A Better Tomorrow

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A Better Tomorrow
Theatrical release poster
MandarinYīng Xióng Běn Sè
CantoneseJing1 hung4 bun2 sik1
Directed byJohn Woo
Screenplay by
  • John Woo
  • Chan Hing-kai
  • Leung Suk-wah
Produced byTsui Hark
CinematographyWong Wing-hang
Edited by
Music byJoseph Koo
Distributed byFortune Star Media
Release date
  • 2 August 1986 (1986-08-02)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryHong Kong
Box officeHK$34.7 million[1] (US$4.8 million)[2]

A Better Tomorrow (Chinese: 英雄本色; Jyutping: Jing1 hung4 bun2 sik1; lit. 'True Colors of a Hero') is a 1986 Hong Kong crime action film[3] directed and co-written by John Woo, and starring Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung and Chow Yun-fat.[4] The film had a profound influence on Hong Kong action cinema, and has been recognised as a landmark film credited with setting the template for the heroic bloodshed genre,[5] with considerable influence on both the Hong Kong film industry and Hollywood.[6]

Produced with a tight budget and released with virtually no advertising, A Better Tomorrow broke Hong Kong's box office record and went on to become a blockbuster in Asia. The film is highly regarded, ranking #2 in the Best 100 Chinese Motion Pictures. Its success led to a sequel, A Better Tomorrow II, also directed by Woo, and A Better Tomorrow 3: Love & Death in Saigon, a prequel directed by Tsui Hark. It has been remade several times.

The film was Chow Yun-fat's breakout role and launched him as one of the top superstars in the Hong Kong film industry. Chow's character "Mark Lee" has been imitated by many fans even decades after the film's release.[7] Following this film, Chow went on to make several more notable films with Woo.


Sung Tse-Ho is a senior member of a powerful Hong Kong triad, managing a lucrative printing and distributing operation that produces counterfeit American bank notes. Ho is a respected member of the organization, entrusted with the most important transactions. Mark Lee[8] is his best friend, bodyguard, and business partner. The prologue follows a day in the life of Ho and Mark as they watch a fresh batch of counterfeit notes being printed and meet with foreign clients to trade their product for counterfeit Chinese bank notes.

Meanwhile, Ho's younger brother, Kit, has just graduated high school and is currently training to join the police. Ho hides his criminal life from his brother and encourages Kit's career choice, while their ailing father pleads for Ho to leave his life of crime. Ho agrees, deciding that he will retire from the triad after his next deal in Taiwan. Shing, a low-ranking triad member, joins Ho after he agrees to mentor him. However, they are ambushed by the Taiwanese triads, leading to a shootout in which Ho and Shing flee into a sewage tunnel entrance, pursued by local law enforcement. Ho tells Shing to run and surrenders to the police in order to buy time for him to escape, leading to a three-year prison sentence.

After learning of the deal, the triads attempt to kidnap Ho's father as leverage to ensure Ho's silence in prison; Ho's father is fatally stabbed before Kit and his girlfriend Jackie manage to subdue the attacker. With his dying breath, he pleads Kit to forgive his brother for his criminal actions, and an enraged Kit blames Ho for their father's death. Later, Mark travels to Taiwan to get answers from the Taiwanese triad. He visits a restaurant where the gangster who planned the ambush is dining and kills him following a shootout with his bodyguards. However, Mark's leg is injured in the process, leaving him crippled and requiring a leg brace.

After Ho is released from prison, he is approached by a policeman, who offers to take him back to triad headquarters so he can rejoin his old organization. Ho, determined to start a new life, declines the offer and instead begins working for a taxi company run by another ex-con named Ken. During one of his shifts, Ho encounters Mark, and he discovers that his old friend is now a bitter, broken shell of his former self after Shing stripped him of his position in the triad and cast him aside in his rise to power. When they reunite, Mark urges Ho to confront Shing, but Ho refuses.

