HONG KONG » The South Korean remake of the John Woo gangster classic "A Better Tomorrow" has received a tepid response in its spiritual home Hong Kong, with the new version receiving lackluster reviews and box office results.
Woo’s 1986 classic wowed audiences in Hong Kong and overseas critics by combining smooth action sequences and a passionate story of brotherhood in a picture starring Chow Yun-fat, veteran actor Ti Lung and late heartthrob singer Leslie Cheung.
Chow became an instant icon with his swashbuckling, match stick-chewing gangster character who mowed down enemies stylishly one gun in each hand. The standout work helped pave the way for both Woo and Chow to launch their Hollywood careers.
The remake, which was authorized by Woo, changes the setting to the southern South Korean port city Busan but largely preserves the story of two brothers on opposite sides of the law, recreates many of the classic scenes, as well as retaining the English title of the original. Director Song Hae-sung, however, adds a Korean twist, making the two brothers defectors from North Korea who were separated during their escape.
The South Korean take, which stars Song Seung-heon, Joo Jin-mo, Kim Gang-woo and Jo Han-sun, was greeted with a decent reception at home when it was released in September, bringing in just over 1 million viewers in nine days.
Hong Kong viewers, however, were less charitable, despite the movie’s association with a local classic.
Actor Song, who plays Chow’s character in the remake, "may look and act the part but doesn’t have a chance of attaining the iconic status of Chow’s ‘Mark Gor,’ or transform this competently executed thriller into a work likely to be recalled after a quarter-century of tomorrows," veteran Hong Kong film critic Paul Fonoroff wrote in the territory’s South China Morning Post newspaper on opening day on Thursday.
"This slick retelling of Woo’s romantic take on codes of honor has captured none of the Sam Peckinpah-esque excess that made the earlier film so damn satisfying," Time Out Hong Kong’s Edmund Lee wrote, referring to, referring to the late American director known for his violent movies.
Likely worried about the appeal of the remake in Hong Kong, distributor Intercontinental Film has started out with a limited release of just 12 movie theaters in this southern Chinese city of 7 million people. As of Monday, it has made just 106,522 Hong Kong dollars ($14,000) according to figures released by the distributor on Tuesday. By comparison, the hit mainland Chinese political satire "Let the Bullets Fly" brought in nearly HK$4.5 million ($580,000) in its first four days.
The Hong Kong performance may also have been hurt by the fact that Woo didn’t have time to promote the remake in his hometown because he is busy preparing for his next movie, the World War II-era epic "Flying Tigers."
The veteran filmmaker, however, did give it a ringing endorsement in phone interviews with Hong Kong reporters, saying director Song skillfully fleshed out the relationship between the two brothers, whereas he focused on the older brother’s relationship with the fellow gangster played by Chow. Woo also praised Song for his recreation of the classic scene where Chow’s character guns down a group of Taiwanese gangsters in a Taiwanese restaurant in slow motion, with Chow leaping for a backup gun he hid in a potted plant after being shot in the leg by a survivor. Song developed his own style by emphasizing the character’s firepower instead of using slow motion, the Hong Kong native said.
The most acclaimed remake of a Hong Kong movie in recent years was Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the 2002 gangster thriller "Infernal Affairs." The remake, "The Departed," won the veteran American filmmaker the coveted best director and best picture Oscar trophies in 2007.