A BETTER TOMORROW
(Hong Kong 1986)
Original Title: Ying Hung Boon Sik
Directed by John Woo Produced by Tsui Hark, John Woo Action by Stephen Tung Wei
Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung, Waise Lee, Kenneth Tsang, Emily Chu, Shing Fui On, John Woo, Tsui Hark, Wang Hsieh, Tien Feng
Reviewing: NOVA/Fortune Star South Korean Bluray Release
Genres: Heroic Bloodshed / Action / Drama
Rating - 5 / 5
Synopsis: The passage of a heroic character in the underworld seeking vengeance against conspirator and the love of his younger brother. The brothers are in conflicting roles, the outlaw and cop. Sung Tse Kit (Leslie Cheung), a dedicated police man blamed Tse Ho (Ti Lung) for fathers death as much as obstructing his career in the police force. Flamboyant Tse Ho and Mark (Chow Yun Fat) are betrayed by their jealous subordinate Tam Shing (Lee Tse Hung) into the counterfeit syndicate. Gun wounded Tse Ho gives himself up in order to let Tam Shing escape. After serving his jail term, repentant Tse Ho returns to Hong Kong to lead a new life and finds out Mark was crippled in the massacre for his vengeance. But crooked Tam Shing as a rising lieu tenant in the syndicate would not take the chances. He wastes no time to plot against Tse Ho and Mark...
Views: By the time I had gotten around to actually getting A Better Tomorrow, I had already fallen in love with Chow Yun Fat after seeing the incredible Hard Boiled, Full Contact, and The Killer back in the early '90s. So I was quite late in seeing the film that really helped launch him as the heroic-bloodshed-action-star we all know him for today!
In one of the ultimate modern tales of brotherhood, A Better Tomorrow helped make household names of its stars and director, fast becoming a firm favourite to fans of action cinema and film around the world. Although Woo had already gained notoriety and success with his films such as Hand Of Death, Last Hurrah For Chivalry, and Heroes Shed No Tears to name but a few, the world sat up and took notice of him as a director when ABT proved to be a huge hit. With this classic story of cops and robbers, the team-up of director Woo and producer Tsui Hark deliver one of Hong Kong cinemas finest that keeps its audience gripped with some fantastic cinematography, an emotionally charged and amazing soundtrack, brilliant cast, stunning gun-play action, and of course, incredible performances from its main stars. Chow Yun Fat's stunning performance as 'Mark' gave cinema one of its most memorable characters, which paved the way for a collection of tributes and spoofs from other HK film-makers that still runs to this day. The awesome Ti Lung, whom I find doesn't usually receive the same amount of credit for his role, plays his part flawlessly delivering some fantastic action and lump-in-the-throat moments as he carries the story between his best friend (Mark) and his younger brother, played by the late Leslie Cheung. At first, I wasn't too keen on Leslie Cheung as Kit, but after warming to him in other movies and repeated viewings of A Better Tomorrow, you soon see that Woo and Hark made the right choice in putting these 3 together on-screen. The additional casting of Kenneth Tsang just helps strengthen things even more, along with Waise Lee who plays his role of the menacing bad guy pretty well. He's never been one of my favourite actors on the scene, but here, Lee definitely does the job as a character you just love to hate. Also keep an eye out for a hilarious cameo by the film's producer, Tsui Hark, as one of the examiners at the music recital, and be sure to adore the wooden acting of its director John Woo, who pops up throughout as an officer of the force, determined to stop the loveable gangsters.
The gritty action and gun-play are choreographed by Stephen Tung Wei who does a great job in providing some intense moments as well as some explosive scenes. Along with John Woo's infamous slow-motion and some violent bloody kills, it definitely makes for a number of memorable moments, helping to launch the Heroic Bloodshed genre into the limelight and inspiring more than a few cinematic moments in films that soon followed. A Better Tomorrow is an absolute gem of a film that will always be remembered and loved by many fans of Asian (and non-Asian) cinema. From the first time I watched it right up until the last, the film stands proud as a classic piece of entertainment. Action-packed, emotional, gritty, and beautifully directed – there's no ignoring why this is recognized as the one that put Chow Yun Fat on the action map. And it's easy to see why!
