Once A Thief and Hard Boiled.

  23. Actually ABT2 is playing before Clarence gets up and talks to Elvis before going to Drexel’s. When he comes back it’s some kind of soap, I think…

  24. Virgin Gary> Only just watched the trailer for Drive Angry. I am 1oo% sold.

  25. I like this movie for two reasons:

    1) The incredibly long and awkward fried rice sequence.

    2) The part with the grenades where Chow Yun Fat is gonna walk away from an explosion all classic and badass but then the explosion goes off and he winces and stumbles forward all kinda freaked out, as one would logically do.

    Please review ONCE A THIEF, Vern. It’s awesome.

  26. I’m really excited to do some more John Woo reviews, but not until after Halloween. I gotta get back on the Halloween program right now. Also I feel like I kind of blew this one because you guys are mentioning so many great things about it that I forgot to get into. I’ll have to have a horror movie binge and then get my brain focused into the Woo Zone.

  27. There are two versions of Once A Thief, for some reason, and I really dig both of them. One is in English and it’s not quite as good but still very funny.

  28. Oh man, knowing all this producer-level drama really explains a lot about the, ah, vagaries of the movie. I love it though, more than the first one even, a position that I cannot in any way, shape, or form adequately explain. Favourite part is the hotel shoot-out, the perfect mix of manly melodrama and awesome action.

    I guess it does go against the principles of the first movie, but I don’t think it sells those principles out. The characters want to live a better life but if they do who’s going to stop the bad guys? They have to give up their freedom and probably also their lives to prevent evil men from running unchecked. It’s bittersweet, and full of explosions.

  29. I’m also looking forward to a Vern Once a Thief review.

    In reference to the principles of A Better Tomorrow 2: I’m glad Dave said something about it, I thought that Lung being rehabilitated and then joining the good guys in shooting everyone at the end was not so much about him being restored to being a killer as it was about him not letting the tragedy take away his humanity. Like when he saw good things destroyed by evil, before his response was to become less of a man, to where he couldn’t even feed himself. But by using his killing skills to kill the bad guys, in spite of his suffering over his daughter and daughter lookalike getting shot and stuff, he became part of the hope for a better tomorrow. They get to sit down all bloody at the end knowing that now the bad guys are gone and maybe things will get better.

  30. There’s 2 things I love that haven’t been mentioned yet,
    1- the kind of Wild Bunch homage (it seems to me) where they’re passing an orange around the office, picking up the oranges reference in the movie
    2-Ho with a frickin’ samurai sword in a gunfight!! Though admittedly, he is fighting someone with a ax, so it’s even. I love that scene, or 30 seconds of filming.
    And that scene in the hallway we’ve already discussed, I just love how it just looks like there’s someone just off camera splashing blood into frame. There’s to many people to squib, lets just get some cups of blood and chuck them on the shot. Works for me.

  31. Off topic, but since there is no Halloween request thread you leave me no choice:

    Please review Truth or Dare: a critical madness. I suggested it last year and will continue to do so. Not saying it’s good, just that you should watch it, vern. Please? (If you can find it anyways)

  32. I don´t think anyone in their right mind enjoy ABT2 for it´s storytelling. It´s just a crazy-ass ride with lot´s of weird shit, like the Rice-monologue in the restaurant, Dean Shek´s wonderful over-the-top performance as a man who has completly lost his mind. And of course chow yun-fats peptalk with those damn oranges before the apartment shootout. I just think this movie is so batshit-insane; having grenades hanging inside your trenchcoat and more stuff I can´t even remember!
    Although i have to admit,you get more out of this by seing the first one. Can´t say i liked the first one as much. Story was good, but the only standout John Woo-sequence in terms of action is the restaurant-scen where Mark plants the guns. The rest of the shootouts, I find unremarkable, like John Woo didn´t even direct them himself.

  33. Enter the Woo Zone. That is gonna be great.

  34. Is Vern going to review part 3? I know it’s not John Woo, but it is a Tsui Hark film and is in my opinion generally underappreciated.

  35. Personally, I’m praying for a review of Woo’s _Last Hurrah for Chivalry_.

  36. Also, for anyone who hasn’t seen ABT2 yet, and is wondering how Chow Yun Fat looks when the explosion’s intensity catches him by surprise? Look at the poster Vern found: THEY USED A FRAME FROM THAT SHOT FOR THE POSTER!

    You can see him grimacing in fear, crapping his pants. And it is awesome. {g}

    (In the movie itself, there’s a brief coda to that shot where he and the filmmakers poke some fun at how unexpectedly powerful that grenade explosion was.)

  37. Meanwhile, I agree I enjoy ABT2 more than ABT1, which I find increasingly tedious to watch; but at the same time, ABT2 means more if I go through ABT1 first.

    Awesomeness not talked about yet in the comments?

    SPOILERS BELOW!!

    When Kit dies (it isn’t at the shootout, the shootout is partially revenge for his murder), he’s on the phone with his wife after she’s given birth. She thinks everything is okay. A new wistfully sad music is playing in the background. Ken’s there with him, knowing he’s going to die. Kit is trying to ask about the baby, but not doing a good job (but Jackie doesn’t notice really). She asks him, as he’s slipping away, what to name the girl.

    His last words, naming his baby daughter? He names her after his brother, Ho: whose name translates as “Spirit of Righteousness”.

    Then the actor who plays Kit starts singing words to the sad wistful song, as Ho and the others are devastated and grieving about Kit’s death. (The lyrics in English are really good about translating Chinese poetry forms. They also climax in hoping for “A Better Tomorrow”. So the title to both films, actually refers to everyone working so that Kit’s daughter will grow up in a better world than they currently have.) But they also start gearing up to go kick ass; praying at Kit’s memorial before leaving (Woo’s usual respectful nod to virtuous religious belief); Kent the taxi-guy chauffers them to the villains’ mansion (the villains have been seen celebrating and partying about their successful counterfeit run during this montage); they find where the mortally wounded Kit escaped over the wall; Ken puts on THE JACKET; Kent wants to come along but they tell him to leave so he won’t be hurt (and/or caught by the cops), and he bows in respect to them; then Ho, Ken and Uncle Lung vault the wall where Kit left the area, over his blood. And the music shifts into the cheesy/awesome electronic keyboard main theme.

    And _then_ they start passing out the weaponry. {g} (It was in bags they threw over the wall when they leaped.)

    The whole sequence sets up the rightness of the asskicking that follows. It’s just beautiful.

  38. Also (much briefer this time, I promise {g}) I love the shot during the final assault, where the boss counterfeiter, packing his bags to flee the area, tries to pay Ken’s duelist to go out and kill the assailants. The boss plops the money on the table near where the guy is standing quietly guarding a door into the boss’ area, and hustles away. The assassin’s face doesn’t change, he just looks down at the money in disdain (through the sunglasses he’s always wearing), and then goes out through the door to fight.

    (It’s possible the boss tried to pay him in counterfeit money; but I don’t think the Dragon guy would have taken it anyway. He’s just that awesome as a hired gun on the villains’ side.)

  39. This is going to seem spammy, especially after already putting in the ABT1 thread, but since everyone might have moved on: The South Korean remake just opened. The CGV Cinemas site has a trailer, which makes it look mighty generic.

  40. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0fEJt54vxI

    This is the Rice scene from BTII. It’s great.

  41. I think most of you missed what this movie is about; it´s about oranges! And lot´s of them. Very underrated fruit in actionmovies. i´d like to seemore ornages in action-movies!

  42. I misspelled oranges appartentely. Í´m such an ididioot.

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