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South Korea 2010

Action, Drama

Song Hae-sung

Ju Jin-mo
Song Seung-heon
Kim Kang-woo
Jo Han-sun
Lee Kyeong-yeong
Kim Ji-yeong
Kim Hae-gon
Lim Hyeong-jun
Lee Sin-seong
Seo Tae-hwa

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A Better Tomorrow [2010]

Story: Kim Hyeok (Ju Jin-mo) flees from North Korea and has to leave behind his younger brother Kim Cheol (Kim Kang-woo) who doesn't make it past the border. In South Korea Hyeok soon becomes a feared weapon's dealer along with his friend Yeong-choon (Song Seung-heon), but he never gives up the search for his brother. He eventually finds him in a prison after he has been deported from Southeast Asia. However, Kim Cheol doesn't want to have anything to do with his brother because he feels betrayed by him. During a weapons' deal Hyeok is then double-crossed by the right hand of the boss, Tae-min (Jo Han-sun), and ends up in prison somewhere in Thailand.
Three years later Cheol has become a police officer and his brother has been released from prison. Cheol is now doing everything in his power to get Hyeok behind bars, even though his brother wants to leave his past behind him. When gang boss Tae-min doesn't leave his former superior Hyeok in peace and also drags Yeong-choon, who has become a cripple after a revenge tour for Hyeok, into a dangerous deal the unfinished business between Tae-min and Hyeok is heading for a bloody showdown.

Review: If you try to make a remake of John Woo's untouchable classic "A Better Tomorrow" from the year 1986, which made the genre Heroic-Bloodshed the topic everyone was talking about, you have actually already failed before you even started shooting. Director Song Hae-sung really has taken a very ungrateful task and has no real chance of success. Still, in fact there is only one real mistake he makes. He stays very close to the original despite a few obvious differences. A complete reinterpretation would have been less blasphemous, but in this remake you often get the feeling that director Song may have had good intentions with the scenes with which he pays homage to the orignal, but instead only attracts the anger of the fans. An objective review seems somewhat difficult as I count myself to the admirers of the original as well.

A Better Tomorrow [2010] - Film Screenshot 11

Song Hae-sung isn't a no-name. On the contrary, he is an exceptionally good director who brought us the film adaption of the novel "Maundy Thursday" or the fantastic "Failan". There is also one thing he tries to do that isn't that bad, which is shifting the remake's focus on the drama between the characters and the brotherly love. Still, he can't really succeed with that since the original movie was melodrama in its purest shape as well. Along with John Woo's unique sense for aesthetic shootouts and the great actors this made for something special that passes the test of time even nowadays without any problems. Therefore, the necessity of this Korean "A Better Tomorrow" remains questionable at all times.

A Better Tomorrow [2010] - Film Screenshot 12

Fortunately, no one tries at any point to copy John Woo's style, who on a side note even produced this remake! This means that the action has its very own dynamic and especially the showdown doesn't need to hide from other action flicks. The biggest problem are the characters. Jun Jin-mo ("A Frozen Flower") manages best to come near to the class of the original character, in this case Ti Lung, although irritatingly enough he oftentimes reminds us of Andy Lau. Kim Kang-woo ("Rainbow Eyes") plays Leslie Cheung's character. He and Ju Jin-mo are connected by good chemistry, but not everything is perfect here either. The most ungrateful part falls to Song Seung-heon ("Fate") as he plays Chow Yun-Fat's role. He simply doesn't manage to get the necessary coolness and bold charm of his role to the big screen and this even though his character is actually quite interesting.

Here the most frustrating element for everyone who knows the original comes to the foreground. Many scenes are constructed in such a way, yes even copied in every detail, that the faces of the original actors are starting to overlay the picture so that you inadvertently are making comparisons. And as expected: When it comes to this the Korean remake simply can't pass. Even the brotherhood music theme from the Hong Kong classic is being played as a homage, yet we ask ourselves: Wait a minute, are they actually allowed to do that? When the movie becomes more emotional and this even works out somehow you have to wonder if this isn't just the case because we feel reminded of the original. Thus, it's difficult or even impossible to see Song's film as a work on its own. It also doesn't help things that we feel ill-disposed towards this remake from the very beginning. Well, at least in my case...

A Better Tomorrow [2010] - Film Screenshot 13

"A Better Tomorrow [2010]" should appeal to anyone who didn't see the original movie as an exceptionally good thriller. Maybe even one of the best out of Korea that year. The pictures are just right and have a polished modern look, the story is captivating, the characters are interesting, but in comparison to Woo's masterpiece this is just a light-version of Heroic Bloodshed. The motive of brotherhood and vengeance pales too much in comparison to the original and the almost epic level of the story is missing. Besides, there are also some unnecessary lengths. Towards the end the director is straying very much from the original and this proves to be the movie's biggest strength. Still, this remake can only be recommended to newcomers and even those I would naturally rather recommend to watch the original. Not a bad movie but still not recommendable...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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