A film as emotional about brotherhood and friendship as this was, made some impact on me when I watched it as a young man. The scenes between Chow Yun Fat and Ti Lung alone were so intense, they would leave a lump in my throat more than once. And even today after all these years, it still continues to do so. I couldn't recommend it enough. This is without a doubt, one of John Woo's finest moments and one of my all-time favourite movies...
Overall: One of the best in my collection, and a film that inspired a generation!
Blu-ray Extras: Trailers, Code Of Bullets Part 1, Photo Gallery
Deltamac HK DVD Extras: Trailers
A BETTER TOMORROW 2
(Hong Kong 1987)
Original Title: Ying Hung Boon Sik 2
Directed by John Woo Produced by Tsui Hark, John Woo Action by Tony Ching Siu Tung, Yuen Tak
Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung, Dean Shek, Kenneth Tsang, Emily Chu, Shing Fui On, Louis Roth, Ng Man Tat, Mike Abbot, Ken Boyle
Reviewing: NOVA/Fortune Star South Korean Bluray Release
Genres: Heroic Bloodshed / Action / Drama
Rating - 5 / 5
Synopsis: From John Woo, the director of Hong Kong movie classics including Bullet In The Head and The Killer comes this explosive sequel to his revered action thriller A Better Tomorrow. Once again, the legendary Chow Yun Fat is called back into action to help out Triad boss, Dean Shek. Along for the bullet ballet are Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung ensuring maximum carnage in a film that easily challenges the body count orgy of any previous John Woo heroic bloodshed movies. This isn't Hollywood Woo, as you'll soon find out from a film that sears the brain with outrageously delivered shootouts. Outstanding amongst the glorious gunplay is Chow Yun Fat, easily the coolest man with a grenade ever to grace the silver screen. Just try to keep up with the blood spray as you witness the true gangster classic that is A Better Tomorrow 2.
Views: The gang return – along with that incredible score – in this emotionally charged and action-packed, sequel that still hails today, as one of the finest Hong Kong films ever made!
In return for an early release, jailbird Ho (Ti Lung) has been encouraged (although forced) to work undercover for the police on an important case. Unbeknownst to him, his brother Kit (Cheung), who is now a mature police officer, has been placed undercover on the same case also. That case just happens to involve Uncle Sei (played with conviction by Dean Shek), the man who taught Ho everything he knows. To get close to Uncle Sei, Kit feigns love for his daughter Peggy, played by Regina Kent – although his pregnant wife (Emily Chu) gets wind of it, and expects the worst. While attending a large party for Sei, the brothers finally get the chance to meet – their first since Lung's arrest at the finale of A Better Tomorrow. At the same time, they let each other know of their positions, in a bid to help crack the case sooner. At the same time, Uncle Sei is double-crossed by his right-hand man Ko, with the planned assassination of a Triad boss (Ng Man Tat) leading to more murders at the party. As the shock and confusion mentally destroy him, Ti Lung quickly removes Sei amidst the panic and takes him to hide at Ken Tsang's taxi company. In no time at all, they get Uncle Sei on a ship to New York where he can hide and clear his name. Unfortunately, the following day, his daughter Peggy is gunned down at the family home, as she looks for her father...
