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A Better Tomorrow II
cast: Chow Yun-fat, Leslie Cheung, Dean Shek, Ti Lung, and Emily Chu

director: John Woo

100 minutes (18) 1987
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Hong Kong Legends DVD Region 0 retail
[released 11 September]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Christopher Teague
Having never watched the first instalment (A Better Tomorrow), I did wonder whether it would be important before sitting down to watch this. There was a brief preamble, but it did take me a little while to get up to speed on the characters - not helped by the English dubbing (for some reason, English subtitles were unavailable on this review copy, so I had to make do with some quite awful dubbing).

In a nutshell, Lung (Dean Shek) is suspected of running a counterfeit operation - Ho (Ti Lung), an old friend, is drafted by the police to help prove this. Ho declines, but changes his mind when he hears his younger brother, aspiring detective Kit (Leslie Cheung), has infiltrated the gang by posing as the boyfriend of Lung's daughter.

Unfortunately, Lung is framed for murder and with Ho's help he escapes to New York to stay with his friend, a priest. When he hears of his daughter's murder, and witnesses the death of his friend, he suffers a nervous breakdown, and is helped on the road to recovery by restaurateur Ken (the twin brother of Mark from the original, again played by Chow Yun-fat). Returning to Hong Kong, Lung and Ken meet up with Kit and Ho to exact bloody revenge...

I've only ever saw one of Woo's HK action flicks before, and that was his last - Hardboiled, which blew me away: any film where our hero blasts his way through a horde of bad buys in a hospital, whilst carrying a baby, deserves to be seen. What happened to Woo upon relocating to Hollywood, I cannot say... but the US-lifestyle has definitely sanitised him.

Whilst watching A Better Tomorrow II (aka: Ying hung book sik II) I found myself thinking of Leone, Peckinpah and De Palma (the final shootout is on par with Pacino's last stand in Scarface for sheer spectacle). There is no rational point in subjecting this film to logic - it flies in the face of such thinking, adding another action set piece as a compromise, and what action! The slow-mo photography feels right, yet when Woo transferred the technique to Hollywood it felt superfluous, over-done; hardly a ballet of bloody violence.

Violence and blood-squibs are excessive, notoriously so, but those who complain miss the point: it neither looks nor pretends to be real: this is a complex, yet simple tale of Old Testament revenge, where the bad guys die, and the four heroes are victorious even when it looks like they're up against an army of 5,000.

I cannot really comment on the acting ability since the English dubbing is seriously awful, but Chow epitomises the action hero, with his combat prowess and wise-cracking ability, and his scenes with Shek during the breakdown are genuinely touching, it's just I would've preferred to watch it with subtitles. Apart from the lack of subtitles, the picture quality isn't that great, and the music is decidedly 1980s' synthesiser and guitar heavy, which occasionally works but tends to be quite obtrusive.

Overall though, if you're a fan of action cinema then there is more in this to whet the appetite of anyone - seriously good fun, and I'm now off to watch the first one.

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