Ho then seeks out Kit, now a police officer, in hopes of reconciling. However, he is harshly rebuffed by Kit, who still blames Ho for their father's death and because his relation to Ho is preventing him from advancing his career. In an effort to prove himself and further distance himself from his brother, Kit becomes obsessed with bringing down Shing, despite Ho's warnings. Shing, hearing of Ho's return to Hong Kong, tries to persuade him to return and help expand their triad into drug trafficking, but Ho refuses. Shing then has his men attack the taxi company, severely beat Mark, and lure Kit into a trap that leaves him critically wounded. Though Ho is still hesitant to take action, Mark is eventually able to persuade Ho to retaliate.

Mark steals a computer tape containing printing plate data from the counterfeiting business and they then discover that it was Shing who set up the ambush three years prior. Meanwhile, Shing sets up triad leader Yie and shoots him dead; the witnesses are told to lie to the police that Ho was the killer. Ho and Mark then use the tape to blackmail Shing in exchange for money and an escape boat. Ho ensures that the tape is passed to Kit as proof of Shing's crimes. Using Shing as a hostage, Ho and Mark take the money to a pier, where Shing's men await. There, Ho implores Mark to escape by himself in the boat, and Mark hesitantly agrees.

After Mark's departure, Kit arrives on the scene intending to arrest Shing, but ends up being taken hostage. A deal is made to exchange Shing for Kit, but the negotiation spirals into first a standoff and eventually a shootout. Ho and Kit work together against Shing's men, and are overwhelmed. Mark, hearing the sounds of gunfire, quickly returns to the scene. Ho, Kit and Mark kill several of Shing's henchmen, but also suffer injuries in the process. During a lull in the gunfight, Ho attempts to make peace with Kit but is rebuffed again. Mark then reprimands Kit, telling him that Ho's present actions have atoned for the past. As the three are distracted however, Mark is fatally shot in the back by Shing.

As the police approach, Shing mocks Ho and Kit, proclaiming that once he enters police custody, his money and power will ensure his swift release. Kit then hands Ho his gun, allowing him to fatally shoot Shing. As Kit watches Shing's body fall to the ground, Ho suddenly handcuffs himself to Kit. The two brothers then begin walking together towards the gathered crowd of police.


  • Ti Lung as Sung Tse Ho
  • Leslie Cheung as Sung Tse Kit
  • Chow Yun-fat as Mark Lee, nicknamed "Mark Gor" (Brother Mark)
  • Emily Chu as Jackie, Kit's girlfriend
  • Waise Lee as Shing Dan
  • Shing Fui-On as Dao-Yi, Shing's right-hand man
  • Kenneth Tsang as Ken, the owner of the cab company Ho joins
  • Tien Feng as Mr. Sung, the father of Ho and Kit
  • John Woo as Inspector Wu, a Taiwanese police official
  • Sek Yin-Tsi as Mr. Yiu
  • Wang Hsieh as Boss Wang
  • Chan Chi-Fai as 'Little' Wang
  • Hing-Yin Kam as Inspector Mok, Kit's superior
  • Pierre Tremblay as Interpol officer
  • Tsui Hark as a music judge
  • Stephen Chow as a Taiwanese triad


The film is an uncredited remake of the 1967 Lung Kong film 英雄本色 (pinyin Yīngxióng běnsè) which has the same Chinese name but a different English name: Story of a Discharged Prisoner, which is No. 39 on the Hong Kong Film Awards list of the Top 100 Chinese Films.[9] It was also partially inspired by The Brothers, a 1979 Hong Kong crime film, plot elements of which were reimagined for A Better Tomorrow.[10] The Brothers had a similar plot about two brothers on opposing sides of the law, the elder brother a mobster and the younger brother a cop.[11] In turn, The Brothers was a remake of Deewaar (1975), a hit Indian crime drama written by Salim–Javed.[12][10]

The scene in which Mark Lee tells the story of being forced to drink urine is apparently based on a real incident involving Chow Yun-fat and director Ringo Lam. This scene was recreated in Woo's Bullet in the Head, which was originally scripted as a prequel to A Better Tomorrow, before being changed to a standalone film.

The English title is from the Lo Ta-yu song Tomorrow will be Better (明天会更好/明天會更好), which is traditionally sung during New Year's Eve, and is featured in the film.

Filming locations[edit]

The Tin Hau Temple Complex.
The former Central Police station building.

Hong Kong[edit]



  • During the nightclub scene, the song being played in the background (幾許風雨, Gei2 heoi2 fung1 jyu5) is the Cantonese version of a classic South Korean song called 'Hee Na Ree'(희나리) sung originally by Goo Chang-mo(ko:구창모) in 1985. The Cantonese version in the movie was sung by Roman Tam, considered the "godfather" of the musical genre Cantopop.
  • Also heard in the soundtrack is "Sparrowfall 1", a track from Brian Eno's 1978 album, Music for Films.
  • The film also contains "Birdy's Theme" (from the film Birdy) by Peter Gabriel incorporated into the soundtrack.
  • In the scene where Ho meets Jackie back stage of the music recital to tell her he is leaving, the children's choir is singing Tomorrow will be Better (明天会更好/明天會更好), written by Lo Ta-yu. This is likely the origin of the film's English title.


A Better Tomorrow grossed $34,651,324 HKD at the Hong Kong box office.[1]

In 2009, Empire Magazine named it #20 in a poll of the 20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've Never Seen* (*Probably)

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Year Category Work Result
Hong Kong Film Award 1987 Best Film Tsui Hark, John Woo Won
Best Director John Woo Nominated
Best Screenplay Nominated
Best Actor Chow Yun-fat Won
Ti Lung Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Waise Lee Nominated
Best New Performer Nominated
Best Original Film Score Joseph Koo Nominated
Best Cinematography Wong Wing-hang Nominated
Best Editing Kam Ma Nominated
Best Art Direction Lui Chi-leung Nominated
Golden Horse Awards 1986 Best Narrative Feature John Woo Nominated
Best Director Won
Best Leading Actor Ti Lung Won
Chow Yun-fat Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Waise Lee Nominated
Best Original Film Score Joseph Koo Nominated
Best Cinematography Wong Wing-hang Won
Best Film Editing Kam Ma Nominated

Sequels and remakes[edit]

The success of A Better Tomorrow spawned two follow-ups. A direct sequel, A Better Tomorrow 2, was released the following year. John Woo returned to direct, as did most of the main cast, with Chow Yun-fat playing Mark's hitherto-unmentioned twin brother Ken. A prequel, A Better Tomorrow III: Love & Death in Saigon, was released in 1989, with Chow returning to play Mark. Woo was not involved in the prequel, due to a falling-out with Tsui Hark, so Hark directed the film himself. Woo's unproduced screenplay draft was later made as Bullet in the Head (1990).

The film has two official remakes. A Better Tomorrow (2010) was produced in South Korea, directed by Song Hae-sung, with John Woo serving as executive producer. A Better Tomorrow 2018 (2018) was produced in Mainland China, directed by Ding Sheng.

Cultural impact[edit]

