Patrick Lung Kong’s black-and-white Story Of A Discharged Prisoner was the inspiration for John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, except it’s really a different film. There’s no Mark Gor and no crazy heroic bloodshed action. Instead, the film is an action-drama with far more grounded concerns. There’s little glamor in the story of ex-con Lee Cheuk-Hung (Patrick Tse) but instead the harsh reality that society and indeed other criminals (led by iconic screen villain Shek Kin) make it far easier — and perhaps inevitable — for an ex-con to rejoin the criminal fraternity. Distinct female characters and relevant social issues stand out amidst the solid drama, and director Lung’s thematic focus is exceptionally balanced with strong storytelling. There’s no bullet ballet, histrionic bromance or Cantopop montages, but Story Of A Discharged Prisoner is in its own way as successful and essential as Woo’s better-known and more widely-seen reworking.