A Better Tomorrow
As with the two previous films from distributors Kam and Ronson on Blu-ray, the picture is soft and lacking in detail. The opening stock footage of a plane landing, used to indicate Mark’s arrival in Saigon, is awash with vertical white lines. The rest of the film doesn’t suffer too much obvious print damage, but there clearly hasn’t been any great effort made to minimise the specks and scratches.
In fairness this is probably the most capably delineated of the three films released by the Hong Kong distributor on Blu-ray, but that’s less a compliment than a damning indictment of the general poorness of the overall quality of the trilogy. The same inconsistencies are abundant – the mid distance is a smudged mess of hazy outlines and block tones. The third act brings with it arguably the best results, with the iconic shot of Chow holding an M16 looking pretty good, but take a step back and this too is only comparatively reasonable.
In low light skin tones suffer, but surprisingly shadow detail is not eradicated. There isn’t anything in terms of fine detail, but then there’s hardly any of that evident in bright light either, so the smoky rendezvous in abandoned temples can seem passable. On the plus side the copious use of smoke machines doesn’t highlight any banding issues.
Contrast is fairly bold, but the boosted levels show in shots where dark clothing and hair can’t handle it and slide back into crushed darkness. Primaries are vibrant and display a fairly naturalistic hue, with examples such as the red of Mui’s lipstick pushing further and catching the eye. The white suits were never going to avoid blooming, and the heightened contrast sweeps any detail into the mire when they are donned.
Spin the disc next to the
Audio options are twofold: Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital EX 5.1. I opted to concentrate on the lossless track.
First things first, it’s a good idea to give your volume knob a healthy crank – without it the score feels limp and lifeless. The level offered to the, admittedly fairly weak score (the opening melancholic bars still sound like the beginning of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”) will just be underplayed. In such a movie the music plays an integral part, it segues all the most important scenes and indicates a pivotal character metamorphosis, but the fronts let the side down badly where the tunes are concerned.
The centre doesn’t fare any better, with voices being distant and muddied; there’s little in the way of a natural tone or warmth to the dialogue. What sounds like a low quality source could be blamed, but with the level being weak and unable to push character interplay into the room, there’s little excuse. Between the score and dialogue, the front speakers appear to have no range.
Surround activity is a little better, the generally underplayed atmosphere doesn’t give us much in the way of directionality or discreet noises, but this track proves perhaps the most capable in terms of action in comparison to the previous two films’ Blu-ray outings. For once we get a sense of front and rear soundfields being mixed with a degree of competency. It isn’t subtle, but at least it avoids the jarring audio experience of A Better Tomorrow in particular. Ricochets work well, and the machinegun fire has a satisfying crack to it that hints at a slightly layered effect. LFE is hit-and-miss, but there are a few occasions it’ll make its presence known for the better.
As a track, this has little width, a poor recreation of the score, weak speech and no real range, but a minor recompense to listeners will be the handling of action sequences which is (comparatively for the series) in the realms of adequate.
Trailer – 1:41
A modern trailer, no dialogue, full of slo-mo scenes interlaced with modern CG displays of the actors’ names.
Footage – 5:30
Essentially deleted scenes. Minor filler material, and the lack of English subs makes the importance of which hard to gauge, but most is simply scene setting, other than the shot of Mun’s father dying in hospital.
Codes of Bullets – 10:23
As with the previous Blus, we get a soldier firing weaponry from the films (though he’s brandishing a Beretta M92F which is not present in
A Better Tomorrow
The Region A locked disc is as poor as the previous two offerings in the series from Kam and Ronson. Both picture and audio are well below that which is expected of the medium, with basic print damage still apparent and quality that bounces around the spectrum, though only from acceptable to dire.
A Better Tomorrow II was a garbled mess of an edit, with a simplistic plot and two-dimensional characterisation. If you could forgive Woo’s last stab (admittedly the cut was not his fault), consisting of solid action and clichéd storytelling, then you must offer the same courtesy to Hark’s vision given that it flips the adequacies and inadequacies of the second instalment on their head. It uses the narrative itself as the bedrock and plays the action by the numbers as a sideshow. For those reasons I always somewhat resented it, but it is now for those reasons I have warmed to it. Watch the films in chronological order and you may just find this is a prequel that actually works!
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