January 12th, 2011
A Better Tomorrow III: Love and Death in Saigon isn’t a bad film, but as a true prequel to the first two ABT films, I have to admit it’s a little disappointing. Sure, the “origin story” explaining Mark’s penchant for trenchcoats, sunglasses, and explosive gunplay is pretty interesting, considering that Tsui Hark locates these aspects of the character in an unexpected romantic context. And yeah, Chow Yun-Fat, Anita Mui, and Tony Leung Ka-Fei deliver fine performances. Heck, there’s even some truly poignant moments between Mark (Chow) and Kit (Mui), but overall, the movie seems kind of…well…pointless.
Why name the characters played by Anita Mui and Tokito Saburo after the ones played by Leslie Cheung and Ti Lung in the first film? Why give us a story that has absolutely nothing to do with ABT 1 & 2 aside from Mark? It seems to me that a real prequel would show how Mark and Ho met, how they forged bonds of brotherhood, and perhaps even how they shot up some bad guys in order to cement their friendship. I mean, a movie in which Chow Yun-Fat and Ti Lung (give him a toupee! Voila! He’s young!) can actually mow down a bunch of evil gangsters and be guaranteed to survive the mayhem would make for one helluva crowdpleaser, albeit one tinged with irony considering their final fates in ABT 1 & 2.
Oh well. Tsui Hark clearly had a different story in mind And admittedly, the result ain’t half-bad. For a sense of what might have been, check out John Woo’s A Bullet in the Head, which is basically a reworked version of his own A Better Tomorrow prequel idea before his falling out with Tsui Hark.
For another take on A Better Tomorrow III, check out Kozo’s LoveHKFilm.com review here.