A Better Tomorrow 무적자
Director: Song Hae-sung
Writers:Kim Hyo-seok, Lee Taek-gyeong, Choi Geun-mo, Kim Hae-gon
Cast: Joo Jin-mo, Song Seung-heon, Kim Kang-woo, Jo Han-sun
Running Time: 124 minutes
Country: South Korea
This South Korean remake of the original Hong Kong classic is a dramatic action thriller which sadly lacks the charm of the John Woo original.
A Better Tomorrow tells the story of Hyuk (Jin-mo), who lives the fast life as a high-ranking mobster in Busan, South Korea with his closest pal, fellow mobster Lee Young-Chun (Seung-heon). Hyuk is haunted by the memory of leaving behind his younger brother Chul (Kang-woo) and mother as they attempted to flee into South Korea from North Korea. In a set-up, Hyuk by the police and jailed. Three years later, he is released and travels back to Busan to find his younger brother Chul now a high-ranking police officer. Hyuk tries to earn back the trust of his brother, but rejection and betrayal are hard to forget. Things come to a head when Young-Chun pulls Hyuk into doing one last gig. It happen to be the case that Officer Chul is in charge of, and the three brothers meet again one final time.
The first thing you'll notice about this film is how great it looks. The remake is very aesthetically pleasing, with stunning cinematography and exciting locations. In terms of Korean budgets, it looks very well accomplished and a big step up from the original which was produced with a very tight budget.
While it's not a direct shot-for-shot remake, the story still focuses on the themes of loyalty and brotherhood. The theme of 'heroic bloodshed' is still there. But as it's Korean there is a lot more emphasis on the dramatics, even during the wild action scenes. There is actually too much emphasis on the drama without any of the fun and laughs of the original, which helped balance out a violent and somber tale.
To keep the storyline feeling fresh, the writers have changed some elements and plot points and also added in many Korean traits. Most of which works in it's favour. The brothers now have an origin of being North Korean defectors who fled to South Korea for a better life, and in turn, got wrapped up in the world of gangsters. Another plot point which helped the story progress was rather than being counterfeiters like in the original, they now work as arm traffickers. While this doesn't make the characters any more likeable or relatable, it does explain why they have easy access to guns for the shoot outs... and believe me, there are an abundance of guns to go around.
The shoot-outs are all filmed extremely well and the choreography is great. The action is fast paced and relentless. And the hits are violent and bloody. It's everything you really want, only with a bit too much drama sometimes placed in the middle of them, especially in the lead up to the finale when it crosses over in to melodrama territory.
Each of the main actors did a fine job in their roles. But a big issue is that none of them really stood out or seemed that different from each other. They were all a bit samey. Except of course, Lee Young-choon. He really is a bad-ass character and comes across as tough as nails. Easily the coolest character in the film, but unfortunately he doesn't have the charisma of Chow Yun-fat's Brother Mark. There is a plenty of exposition and character development throughout but you really don't start to care for characters until around the final third of the film, and by then, it's almost too late. But what a bloody exciting finale!
In it's own right, A Better Tomorrow 2010 is a decent enough film. It doesn't ever feel like a waste of time watching it. But the problem is, there are better Korean action films already out there, like The Man From Nowhere and A Bittersweet Life. And, it doesn't have to compete with just them, it also has to match up to the original. Which is ultimately fails at equaling.