Directors: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak

Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays a police officer who goes deep undercover in a triad and Andy Lau is a gang member who infiltrates the Hong Kong police force. Their sense of morality and loyalty are thoroughly shaken even as they seem forever stuck in their shadow identities.

Many observers call this critically acclaimed and commercial hit the game-changer for Hong Kong cinema, propelling the undercover cop movie trend back into the limelight and even giving the film industry a major boost on the global map. Hollywood director Martin Scorsese liked the story so much he remade the film – and got an Oscar for Best Director for it.

PTU (2003)

Director: Johnnie To

Centred on a group of patrolling police officers (including Simon Yam) who try to help a colleague retrieve his missing gun, the story examines the tensions not just between cops and criminals, but also within the police force itself. The film was also noted for its visually stylish film noir style.

Mr David Lee, vice-chairman of the SIngapore Film Society, says: “Johnnie To transformed the streets of Hong Kong into a film noir set in this beautiful noirish drama. This film was most underrated and has been shut out of major awards, but its audacity and style makes it one of my all-time favourite police dramas.”


Director: Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan, who plays a sergeant in the film, said in his 1999 autobiography, I Am Jackie Chan, that he considers this his best action movie, and many film fans agree. Filled with numerous crazy stunts, including one in a shopping mall that caused Chan to suffer second-degree burns and dislocate his pelvis after he slid down a hot metal pole, the movie was a huge hit at the box office and spawned five follow-ups, including last year’s reboot Police Story 2013.

Home-grown director Kelvin Tong says: “This Jackie Chan action flick sticks to the basic good-versus-evil format but his visual spectacles make this cop movie superlative. Chan hanging on to a runaway double-decker bus and sliding down strings of lights in the finale rank as classic scenes in Hong Kong action cinema.”


Director: John Woo

In this hip and violent cult classic, Woo looks at the relationship between two brothers: One who is a police academy graduate (Leslie Cheung) and the other a major gang member (Ti Lung), who works closely with a criminal played by Chow Yun Fat. Woo made a sequel a year later, while director Tsui Hark made a prequel in 1989.

Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino said in an interview that he was greatly influenced by A Better Tomorrow and its follow-up, even admitting to lifting the skinny tie and black suit look from A Better Tomorrow II for his Reservoir Dogs (1992).

After the film’s release, many young men in Hong Kong reportedly also started wearing trench coats in imitation of Chow Yun Fat’s gang character Mark. The colloquial Cantonese term for trench coat became “Mark gor lau”, or “Brother Mark’s coat”.


Director: John Woo

This was Woo’s last Hong Kong film before he started making movies for Hollywood, and the story tells of an inspector (Chow Yun Fat) who works with an undercover cop (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) to take down a major triad leader (Anthony Wong). Many critics say that some of the action sequences here are among the director’s best, and the film, like A Better Tomorrow, has been hailed as a classic.

Local film-maker Tong says: “The body count, in classic Woo fashion, rockets sky high. The gun play is spectacular but most memorable is Woo’s habit of giving his characters small but defining habits – Chow’s cop Tequila played the clarinet while Tony Leung Chiu Wai’s undercover cop folds origami cranes. Kitschy, maybe. Unforgettable, absolutely.”

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on April 9, 2014. For similar stories, go to You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.