A Better Tomorrow 2 Chinese Gangster Movies

Gangster movies, mostly known for their glamorization of organized crime and violence, just might be a genre of films that never gets old. The allure of these films has been part of our entertainment culture for over a century, and while there have been few films that portray gangsters as sympathetic characters, these films have evolved away from being solely about black & white morality and now offer a more complex understanding of the motivation of criminals and criminal organizations. And over the years, the best of these films have come out of East Asia and particularly China. As such, there have been several films that have come out of China that do a fantastic job of exploring the social and economic conditions and the criminal networks that emerge from them. Two of the standouts of this genre are A Better Tomorrow 2 (1987) and Infernal Affairs (2002). This article will analyze these films and how they offer unique and thought-provoking perspectives on this genre.

Released in 1987, A Better Tomorrow 2 was directed by John Woo and was widely considered to be one of the first ‘true’ gangster films to be made in China. The film follows two brothers, Mark and Ho, both of whom are on opposite sides of the law. Mark, a former gangster, has settled down and is trying to live a law abiding life, while Ho is a successful businessman who works as a mob informant. As the film progresses, their paths converge, as each brother is confronted with the choices they have made. This movie was incredibly impactful, as it pushed the boundaries of what was seen as acceptable in mainstream cinema. It tackled delicate issues such as crime, poverty, and the consequences of gang life, while also offering audiences a glimpse into a world they had never seen before.

In 2002, Infernal Affairs was released and quickly become a massive success. Directed by Andrew Lau, the film follows two characters, both of whom are police officers but one is a mole for the criminal underworld. As the movie progresses, the characters cross paths and discover the truth about each other’s identities. This film was lauded for its relentless pursuit of moral ambiguity, as it explored the complexities of loyalty, betrayal, and justice. Unlike A Better Tomorrow 2, this film provided audiences with a more nuanced view of characters and their motivations, while still maintaining a thrilling and edge-of-your-seat plot.

Both A Better Tomorrow 2 and Infernal Affairs are iconic films in the gangster genre, and this is in part due to their unique aesthetic choices. Both films make great use of cinematography, using unusual camera angles and lighting to create an atmosphere of suspense and tension. Additionally, both films also focus on the themes of loyalty and brotherhood, and the importance of family and brotherhood even in the darkest of times. This focus allows the films to explore these characters with an undeniable empathy and understanding, something which many other films fail to do.

Ultimately, both A Better Tomorrow 2 and Infernal Affairs are excellent examples of the gangster genre, and both films offer different yet equally powerful readings of the world of organized crime and its consequences. What sets these films apart is their nuanced approach to characters, the use of captivating cinematography, and their relentless themes of loyalty and brotherhood that help viewers understand these characters and their motivations. These films have become iconic and have had a profound impact on the genre, demonstrating just how powerful and evocative a gangster movie can be.

Cultural Impact

Both of these films have had a lasting and profound influence on the cultural landscape of contemporary China. A Better Tomorrow 2 and Infernal Affairs both accentuate positive values, depicting brotherhood and loyalty as essential components of a healthy society. This has also been seen in other successful films from the genre, such as Tiger on Beat (1988) and Young and Dangerous (1997). Moreover, these films also reflect on the difficult social and economic conditions that existed in Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s, and which may still exist today. This has created a social conscience around these films and their messages, allowing them to be seen as both entertaining and important works of popular culture.

Influence on Other Films

These two films have also influenced other works in the genre, such as G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987) and Infernal Affairs 3: The Game of Faith (2004). These works have drawn on the themes found in A Better Tomorrow 2 and Infernal Affairs to create their own stories and worlds, using the character types and story elements presented in the two Chinese films. This points to the lasting influence that these two films have had on the genre, and how they have shaped how gangster films are made and understood.


Upon their release, both A Better Tomorrow 2 and Infernal Affairs were met with critical and commercial success. Both films were nominated for various awards, and Infernal Affairs was even remade into a Hollywood blockbuster, The Departed (2006). This success speaks to the quality and impact of these works, and how they have rewritten the rules of the genre.

Audience Reception

Even today, both of these films remain incredibly popular with audiences, both within and outside of Asia. The themes that they explore are timeless and universal, and they have a timeless relevance that will continue to appeal to viewers. Furthermore, both these films also have incredible replay value, as they can be enjoyed multiple times always offering something new and insightful. This has allowed these works to become classics of the gangster genre, and has solidified their legacy forever.

Themes and Motifs

Throughout both of these films, viewers are presented with many themes and motifs that are essential to understanding the genre of gangster movies and its impact. These motifs include loyalty, brotherhood, justice and morality, revenge, ambition, and loss. These are all essential to understanding how this genre works and how characters develop, and how they are affected by their world. When viewed together, both A Better Tomorrow 2 and Infernal Affairs offer a powerful insight into the various dimensions of gangster movies, and ultimately illustrate the power and relevance of these stories.


Overall, both A Better Tomorrow 2 and Infernal Affairs are two of the most groundbreaking and influential Chinese gangster movies ever produced. These films offer unique and complex perspectives on the genre, and have had a lasting impact on contemporary culture and cinema. With compelling performances, stunning cinematography, and powerful themes, these works will continue to have an impact on the genre and its audience for years to come.

Vicki Strouth is a life-long film enthusiast, having grown up watching classic cinema in her childhood. She has since gone on to pursue writing about films and movie news, with her work being published on various online platforms. She is passionate about supporting independent filmmakers and highlighting important stories from around the world. She has also written a successful book about classic movies from Hollywood's Golden Age era. Vicki currently lives in Seattle, where she continues to explore films of all genres and eras.

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