Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Better Tomorrow 2018

Hey, new trailers for Monster Hunt 2 and Monkey King 3! I've been seeing the same teaser for that first one for a while. Bummer that the theater hasn't been picking up the Korean movies that have been coming out lately, because 1987 looks great and I really should have the opportunity to put the new one from the director of Save the Green Planet and Hwayi: A Monster Boy in front of my face.

That Monkey King trailer has me planning another movie binge, trying to catch up on movies where I've seen one part of the series but not the rest, even if I might miss MK3 between vacation and the SF marathon.

Got a decent crowd, though, some of whom really got into moments that I missed, and it's been too long since I've seen the 1986 version that I didn't really know whether it was recognizing a callback or some contemporary Chinese culture thing. It was, generally, weird to see actual posters from A Better Tomorrow in the movie; it's way more than tipping a cap.

Ying xiong ben se 2018 (A Better Tomorrow 2018)

* * (out of four)
Seen on 18 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

What, I ask, is the point of remaking A Better Tomorrow without John Woo and Chow Yun-fat? It's admittedly a fine enough crime story that under normal circumstances it could stand a new version that adapts it to a different time or place, but as the movie that paired those two Hong Kong action legends, it's legendary itself, and it's therefore not good enough for a remake to just be competent. You've got to offer more than the same basic material in Mandarin rather than Cantonese and people using cell phones to make it worthwhile.

Instead, it's pretty much the same, maybe sanitized a little. Zhou Kai (Wang Kai) is a sailor who has a profitable sideline in smuggling on the route between Qindao, China and Tokyo, although he and best friend "Mark" Ma Ke (Darren Wang Ta-lu) are basically avoiding customs rather than moving anything truly illegal, which is less than some of their associates want, particularly Cang (Yu Ailei), godson of money man Ha Ge (Lam Suet), but Kai has the list of contacts. Some think it might be handy that Kai's brother Chao (Ma Tianyu) has become a cop, although Chao doesn't know about his brother's sideline and is too straight an arrow to get caught up in it. Unfortunately, the surveillance assignment he's just pulled really has the potential to ruin this family reunion.

Put the 1986 version of this story out of one's mind (either by editing your memory to forget it exists or by simply not having been aware of it before), and you've actually got the skeleton of a decent movie. Screenwriter/director Ding Sheng plays the story out well enough, finding a few details that reinforce each other nicely (the Zhous' father having early-onset dementia makes a nice sort of metaphor for how family members might not really know each other, and also creates a sort of duality when he's caught in the crossfire later on, both innocent victim and bearing the burden of the way he raised his son. One can snicker a bit about how the floor show at a club in Qindao stoically continues performing when a fight breaks out while the one in Tokyo flees in panic, but it's also worth noting that Ding does a fair job of threading the Chinese-film needle where crime doesn't pay but it also has to be appealing and stable enough for people to turn in that direction.

Full review at EFC

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