Enter Chow Yun Fat – this time playing twin brother Ken (to part one's Mark) – a New York-based hard-ass that runs the Four Seas restaurant, and takes no shit. You'll get what I mean when NY gangster Louis Roth (Drunken Master 2) complains about his fried rice and tries to hustle Ken for protection money. Still one of my favourite scenes from any Hong Kong film. Uncle Sei soon finds shelter with an old friend, who is now the minister of a NY church, and soon calls home to let his men know where he is. Of course, this reveals his location and before he knows it, trouble very quickly follows. As his close friend, church-goers, and children get murdered around him, Uncle Sei loses the plot completely. Ken soon gets word that Sei is locked in the local madhouse and still under threat, and sets out to rescue him. As Ken goes to some extremes to try and break Sei's child-like mentality, some pissed-off gangsters launch an attack on him, blowing up his restaurant and shooting up his home. This continues soon after, as the two hide-out in a rundown hotel, only to be tracked down by more gunmen (one of which I noticed was Mike Abbott). It's a scene that kicks off one of the best action sequences of the film and pulls Uncle Sei out of his despair. At the same time, back in Hong Kong, the shit really hits the fan as Kit gets ahead of himself, trying to infiltrate Ko's gang. With his cover blown, Ko has his Kit's brother step up to the mark and put a bullet in him. It's a harsh moment for the brothers, but a powerful scene! An emotional reunion brings Ken and Sei back to Hong Kong, where they meet up with Ho and (a now healed) Kit. It isn't long before plans are put in action for an attack on Ko and his men, some of which include the greatly missed Shing Fui On, Ken Boyle, and Lam Chung. It all leads to a beautifully shot finale, launched by the lump-in-the-throat moment of Kit's last minutes on the phone to his wife, just after she has given birth to their baby daughter. As Ken dons his brother's trademark coat and glasses, sadness turns to excitement as the vengeful friends load up and let the bullets fly in an incredible, action-packed ending aided by their old friend, Kenneth Tsang!
The spectacular gun-play comes courtesy of Tony Ching Siu Tung, who lights up the screen with some fantastic action pieces, plenty of explosions, and a massive body count. Of course, this is all under the watchful eye of John Woo who, once again, has delivered one of the best films to ever come out of Hong Kong. As with part one, A Better Tomorrow 2 is well worth a place in any fan's collection and a movie that still entertains as much today as it did on release. Dean Shek does an incredible job in his role as Uncle Sei, and probably gives his greatest performance as an actor. On a side note, I find that Ken proves to be a much better marksman and cooler character than his brother Mark was, respectively. He's very similar to the character of Tequila in Hard Boiled, which was perhaps something that inspired his performance there. That said, if you enjoyed Chow in part one, then you'll love him in this!
*Also, keep an eye out for a brief cameo by director Stanley Tong as a policeman...
Overall: Fuck your fried rice!! A powerful and emotional, action-packed classic that never tires!
Blu-ray Extras: Trailers, Code Of Bullets Part 2, Photo Gallery
Hong Kong Legends DVD Extras: Trailers, An interview with Tsui Hark, Trilogy of Bloodshed (Animated Essay), A Better Tomorrow 3 Preview
A BETTER TOMORROW 3
(Hong Kong 1989)
Original Title: Ying Hung Boon Sik 3: Zik Yeung Ji Gor
Directed by Tsui Hark Produced by Tsui Hark Action by Lau Fong Sai, Lau Chi Ho
Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Anita Mui, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Maggie Cheung Ho Yee, Kirk Wong, Shek Kin, Cheung Ho Yee, Saburo Tokito, Andrew Kam
Reviewing: Nova Korean Blu-ray Release
Genres: Heroic Bloodshed / Action / Drama
Rating - 4.3 / 5
Synopsis: A man travels from China to Vietnam, on the brink of war with America, to retrieve his uncle and cousin but finds complications when he falls in love with a female gangster with a dangerous ex.
Views: Often frowned upon by hardcore fans of John Woo and the series, A Better Tomorrow 3 is treated like the bastard child of the infamous Hong Kong trilogy! As it stands, and understanding how director Woo and producer Hark parted after part two, due to creative differences (with Woo going on to make A Bullet In The Head, and Hark, this one), you get a firm understanding as to why this chapter stands apart from its predecessors. Producer and director Tsui Hark, who needs no introduction, may have taken things down a completely different road in this loosely based prequel – but it's a story that gives us an insight into how a younger Mark (Chow Yun Fat's character from part one) becomes the 2 gun-toting cool gangster that we all love...
While not as action-heavy as the first two (although it's far from disappointing when we get it), Hark lays on the drama in the midst of the Vietnam war, teaming Chow up with his cousin (Tony Leung Ka Fai), along with a mentor in the fantastic Anita Mui – who pretty much steals the show as his love-interest and sassy gunfighter extraordinaire. Apart from the obvious political and social commentary of Hark's story, love, and revenge help flesh things out, with great performances from everyone involved – including some heartfelt, emotional moments as with the previous entries. Every scene is beautifully framed delivering some stunning visuals in its cinematography, which won me over with one scene in particular. That happened to be the first action scene of the film, where a double-gunned Anita Mui takes on a mini-army, complete with that wonderful Hong Kong night-lighting, tons of smoke, and plenty of gunfire. Just stunning!!
