(1986)4.5Jonathan CrowThe film that launched a thousand action spectaculars, A Better Tomorrow established John Woo as Hong Kong's preeminent action director and started the Hong Kong gangster flick boom of the 1980s. Reworking themes of loyalty and self-sacrifice found in Italian spaghetti westerns, Jean-Pierre Melville films, and early martial arts movies, Woo envisions a criminal world where violence is the only way of life and honor and brotherhood means everything. Woo's flamboyant style and sheer bravura earned him acclaim from both the press and the public. His elegant tracking shots, staccato edits, and slow-motion pyrotechnics introduced a new level of emotional resonance and visual beauty to the action sequence, as his baroque visual style and intense emphasis on brotherhood elevated the film's drama to almost Wagnerian proportions. In addition to its two eventual sequels, A Better Tomorrow greatly influenced such American directors as Quentin Tarantino and established Chow Yun Fat as one of Asia's leading stars, as the image of Chow as a trench-coat-and-sunglasses-sporting-lone-hitman became an icon of Hong Kong cinema. A Better Tomorrow is a dazzling spectacular full of tear-jerking melodrama and jaw-dropping action sequences -- a cinematic feast.