Crime classic forever

John Woo’s 1986 crime film classic A Better Tomorrow, starring Chow Yun-fat (left), is still popular in small cities. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Veteran Hong Kong director John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow is still making waves more than three decades after it was made. Wang Kaihao reports from the Pingyao International Film Festival.     

Since arriving in Pingyao, a small county in central Shanxi province, we, reporters at the first Pingyao International Film Festival, have been asked one thing many times by local residents: Can you get me a ticket for A Better Tomorrow?

“That’s the only film I want to see at the festival,” a taxi driver, a man in his 40s, says. “I have not seen it on the big screen.”

However, all the tickets for A Better Tomorrow were sold out, even if it has been 31 years since the premiere of this crime film, a milestone work by veteran Hong Kong director John Woo.

No one can figure out how many pirate videos of the film were once circulated in China’s small cities and counties in the 1990s.

However, an indisputable legacy is: While filmgoers in China’s metropolises have developed diverse tastes, old-style Hong Kong films, starring Chow Yun-fat, an actor in A Better Tomorrow, still dominate county cinemas.

“Don’t call me a master. I’m only a lover of films.” That is how 71-year-old Woo began his so-called “film master class” on Sunday in Pingyao at the film festival, which will run through Saturday.

“What I wanted to create (when making A Better Tomorrow) was merely fresh gunshot scenes,” he says. “But I got very deeply immersed in preparing for the scenes, which startled my wife.”

Woo finally created a classic scene in film history where Chow carries two pistols to a restaurant. The scene was later copied by many filmmakers.

Speaking about the film, he says: “A hero cannot take a machine gun. If so, the fighting will finish too soon.”

Woo compares his films to wuxia, or kung fu, a Chinese literature and film genre, which refers to martial chivalry.

“In my films, a pistol is like a sword for the heroes,” he says.

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