With the longest-running time of the three, Love And Death In Saigon definitely feels like the most epic of the trilogy. The first 45 minutes of the film takes part in Saigon, with Chow coming to help his cousin (Tony) get his Uncle (Shek Kin from Enter The Dragon) back home to Hong Kong. From the moment he arrives, Chow lays eyes on Anita Mui – a skilled gangster who steals his heart. When his cousin arranges a business deal that goes sour, they are quickly aided by Mui who becomes friends with the troublesome cousins. Of course, Tony quickly falls for her also and wastes no time in making a move. The team soon arrive back in Hong Kong which then begins to lend itself to familiar territory. As romance and friendships blossom, you just know the shit is going to hit the fan before its 2-hour running time is up, as we get introduced to Anita's ex-lover – a dangerous man who wants to keep her under his control, even if it means taking out her new friends. After killing Tony's dad, the pair are forced back to Saigon and hell-bent on revenge, resulting in another fantastic, beautiful bullet-ballet with some top gun-play and action courtesy of Shaw Brothers star Lau Fong Sai and action director, Lau Chi Ho. While their style may stand apart from that of John Woo and Ching Siu Tung's action direction, it still makes for plenty of amazing shots and violent gun-play – as well as an explosive finale resulting in Chow Yun Fat doing his best Cruise impression, when he speeds towards the enemies tank on a motorbike with a crate of explosives, attached by a single strand of barbed-wire!
Much like its predecessors, there is the odd bit of humour laced throughout, but it's never too wacky to distract from the maturity of the whole thing. Tsui Hark's use of footage from Vietnam adds grittiness and realism to the whole thing and helps set the film apart from Woo's previous entries. A Better Tomorrow 3: Love and Death in Saigon is criminally misunderstood! Any fan of Tsui Hark, Chow Yun Fat, or Hong Kong cinema, in general, should really check it out – and if you have done so already, then once again.
Overall: An underrated classic and fantastic end to the trilogy, that shines as one of Tsui Hark's finest!
Blu-ray Extras: Trailers, Code Of Bullets Part 3, Photo Gallery
A BETTER TOMORROW 2012
(South Korea/Hong Kong 2010)
Original Title: Moo Jeok Ja
Directed by Song Hae-Sung Produced by John Woo, Terence Chang, Park Hyung Jun, Daisuke Miyachi
Starring: Ju Jin-Mo, Song Seung-Heon, Kim Kang-Woo, Jo Han Sun, Lee Kyeong-Yeong, Lim Hyeong-Jun
Reviewing: Los Banditos UK DVD Release
Genres: Drama / Action /Thriller
Rating - 3.5 / 5
DVD Synopsis: 'A Better Tomorrow' is now remade under the patronage of the master himself. 'A Better Tomorrow 2012' consistently follows the story of its predecessor and takes the action and fighting scenes into the new millennium. Again it is the fight between brothers, again they are separated as children and again destiny puts them in the position of the hunter and the hunted. 'A Better Tomorrow 2012' leads the audience through 118 minutes of action-packed cinema to the most powerful shoot-out ever.
Views: For any die-hard fan of Hong Kong cinema (or of the original film itself), it came as a bit of a surprise when news came out about the remake of the classic, A Better Tomorrow. Even with John Woo's name behind it, there was definitely a bad taste in the air among fans, and only a few were excited for what was to come. Although sold as a Korean and Hong Kong co-production (and I think Japan got involved also), this is really a product of South Korean cinema. While based on John Woo's original screenplay, A Better Tomorrow 2012 was reworked by no less than 4 Korean writers, extending the film's run-time by almost an extra 25 minutes than the original. And while slickly produced, well-acted, and neatly directed, I have to admit, it is hard watching this version without judging everything on-screen in comparison to the original. There's no denying that it does hark back to the 1986 classic with some re-imagined, poignant scenes – but ultimately, this modern-day remake of A Better Tomorrow fails to capture the magic of its predecessor, yet at the same time, proves to entertain on its own merits...
