Reboots and reimaginings have been a staple of the movie industry from almost the time a camera recorded moving images for dramatic purposes. It can be seen as a cynical ploy on the part of studios that are just cashing in on a named brand or property. A Better Tomorrow was one of the first breakthrough films of the Hong Kong action film boom of the nineteen eighties. With talent like John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat it was an exhilarating and fun cops and robbers movie. Just how the loose remake that is the 2018 version got it so wrong with such good material to work with is anyone’s guess.
Set in China and Japan the film follows the fortunes of two brothers. One is on the wrong side of the law. Disowned by his father years before, he used his skills as a seaman to create a very successful smuggling business with his Korean side kick. His latest job, involving drugs, brings him into the cross hairs of the Chinese Police. In their ranks is the other brother who is a newly qualified cop who is keen to make his mar. As the smugglers get hunted by the authorities the brothers relationship is strained due the outside forces at play.
The film doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. It is neither a full on action film or a tense thriller. For a start the action is really poor. There is no real care taken in the staging of the set pieces and they fall well short of what is acceptable. With no tension or drama it leaves you bored. The centrepiece scene which is set in a restaurant should have been good but it just fails to come to life at all. The conclusion of the scene is so annoying as a principle character does something that you are led to believe he would never do based on his previous screen time. Why does he act that way? Plot reasons.
The dramatic elements are handled just as poorly. The characters are one dimensional. I’m sure that the actors are all good but they have so little to work with here. The use of the father character is a particular crime against cinema. He has dementia which means that he is used as a plot device to get the two brothers talking and for the father to talk of his fondness for his estranged son without realising he is sitting beside him. Later the father is used as a reason for revenge which is handled as bad as the earlier scene.
With all this going on it throws into focus the elements that are supposed to support the drama on screen. It is always a disappointment when the score is used in an obvious way. Stirring strings and driving rock music have their place but here these,and other musical devices, are used solely to let us know what we are supposed to be feeling. It’s s done so clumsily that you can’ help noticing it.
The original film spawned two sequels of varying quality. Hopefully we will be spared that again, although anything would be an improvement.