  • After the film, teenage boys in Hong Kong wore long dusters in emulation of Chow's character even though the climate was sub-tropical. In fact, in colloquial Cantonese, trench coats are called "Mark Gor Lau" (literally, Brother Mark's coat).
  • The storyline (including dialogs and costumes) was made into a Thai film Diamond Kingdom (Phet Payak Kharat; Thai: เพชรพยัคฆราช) in 1988 with many Thai performers involved. Sombat Metanee as Tanong (Sung Tse Ho in original version), Sorapong Chatree as Chat (Mark Lee in original version), Chairat Chittham as Ruj (Sung Tse Kit in original version), with Pumpuang Duangjan as Pen (Tanong's lover not in original version). It was created without copyright.[13][14]
  • The Wu-Tang Clan has a song named after the film on their 1997 album Wu-Tang Forever.
  • The Wu-Tang Clan 20th anniversary album also shares the name A Better Tomorrow.
  • The anime series Cowboy Bebop has many references to the film series, including the last fight between Spike and Vicious in the episode "The Real Folk Blues (Part 2)" which parallels the final shoot out in "A Better Tomorrow 2".
  • The character Mr. Chang from the Black Lagoon is closely patterned after Chow's character Mark in both visual design and characterisation.
  • Chow wore Alain Delon sunglasses in the movie. After the movie, Hong Kong was sold out of Alain Delon's sunglasses. Delon sent Chow a personal thank you note.
  • The 1994 Bollywood film Aatish: Feel the Fire (1994), directed by Sanjay Gupta, was an unofficial remake combining elements of both the Bollywood classic Deewaar (1975)[15] and John Woo's A Better Tomorrow.[16] The film starred Sanjay Dutt, Atul Agnihotri, Aditya Pancholi and Shakti Kapoor.
  • The theme song was covered in 2016 by Louis Koo and Leo Ku in memoriam of Leslie Cheung.


  1. ^ a b "A Better Tomorrow (1986)". HKMDB. Retrieved 20 March 2007.
  2. ^ "PACIFIC Exchange Rate Service (7.8033 HKD per USD)" (PDF). UBC Sauder School of Business. University of British Columbia. 1986. p. 3. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 September 2003. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  3. ^ "3: A Better Tomorrow - 10 Action Films That Changed Everything". HowStuffWorks. 26 May 2015.
  4. ^ Crow, Jonathan. "A Better Tomorrow (1986)". Allmovie. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
  5. ^ Morton, Lisa (2001). The Cinema of Tsui Hark. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0990-8.
  6. ^ Volodzko, David (13 June 2015). "30 Years Later, This Chinese Film Still Echoes in Hollywood". The Diplomat.
  7. ^ "周潤發憑《英雄本色》 奠定香港影壇地位". Sing Tao Daily. Archived from the original on 10 November 2014. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  8. ^ "A Better Tomorrow". Freer Gallery. Archived from the original on 26 November 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  9. ^ ""Burn That Film! Burn It!" Tsui Hark and Patrick Lung Kong on a Better Tomorrow | Filmmaker Magazine". 19 August 2014.
  10. ^ a b "Heroic Bloodshed: How Hong Kong's style was swiped by Hollywood". British Film Institute. 11 July 2019. Retrieved 9 September 2019.
  11. ^ "The Brothers". Hong Kong Cinemagic. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  12. ^ Mondal, Sayantan. "Amitabh Bachchan starrer 'Deewar' was remade in Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam – and Cantonese". Scroll.in. Archived from the original on 30 January 2017. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  13. ^ นายหนามเตย แนะนำหนังแผ่น และของสะสมเกี่ยวกับหนัง. "" เพชรพยัคฆราช " โหดเลวดีเวอร์ชั่นไทย ที่ความมันส์ ความโหดไม่แพ้ หนังต้นฉบับ จากค่ายเล็บโซ่" [" Phet Payak Kharat " Thai version of A Better Tomorrow, enjoyment and brutality is not lost to the original film from Lepso label]. YouTube (in Thai). Retrieved 16 December 2022.
  14. ^ เก้ากระบี่เดียวดาย (13 February 2021). "เพชรพยัคฆราช (2531) โหด เลว ดี เวอร์ชั่นไทย" [Phet Payak Kharat (1988) Thai version of A Better Tomorrow]. Facebook (in Thai). Retrieved 16 December 2022.
  15. ^ Chaudhuri, Diptakirti (2015). Written by Salim-Javed: The Story of Hindi Cinema's Greatest Screenwriters. Penguin Books. p. 245. ISBN 9789352140084.
  16. ^ Peirse, Alison (2013). Korean Horror Cinema. Edinburgh University Press. p. 190. ISBN 9780748677658.

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