If it was John Woo's plan to recreate the whole trilogy with this South Korean team (or at the very least, parts 1 & 2), then perhaps the lukewarm reception of this adaptation put an end to that. Not to mention that another remake was launched in 2018 (of which I have yet to see) by revered Chinese director Ding Sheng, the very same man who brought us Little Big Soldier, Police Story: Lockdown, and Saving Mr. Wu. And while it probably offers the same in terms of re-imagined scenes, I'd say it probably fared a little better given Sheng's track record and could be the one that gains a sequel quicker than this. A Better Tomorrow 2012 was directed by Song Hae-Sung, a South Korean director known for a handful of films (by this stage anyway), and certainly hadn't delivered any titles that had left an impression with me – especially in the action genre. So it was a weird choice in that respect that John Woo and Terence Chang would feel that Song, was the right man for the job. Personally, I would have fought to get Kim Jee-Woon on board as the director. What he delivered in 2005 with A Bittersweet Life was just incredible, and more along the lines of A Better Tomorrow than anything in Song's filmography up to this point. But that's not to say that Song Hae-Sung did a bad job!
While I've mentioned A Bittersweet Life, I have to say that I've often looked at the film's lead (Lee Byung-Hun) as Korea's answer to Chow Yun Fat, and while I feel he would have been perfect for the role of Mark in this adaptation, I must admit that Song Seung-Heon does a great job in this position. It wasn't too long ago that I had watched the Korean Netflix series, Black, of which Song Seung-Heon is the star and most definitely left an impression. So I was excited to see him appear in this, and he does not disappoint. Although he is no Chow Yun Fat, Song holds his own and manages to bring a different type of energy to the role of (the now-named) Yeong-Choon. Joining him is Ju Jin-Mo, whom I had only seen previously in the fantastic Musa: The Warrior. He plays the Ti Lung role, offering an emotional performance as well as looking good when the action comes about. His little brother, and the character of Leslie Cheung, is played by Kim Kang-Woo, star of The Chase, Doomsday Book, and popular K-drama series, Item. Along with Ju, Kang-Woo offers a strong and emotional performance as one-half of the brothers, who escaped North Korea only to lead a life of dire consequences and pain. Of course, the story of A Better Tomorrow would not be complete without the one man who screwed everyone over, originally seen played by Waise Lee. Here, the now-named character of Tae Min is played by Jo Han-Sun – star of Attack At The Gas Station 2, Cruel Winter Blues, and Deja Vu. As the double-crossing friend, Jo offers a hint of humour to his role, going from dopey sidekick to the gangsters, to becoming the leader of the underworld himself. All-in-all, each star provides a great performance and I'm sure while filming, they all felt somewhat nervous in portraying such characters that had been cemented in Hong Kong film fans' hearts, by such legendary actors from the original.
Simply put, A Better Tomorrow 2012 has nothing on the original A Better Tomorrow. When I first saw the 1986 film, it brought tears to my eyes and left a lasting impression via its amazing score, emotional performances, and blistering action (most of which this remake failed to do). But if you watch this as a stand-alone movie, you can't help but enjoy it as a slickly made, Korean action-thriller, that offers some great performances and damn-good action scenes. A remake of any classic is going to annoy any fans of the original material, and understandably so, but when the makers of the original are behind it you have to give it a chance I guess. A Better Tomorrow 2012 is far from terrible (like most people say), and is certainly worth a watch, but as I stated before – it just fails to carry the magic of the original, which is unfortunate.
Overall: Well made and well-acted, with some nice action scenes, A Better Tomorrow 2012 proves to be a decent homage to the original, but just not as incredible!
DVD Extras: Making of Documentary, Interview with John Woo, Trailer...
