‘A Better Tomorrow 2018’ (英雄本色 2018) almost seems like exploration on what brotherhood (or sisterhood) means, in both the actual brotherly sense, and the non-sibling, sometimes gangster brotherly sense. Surely, it means loyalty, to stick through thick and thin, weal and woe… But what about right and wrong? This would depend on whether one has a higher loyalty – to moral principles or goals, deemed so crucial, that they cannot be compromised. Does this mean there might be a need to choose between being loyal to people or principles – since the people you are supposed to be loyal to might expect you to break your principles for them?
Yet, it is possible to be loyal to both people and principles. Of course, principles must come first, or absolutely anything goes, and chaos will ensue in all aspects of life, giving rise to all kinds of people problems too. Truly worthy principles should be with high integrity and righteousness – that must be truly right; not merely self-righteous. But what if the people you are supposed to be loyal to disagree with your principles? Your principles then, must include the wish and act of guiding them to see the sensibility of your principles. A ‘brother’ who cares not for the wayward ways of another ‘brother’ is surely no true brother. Spiritual brotherhood points one another towards liberation too.
This fourth ‘A Better Tomorrow’ movie retells the original 1986 tale, of the tensions between two brothers – one a criminal and the other a cop pursuing him. The first was deemed downright wrong by the latter, while the latter struggles to redeem himself. It is right to be righteous, even against one’s blood brother, just as it is right to be brotherly to a non-blood stranger. However, brotherhood must entail being forgiving, amendable and embracing too. These are supposed to be the unchanging principles of brotherhood, as a form of ‘refuge’. Brotherhood is thus rekindled when the duo agree to work towards the same goal of justice, to save the day. Indeed, the ‘true qualities of heroes’ (英雄本色) include being able to turn back, to repent and make amends.
More thoughts on brotherhood come to mind… First, mundane gangsterly brotherhood might have some resemblance of honour (among the dishonourable) – based more upon lesser principles, of getting some personal and/or mutual gains, for wealth and power. In this sense, it is not unconditional. Second, they say blood is thicker than water, but due to the truth that we are all interconnected due to our many rebirths, all are blood-related. Since all bleed and suffer, all lives are precious, even that of animals. Brotherhood then, must extend to all sentient beings. Even if this nobler sense of brotherhood is not common, it is still noble to live by it, to make it more common.