It seems like just yesterday for me that I first heard of a hot new sensation from Hong Kong by the name of John Woo. From the mid ‘80s to the early ‘90s, filmmaker Woo expertly erected several crime drama masterpieces (usually starring Chow Yun-fat); films that would ultimately grow to earn genre nicknames as “bullet ballet,” or “gun fu,” if you will. As word of Woo’s wizardry reached to the US, American studio execs talked the Hong Kong action auteur into traveling to the States to direct a few films there; movies that — with one or two exceptions — were outrageously awful.
Since then, John Woo has directed a couple of features in Hong Kong, though their underground success (if there is any) has yet to surface. He has also given other filmmakers the world over consent to remake a few of his timeless epics — including remakes from both America and South Korea. But, instead of sitting and quaking in fear over what the end result of how bad the Yankee version of The Killerwill be when it is supposed to hit screens in 2012 , let’s take a look at this well-made 2010 South Korean modernization of Woo’s 1986 hit, A Better Tomorrow instead, shall we?
Produced by Mr. Woo himself, this tale concerns the plights of two brothers who have defected from North Korea to make new lives for themselves in the South. Kim Hyuk (Joo Jin-Mo), is that feller who hails from the wrong side of the proverbial track: a gangster. The other, Kim Chul (Kim Kang-woo), has sworn a duty to serve and protect (or however they do it over there) as a police officer. Sure, we’ve seen dozens and dozens of features with that sort of a premise in the past, but Hae-sung Song’s adaptation of A Better Tomorrow manages to set itself apart from all of those other similar stories.
It does not forsake the fine art of character development in lieu of stylized action sequences (though the latter are extremely well done and retain that good ol’ John Woo technique). Instead, it manages to hold on to a lot of the grace, artistry, and emotion of the original, delivering a gun-toting drama worthy of its Hong Kong predecessors. All in all, this incarnation of A Better Tomorrow is a good one. Even if it doesn’t have Chow Yun-fat in it.
The film also has a heightened sense of lighting and photography, as evident in Well Go USA’s remarkable Blu-ray/DVD Combo release, which preserves the film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and shows off the movies color scheme, contrast and detail to the best of its ability. Two Korean audio options, a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and a 2.0 Dolby Digital one, are present here, with the 5.1 mix delivering an auditory smorgasbord of dialogue, music, and — most importantly — sounds. While some of the movie’s lines are spoken in English (as well as Thai and Russian), optional English subtitles are present for the entire length of the feature.
The only really disappointing part of this release are the succinctness of the supplemental materials, which consists of a three brief (mostly Standard Definition) features and a couple of trailers. But, such a thing is forgivable, and A Better Tomorrow (2010) still emerges as being worthy of your time — especially if you were ever (or still are) a big John Woo fan.