When John Woo released A Better Tomorrow back in the mid 1980s I don’t think even he could have imagined what a lasting effect it would have on the Hong Kong film industry. Despite being made on a relatively low budget and having little in the way of marketing it went on the break the HK box office record and was a major success worldwide. It’s success spawned a sequel directed by Woo before Tsui Hark took the helm for a prequel later on. Now the Korean film industry has got in on the act with a John Woo produced remake of the original story.
Remaking such a classic film is always a risky business with obvious comparisons being drawn from the off. Luckily for all involved, A Better Tomorrow 2012 has the quality to stand up and take what is thrown at it. The setting has moved to Busan where brothers Hyuk (Ju Jin-mo) and Chul (Kim Kang-woo) are living after escaping from North Korea, but not before the death of their mother for which Chul still blames his brother. Initially Hyuk lives a double life as both police detective and in partnership with best friend Lee Young-Chun (Song Seung-heon) as an arms dealer for one a criminal organisation.
The majority of the plot points from A Better Tomorrow have remained, so when Hyuk is sent on an errand to Thailand with junior gang member Jung Tae-Min (Jo Han-sun) we all know something isn’t going to go to plan. This really sets up the rest of the movie as everyone’s lives are changed forever, some for the better and others for the worse. This is about the time that A Better Tomorrow 2012 gets a little bogged down in the character development and shaving half an hour off the running time bringing it more in line with the original would have done it a world of good. That said, the actors involved all put in a good turn and as the film enters its final third you can’t help but be drawn into their messed up world.
As the film reaches its crescendo it is high in action but lacking a little in style compared to some of the earlier gun battles. Rocking out the pyrotechnics for a Michael Bay style pointless explosion was particularly disappointing. However, it does redeem itself in the end.
Let’s face it, A Better Tomorrow 2012 was never going to capture everything about the original that made it great, remakes never do, but judged on its own merits this remake is a perfectly acceptable film in its own right.