A Better Tomorrow 2 Review
Rushed into production due to the enormous success of 'A Better Tomorrow' this sequel reunites director John Woo with his three leading stars of the original (Chow Yun Fat, Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung) and introduces us to another veteran Hong Kong actor, Dean Shek (who can be seen in the Jackie Chan classics, Drunken Master 1 and 2). I cannot really go into detail with the plot, as I would almost certainly spoil the original film. The basic story however consists of Dean Shek (a Triad boss) being betrayed by his right hand man, vengeance becomes the name of the game, so he enlists the help (or rather they come to him) of two old friends (Chow Yun-Fat and Ti Lung) who are in turn joined by Leslie Cheung.
Unfortunately the story is highly under developed and leaves itself open to many inconsistencies, which in some ways is a shame as the action sequences in this film are certainly of a higher calibre than those seen in the first, and if the story was at least up to the standards of the original then this would become one of the few sequels that truly surpasses its predecessor. Before I get onto the action I need to say that the characterisation here is again quite superb. Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung put in decent performances as brothers who have come together since the original film, but it is of course Chow Yun-Fat that steals the show again. This time his performance is far lighter in nature but he has just got this manner about him that makes it impossible not to watch his every movement and (just like in the first film) almost attempt to echo them (be careful with lighters now!).
Finally, the action! There are many action sequences in the film but two really stand out. The first is while Chow and Dean Shek are in America. This sequence sees Chow drag Shek through the building while blasting every bad guy in sight; it is superbly shot and choreographed with some highly memorable scenes (like Chow sliding down the stairs while shooting the bad guy). But this sequence and the many smaller set pieces cannot hold a candle to what was Woo's first really outstanding finale. The end sequence lasts for a full fifteen minutes and does not let up for a single second! What really makes it work is the constant sparks of originality, the excellent humorous performance from Chow (anything involving Chow and grenades always gets a laugh) and the downright outrageousness of what is going on. All of this (and the classic look on Dean Shek's face as they jump the wall at the 90 minute mark!) make this film a classic in its own right and is certainly a must see for any fan of action.
This is a decent presentation that will please most viewers, if only for the fact that it is presented at its original aspect ratio with Anamorphic enhancement. Much like the first film Anchor Bay have managed to find a print that is in reasonable condition showing very little print damage, that is of course until the final twenty minutes where there are some pretty bad occurrences (of print damage) that while brief are very noticeable. Grain is again high, but not as bad as with the first films release. Detail is best in close up shots, while colours are well realised, and quite typical for a Hong Kong film the picture shows a general softness throughout.
Anchor Bay has again provided us with both the original Cantonese soundtrack and the English dub, both of which are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono format. Both tracks are reasonably clear and well presented although those looking for a surround tour de force will be disappointed. The English subtitles are also well presented using, quite typically for American discs, a yellow font that is clearly readable over the picture.
Much like the original film Anchor Bay had promised a commentary track by John Woo for this release but again, it failed to materialise. All we have here is the original Hong Kong theatrical trailer and the International Theatrical trailer, along with the exact biographies (for Chow Yun-Fat and John Woo) found on the 'A Better Tomorrow' disc. Possibly the best extra is the 5" by 7" replica of the original Poster artwork found on the Chapter Insert card.
As long as you have seen (and enjoyed) the first film then this one comes just as highly recommended. The action sequences are even more extravagant and this DVD is currently the best way to view them. For those who are willing to wait there will be a Hong Kong Legends release in the UK of 'A Better Tomorrow 2', however you will not see it until 2003 at the earliest.