Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, the Action Genre’s Seminal Film

Watched “A Better Tomorrow” — Sam Raimi says John Woo is the master of the action genre just as Hitchcock is the master of suspense.¹ So Woo’s films are a required text for anyone intending to make action films.
Here’s what I loved about A Better Tomorrow and what I think separates Woo from the hacks: the action is not separate from the drama, the action IS the drama–an extension of the emotions the characters are feeling. In fact, what surprised me was that about 90% of the screen time was drama and only 10% of it was action. So it really should be classified as a drama, which uses action overtones to express some of its most dramatic moments…the antithesis of a poorly done action film.
This supports my theory which I arrived at after watching hundreds of anime…that the only thing we as human beings find truly interesting is human drama…human emotion. The rest, set apart by itself,  is inescapably boring, since we can’t relate it to our own experience.
Also notice that in A Better Tomorrow, flashy camera work is minimal, but the film is still extremely powerful. Contrast for example Woo’s Mission Impossible: II with Tom Cruise and its flashy camera work. I love MI:2 and it is one of my favorite films of all time…but A Better Tomorrow proves that a strong emotional impact is completely possible with minimalist camera work. This supports my “less is more” visual philosophy.
My favorite scene is the one where the Chow Yun-Fat character extracts revenge on the Taiwanese gang. Double guns blazing ala Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (ABT’s Mark is the Chinese version of Sundance Kid). A truly perfectly set up and orchestrated scene.
What are your thoughts on John Woo’s seminal action hit A Better Tomorrow?

1. See Wikipedia article on John Woo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_woo


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