3 stars out of 4. Weird and disjointed film.
Let me start by saying this. This is a strange movie.
Since A Better Tomorrow had such phenomenal success and took China by storm there of course had to be a sequel. And of course, they had to rush this into production in order to capitalize on the first film’s success.
So…no wait that isn’t the problem. The problem with ABTII is the fact that the producer and director had different ideas on the way the film should go. The final film clocked in at over 2.5 hours and no one could agree on what to edit out to achieve a standard runtime. So someone brilliantly decided to have a third party of standard editors who had nothing to do with the film come in and do a rush job to make a shorter cut of 104 minutes. This is what was released and is a big reason why the film really makes no sense.
The film as follows picks up with Ho in prison three years later and the authorities now want to utilize his talents to investigate his former mentor Lung Si. He refuses to dig up dirt on Lung and quickly changes his mind after discovering his younger brother has undertaken the assignment. He tries to warn his brother off, but of course Kit refuses so the two brothers must once again work together in order to resolve the case.
In the midst of their investigation, Long is framed for the murder of a rival and Ho decides to ferry him out of Hong Kong and into hiding in New York. His daughter and brother are both killed and this drives Lung into a state of madness. So magically Mark’s twin brother Ken comes to take care of the raving Lung. Unfortunately the way these scenes are played are so over the top that nothing can be done to hide the fact that it’s an actor sitting on the floor throwing food around like a child.
There is one giant plot device that should be getting to anyone who has seen the first film…since the major star character of the first film obviously could not return the producers had to do something. I know! Let’s replace him with his identical twin brother who has never been mentioned before! And that’s exactly what they did. Chow Yun-fat returns as identical brother Ken who has conveniently been away in America this whole time and can just magically come back and do what Mark did. Hmmm…well at least Chow is in this movie somehow, because he’s about the only thing worth watching. Ken is introduced in one of the oddest scenes I’ve ever come across, where a mobster demanding protection money from his restaurant is harassed to apologize to a bowl of rice. And for some strange reason Chow does a bad English voice on the Cantonese soundtrack.
You just need to see it for yourself. I still don’t know if it’s awful, funny, inspired or-oh who am I kidding? It’s Chow yelling about apologizing to the rice. I love it. It’s inspired. (I think.)
Multitudes of goons come gunning for Lung once again, and Ken goes into action. The same can be said for John Woo, because it’s really the action that gives you any reason to watch this cobbled together film. Chow even has another great gun battle moment on a staircase. Lung somehow snaps out of his bad acting and he and Ken go back to HK. They rejoin with Ho and Kit to discover one of Lung’s partners behind the scheme.
Kit is killed doing some reconnaissance on villain in a mansion and the remaining three go in for revenge. That’s really all there is to it. The entire conclusion of the film is a mindblowing, ecstatic, unbelievable orgy of violence. Guns, grenades, C4, an axe and even a samurai sword get thrown in. The body count rises to over 90 and Ho, Ken and Lung wear the requisite black suit and tie combo of cool. Of course another bit of HK cinema ripped off for Resevoir Dogs.
Woo has publicly disowned the film save for the ending action sequence. In fact, if you just took the action as a separate film you’d really have something special on your hands. As with all Woo films it’s simply exquisite. But the story just doesn’t work. There are so many great little moments and dramatic flairs that then get torn right back down by the stupidity of the next scene. ABTIIcannot decide whether it’s a comedy, a soap opera or an action film. I place this problem directly on the discord between Hark and Woo and the bad nonsensical editing.
It isn’t a bad film, but one that could have been much more. And it is this thought that ultimately drags it down even further. You start on the what-if’s and suddenly wish the 160 minute original version would surface.
But could someone please tell me why Chow Yun-fat will inhale a lighter’s open flame? It’s unbelievably cool for no apparent reason.
EDITIONS: Like the first film, the best video versions to have in the States are the IVL trilogy box or the Anchor Bay single release. Anamorphic 16:9 progressive video, Cantonese mono, English subs but those on the IVL disc have errors. The Anchor Bay has a slightly more filmic image to my eyes. But avoid the first pressing of the disc because that was issued with the wrong soundtrack.
Comparison between numerous versions: