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A Better Tomorrow(2010)
A Korean remake of John Woo's suscessful "A Better Tomorrow", it tells 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.
For more about A Better Tomorrow and the A Better Tomorrow Blu-ray release, see A Better Tomorrow Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 22, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Joo Jin-Mo, Song Seung-Heon, Kim Gang-Woo, Jo Han-Sun
Director: Hae-sung Song
» See full cast & crew
A Better Tomorrow Blu-ray Review
A worse remake.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 22, 2011
Would they ever try remaking Gone With the Wind? (Well, they did, with Raintree County, and we all know how that turned out for them). Or Citizen Kane? Or King Kong? Okay, never mind, I'll stop while I'm not too far behind. But you get the point—classic films are classics for a reason and trying to get the lightning to strike twice is a risky gamble. But more and more the film industry is a wasteland, devoid of new ideas, and so we see remakes trotted out on a virtual weekly basis, remakes which are almost always inferior to their originals. Now John Woo's 1986 film A Better Tomorrow doesn't quite attain the giddy heights of classicism that the three films listed above do, but it's consistently regarded as a trailblazer in its own way, and a film which dramatically raised Woo's international profile. A Better Tomorrow was a bristling crime action thriller that worked in a a couple of soap operatic elements with regard to its main character, a criminal named Ho, who has a younger brother trying to play it straight and narrow, as well as a partner in crime whose loyalty ends up getting him in both physical and psychological trouble. Did A Better Tomorrow really need to be remade? Probably not, and probably not as this somewhat muddled Korean 2010 version, one which works in the long simmering rivalry between North and South Korea into its plot, while spending as much time on its many supporting characters as it does on the main focal trio of the piece. This 2010 remake, directed by Song Hae-Sung and executive produced by Woo himself, is certainly bigger, glossier and in a way better developed than its progenitor, but it's also lacking some of the Woo original's charm and lo-fi allure. In this version the (anti-)hero is Hyuk (Joo Jin-Mo), a North Korean defector who left his younger brother Chul (Kim Kang-Woo) and their mother at the border, where they were arrested and tortured mercilessly, leading to the mother's death. Hyuk's buddy Young-Choon (Song Seung-Heon, saddled with the unenviable task of remaking Chow Yun-Fat's iconic character in the original film) helps to give Hyuk some sense of family since relations with his real brother don't exactly go swimmingly once they're reunited as young adults. This A Better Tomorrow takes its time building momentum, and in fact for the first twenty minutes or so some audience members are probably going to be scratching their heads attempting to keep the manifold characters straight, at least until the primary conflict between Hyuk and Chul is introduced.
While intentions were probably well motivated, and Woo's involvement certainly speaks volumes (maybe just volumes of cash, but that's the cynic in me speaking), this A Better Tomorrow has little of the goofily fun action that always makes Woo's enterprises so enjoyable, and instead wants to focus on the frankly turgid sibling relationship between Hyuk and Chul. It's all for naught, as the film clearly sets up the fact from virtually the first frame that Chul is not going to have a thing to do with his big brother, and so many scenes in the film play out as little more than exercises in futility. Every so often Young-Choon comes along to either smack Chul up the side of the head, upbraiding him for his lack of brotherly love, or on the other hand buddying up to Hyuk and reminding him that he has at least one family-esque friend at his side. It's often too silly for its own good, and it isn't helped by the lachrymose piano tinkling added as an underscore, evidently to tug at our sonic heartstrings.
While no one would ever mistake this for being a John Woo directed film, Song definitely has a style of his own and it's to his immense credit that he never tries to ape Woo. This is a much more lushly scenic film than Woo's original was, and some of the Thailand location footage is stunningly beautiful. Mists rise lazily over swamps and thatched huts and palms seem to shimmer in the midday sun. When Hyuk gets caught in a police snare (much like in the first film), it's an odd combination of rampant violence playing out amidst a sylvan wonderland of jungle fronds and exotic flowers. There's little doubt this feature was funded at a considerably higher rate than was Woo's bargain basement effort, but money doesn't always buy happiness and/or cinematic success. If the story here doesn't benefit much from its Korean updating, it can't be denied that from a visual standpoint alone this A Better Tomorrow is eye candy for any armchair traveler.
A Better Tomorrow will probably play better for those who have never seen Woo's original, but of course many are simply going to be drawn to this film because they've seen Woo's original. Song obviously wanted to delve more deeply into the human emotions behind all the action, but in the process he forgot that the action elements are what elevated the Woo film to begin with. The two or three set pieces in this A Better Tomorrow play just fine (the first shoot out is especially impressive), but they never rise to the manic level that just seems to be part of Woo's directorial DNA. If you've never seen Woo's version of the film, this is certainly worth checking out for the gorgeous scenery and some decent enough performances (especially Jo Han-Sun in a great turn as the chief bad guy). But after you've finished this one, move on to Woo's for the real thing.
A Better Tomorrow Blu-ray, Video Quality
A Better Tomorrow arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. This is an uncommonly beautiful film, especially for a crime thriller, and some of the location footage is simply gorgeous to behold. Song and his cinematographer Seung-Ki Kang have an incredible eye for detail and especially for light, and there are a number of really subtly lit scenes here that almost look like color versions of the great noir black and white cinematographers in the U.S. in the late forties and early fifties. Fine detail is exceptional in this presentation, and while many scenes are filtered (some yellow, some blue), overall the palette is extremely varied and robustly displayed, with excellent saturation. Black levels are solid and shadow detail remains strong even in a couple of nighttime sequences. This film's tilt toward amber in several key sequences is incredibly impressive, with contrast pushed just slightly but no fine detail lost in the process. Best of all, there's virtually no artifacting to report, despite some ubiquitous typical problem spots like chain link fences and heavy foliage.
A Better Tomorrow Blu-ray, Audio Quality
A Better Tomorrow is presented with an incredibly effective lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in Korean (a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mixdown is also available). This is one of the most enjoyable soundtracks in recent memory, with tons of great discrete sound effects zinging around the channels in the set pieces, all of which offer incredible LFE as well. But even the quieter moments of this film are handled very, very well, from virtually the first moment of the film. As Hyuk tosses and turns in bed, haunted by nightmares of his abandoning his brother and mother in North Korea, we get very expert sound effects creating a claustrophobic feeling which really helps to create some tension and helps us to understand the psychological underpinnings of the character. There are a number of great sonic moments sprinkled throughout the film, with both the first big shoot out and the final, apocalyptic showdown being the standouts. Both of these sequences feature nonstop, floorboard rattling LFE and incredibly precise directionality that really help to elevate these moments—almost to the level of a John Woo film.
A Better Tomorrow Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
A Better Tomorrow Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Why reinvent the wheel? A Better Tomorrow's original version is such an iconic film, despite its flaws (and, yes, it does have some), it seems kind of pointless to revisit it, no matter how well intentioned the filmmakers might have been. This effort certainly has beautiful scenery going for it, as well as a much higher level of production design and flourishes than did Woo's original, but it's also dramatically kind of turgid, too frequently opting for soap opera instead of real drama. It still makes for an interesting companion piece to see alongside of Woo's great original, but I seriously doubt anyone who loves Woo's film is going to feel like this one outdoes it in any way, shape or form.
A Better Tomorrow: Other Editions
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A Better Tomorrow Blu-ray, News and Updates
• A Better Tomorrow (Remake) Blu-ray - August 17, 2011
In an early announcement to retailers, independent distributors Well Go USA have revealed that they will release on Blu-ray Song Hae-sung's Mujeogja a.k.a A Better Tomorrow (2010). This South Korean film is a remake of John Woo's cult crime drama A Better Tomorrow ...
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