Following the high-grossing success of A Better Tomorrow, Cinema City all but scrambled to solicit a sequel from Woo. Collaborating with friend, fellow filmmaker and producer Tsui Hark, the two eventually came to blows over the final cut of the film, of which is said to have differed drastically a la their respective creative visions. As a result, Woo is said to have nigh-disowned it, opting to solely laud the agreeably ludicrous finale chock full of more blood-soaked pyrotechnics than most would deem conventional by even today’s standards.
Professional grievances aside, A Better Tomorrow II is a noticeable step down from its obviously innovative predecessor, opting to pelt us with expository cheese that fails to elicit more than boredom at frequent intervals. Employing a deep undercover conceit to immerse the estranged Ho and Kit in the seedy world of triad counterfeiting, the two are thrown for a loop when their initial target – Lung Si (Dean Shek) – is betrayed by former cohorts that have an obvious interest in acquiring his profitable assets. In pops Chow Yun-fat as the deceased Mark’s twin brother Ken to rekindle A Better Tomorrow‘s cool factor via ostensibly exploitative fashion sense, trench coat and all.
Although themes of brotherhood and betrayal are ever-present and employed to an effective enough extent, the sheer amount of pound-for-pound repetition becomes tiresome. Ho and Kit have since let bygones be bygones, yet their mere presence and perpetuated moral code remains too familiar to maintain our investment. Chow’s turn as Ken is literally identical to that featured in the initial film, of which is a plus in and of itself, that is until an awkward rehabilitative moment involving a catatonic Dean Shek and oranges teeters on the brink of unintentional self-parody.
An altogether weaker effort undoubtedly hamstrung by editing conflicts and the like, A Better Tomorrow II boasts a fair amount of Woo playing with his toys but can’t combat glaring conventionality and offbeat tendencies. Ken wielding handguns akimbo whilst gliding backwards down a flight of stairs is assuredly a treat, as is the aforementioned finale; it’s just a shame that shortcomings brought about by various (and often silly) idiosyncrasies place it upon a lackluster tier of Woo’s filmography.
To Shed Blood, Heroically is a detailed account of my foray into Hong Kong action cinema with a focus on the rapidly popularized heroic bloodshed subgenre of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Check out my other reviews here.