A BITTERSWEET LIFE
(South Korea 2005)
Original Title: Dalkomhan Insaeng
Directed by Kim Jee Woon Produced by Eugene Lee, Oh Jeong Wan Action by Doo Hong Jung
Starring: Lee Byung Hun, Min A Shin, Kim Yeong Cheol, Jung Min Hwang, Roe Ha Kim
Reviewing: Tartan Asia Extreme UK DVD Release
Genres: Gangster / Drama / Action
Rating - 5 / 5
DVD Synopsis: Sunwoo is no ordinary hotel manager. He is also the ruthlessly efficient right hand man of underworld boss, Kang. But tough guy Kang has a weakness; his young girlfriend. Suspecting she's unfaithful, Kang orders Sunwoo to take care of the problem. When Sunwoo discovers her with another man, he uncharacteristically grants them mercy. Kang is furious and orders his gang members to hunt down Sunwoo. With nerves of steel, Sunwoo battles the gang alone. With each kill, he takes one step closer to his final confrontation with Kang.
Views: When I first bought A Bittersweet Life, I wasn't too sure what to expect. I had not seen anything about the film leading up to my purchase, but I knew it was directed by Kim Jee-Woon who had directed A Tale Of Two Sisters, and The Quiet Family - two films that I really enjoyed. Then I watched this – and probably about 4 more times in the first week, showing it to every friend that stopped by. What a movie!
I was hooked right from the beginning with its tight direction, great cinematography, and, of course, leading man Lee Byung-Hun. It seems this man can do no wrong, making quite the impression in movies such as The Good, The Bad And The Weird, I Saw The Devil, JSA, and television show's like the wonderful, Mr. Sunshine, and many Hollywood productions also. His looks, fighting skills, and on-screen presence were all just amazing – often coming across like South Korea's answer to Chow Yun Fat. Kim Jee-Woon should be making directors such as Scorsese, De Palma, and Mann, very nervous after providing such an incredible gangster film. For me, this very beautifully filmed production offered much more entertainment than anything I've seen from those aforementioned Hollywood directors in the last 25 years! I've often said that from the turn of the century, South Korean films have impressed me the most. And A Bittersweet Life is one of those films...
In a nutshell, A Bittersweet Life could be easily sold as an exciting tale of gangster revenge, but director Kim Jee-Woon makes it so much more than that. Sprinkled with that typical dark-humour Kim loves so much, we follow Sun-Woo (played by Lee) who plays a hotel manager that also happens to be the right-hand man to his boss and big-time gangster, Mr. Kang. Treated more like a son after working under Kang for 7 years, Sun-Woo gets a break from his hit-man duties when he is offered the easier job of keeping an eye on his bosses new girlfriend Hee-Soo (Shin Mina) - an early twenties cellist who, Kang expects, is cheating on him. This is ironic in itself, as Mr. Kang has a wife and children of his own. After catching a glimpse of the beautiful Hee-Soo and hearing her play, Sun-Woo finds himself quickly falling for her. To make matters worse, after following her home one night, the handsome Sun-Woo catches her with a boyfriend (and someone more her own age). Under his boss's orders, Sun-Woo is to kill them both, but as his emotions override and he sees the fear in her eyes, the hit-man with a heart lets them go. Of course, he understands the consequences of turning on his boss, although doesn't expect the extremities of Mr. Kang's reaction when he finds out about Sun-Woo's decision. Following the long tradition of the gangster underworld, Kang decides to punish his man who is like a son to him. Giving Sun-Woo a chance to explain himself, the big boss reveals that he knows of the hitman's feelings for Hee-Soo. It's a poignant moment as Sun-Woo is knelt in the mud, understanding his predicament in falling for the one girl that has brought him to his knees, that soon sees him buried up to his neck and left-for-dead in the heaviest of rain!
As A Bittersweet Life hits the 1-hour mark, you are forced to the edge of your seat (and if you aren't already, there's something wrong). After he has suffered some intense torture, Sunwoo makes an incredible escape in 5 minutes of solid action that makes similar scenes from Oldboy and other movies, look tame in comparison! Just when you thought the pace and action up to that point were doing a good enough job in keeping you hooked, director Kim decides to crank things up another few notches – just to make sure you're watching. It sets Sun-Woo on a crazy journey of vengeance as he takes on the very men he once controlled, locks-horns with a deadly assassin in a brutal showdown, and of course, gets his revenge on Mr. Kang. It's intense, it's violent, but it's beautiful.
And boy, what an ending!!
Overall: An incredible action-noire that I will never tire of watching, and a modern classic!
DVD Extras: Cast & crew interviews, Featurette, Trailer, Justin Bowyer film notes