A remake of John Woo’s seminal Hong Kong classic (1986), A Better Tomorrow updates and relocates the action from a pre-handover Hong Kong to contemporary Busan where Kim Hyuk (Joo Jin-moo), lives the good life, selling illegal arms together with his best friend, Lee Young-choon (Song Seung-hun). However, this ‘success’ is overshadowed by the fact that he was forced to leave behind his mother and younger brother, Chul (Kim Kang-w00) when defecting from North to South Korea some years earlier leading the pivotal plot conflict between two brothers, more or less intact from the original.
While there is no doubt that visually A Better Tomorrow is stunning, or that the action sequences are well choreographed and spectacular, it pales into comparison with John Woo’s original, which is almost the Holy Grail of the Hong Kong ‘heroic bloodshed’ genre of the 1980s. In addition at 125 minutes, the film was at least half an hour too long and the periods of lengthy exposition that punctured the action were to the detriment of overall narrative coherence and spectatorial engagement. As a fan of John Woo, I suspect that it was always going to be difficult for me to appreciate a remake of one of his most seminal works and I lost interest half way through, which did not help. And unlike other reviewers, I missed the melodramatic relationship between Sung Chi-Ho (Ti Lung) and Jackie (Emily Chu Bo-Yee) from the original, which gave the film ‘heart’ which the remake lacked.
I am not against remakes in principal, but this was not a patch on the original (which I believe was itself a remake 1967 Cantonese film, Story of a Discharged Prisoner). I missed the presence of Chow Yun-Fat and the flair and technical proficiency of John Woo – I am off to watch the ‘original’ again then.