April 16th, 2011
After some time away, I’ve decided to take the remaining shards of my talents back to the Kozo Entertainment Group. Where have I been these past few months? Well, let’s just say I was, like Sung Chi-Ho in A BETTER TOMORROW, “in Taiwan … on business”.
With hopes for a better tomorrow in mind, let’s start this iteration of the House Where Words Gather on a propitious note by talking about “a better tomorrow”. Namely, A BETTER TOMORROW (2010) aka MUJEOGJA (trans. INVINCIBLE) - the South Korean remake of John Woo’s Hong Kong classic.
Directed by Song Hae-Seong (who some may remember as the director of the 2001 film FAILAN starring Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi and OLDBOY lead Choi Min-Sik), A BETTER TOMORROW 2010 is a serviceable action melodrama whose greatest service is to remind movie fans of the brilliance of John Woo. For the remake, Song changes the setting from Hong Kong to Busan and the criminal enterprise of the main characters from counterfeiting to gun running. In addition, the rift between brothers doesn’t stem from one being a cop and the other a thief. Instead, it’s because one abandoned the other while escaping North Korea for the South.
While there are changes in setting and characters, the remake keeps the narrative structure of the original largely intact. Like the original, the film begins with a nightmare sequence and ends with a shootout on a pier. Because the storytelling adheres so closely to that of the original, sequence after sequence is the same and one can’t help but notice how flat and watered-down the remake is compared to the original. All the counterparts to the iconic scenes in the 1986 film — from the Mark character losing his leg while getting revenge to him dying in a hail of bullets — pale in comparison as Song does not have the skill nor the flair of John Woo.
There is, perhaps, no better demonstration of Woo’s mastery of craft than the Wong Tai Sin Childrens’ Choir scene in A BETTER TOMORROW. With the choir singing 明天會更好 (trans. Tomorrow Will Be Better) in the background, Sung Chi-Ho (Ti Lung) bids farewell to Jackie (Emily Chu Bo-Yee) while handing her some evidence. He then glances at the children singing before turning into a dark hallway to head for the decisive showdown with Shing (Waise Lee Chi-Hung). The scene takes less than a minute but in that short period of time, Woo moves the plot along while showing, with great artistry, Sung wistfully abandoning his desire for a life of sweetness and light because he is being forced back into a dark life of bullets and blood. No scene in the remake comes anywhere close to matching that level of exquisite depth and complexity. As a result, A BETTER TOMORROW 2010 suffers by comparison.
Taken on its own, A BETTER TOMORROW 2010 remains a thoroughly average film that’s competent but uninspiring. It’s mildly entertaining though some may be turned off near the end when events take a melodramatic turn and tough guys become crybabies. The film is worth a watch if you are a fan of cross-cultural remakes. Otherwise, don’t bother turning the jet boat around.
- Song Seung-Heon is given the thankless task of playing the Mark 哥 role. Much like his director in relation to John Woo, Song suffers from the comparison to Chow Yun-Fat because he cannot match Chow in charisma and intensity. He puts forth a solid effort but, in the end, falls short.
- Song did, however, show some flashes of Stephen Chow Sing-Chi. Maybe it was the hair or maybe it was the sunglasses but some mannerisms felt familiar. Any South Korean re-make of SHAOLIN SOCCER or KUNG FU HUSTLE in the offing?|
- The music/soundtrack for A BETTER TOMORROW 2010 is also underwhelming when compared to the original. Many musical cues from the 1986 film - especially the ones for Kit at the shooting range, the shootout at the restaurant and Mark’s death - are embedded in memory. The music from the remake is entirely forgettable.
- A BETTER TOMORROW 2010 is superior to the original in one aspect: A great performance by Jo Han-Seon as the turncoat villain helps flesh out a comparatively thin plot thread from the original. Unlike the 1986 movie, we actually get to see the how and why of the heel turn in the remake.
- Also better: The Emily Chu flower vase/comic relief girlfriend character is replaced by a gruff yet caring auntie. No goofy scenes involving cellos, flowers or headphones in the 2010 version.
- Egads! A BETTER TOMORROW was released in Hong Kong on February 8th, 1986. It’s now a little over 25 years old! Twenty-five years! Egads! Eeeeeegads!
BLOG POST EXTRA:
The 30th Hong Kong Film Awards are being presented tomorrow evening. Putting my finger to the wind, I’m feeling a favourable breeze for IP MAN 2 walking away with the Best Film prize. If I had a vote, I would have marked GALLANTS on my ballot as it was the most “Hong Kong” of this year’s nominees. That said, if I was the General Secretary / Paramount Leader of HK films, I would appoint the title of Best Film to LOVE IN A PUFF. There was no better film about Hong Kong than LOVE IN A PUFF in 2010.
Image credits: Cinema City (A BETTER TOMORROW); Formula Entertainment (A BETTER TOMORROW 2010)