A Korean remake of the classic John Woo film starring Song Seung Heon, Jo Han Sun, Joo Jin Mo and Kim Kang Woo.

Kim Hyuk (Joo Jin-mo) escaped from North Korea when he was a teenager and currently works as a policeman in the South. In secret he also serves as an illegal arms smuggler with his best friend and fellow defector Lee Young Choon (Song Seung Heon). At a young age Hyuk was forced to leave behind his younger brother Chul (Kim Kang Woo) and eventually finds him in an internment camp. However Chul is furious and can never forgive Hyuk for leaving him and his now deceased Mother behind.

An arms deal in Thailand goes wrong for Hyuk and he is double-crossed by apprentice Jung Tae Min (Jo Han Sun) as well as the Thai gang who met Yong Choon in the past for a previous negotiation. Surrendering to Thai police, Hyuk is sent to prison for three years and during this period many things change dramatically for the main characters.

The good

* Song Seung Heon – this is where I was first introduced to this actor. I watched the film for the first time on a flight from Singapore to Heathrow and was utterly pulled in by this man’s aura on screen. He plays Chow Yun Fat’s character (Mark “Gor” Lee) with a similar level of charismatic vibe as the HK actor did in the original. Even the coat and sunglasses are almost the same.

* Kim Kang Woo provides Chul’s character with a lot of anger and tears but you understand why he’s like this though. Kim Chul is the Korean version of Leslie Cheung’s Sung Tse Kit.

* Joo Jin Mo as Kim Hyuk aka Ti Lung’s Sung Tse Ho -he’s the composed, intelligent ‘big brother’ to Young Choon and always his back. Hyuk shattered my heart when he broke down after finding Chul at long last. That particular scene when he sees him for the first time and the tears just flow really gave me a tug in the chest.

* Tae Min – Jo Han Sun pulls off the naive, scaredy cat apprentice act rather well and brilliantly twists it to a confident, cocky demeanour when Tae Min becomes the new leader.

* When Young Choon pulls a prank on the Thai gang and Tae Min by putting the gun in his mouth, making them believe he is about to kill himself.

* Chul interrogating a criminal at the police station. The chewing gum he was eating proved useful.

* Exciting, crazy gun fights. Not pure John Woo style but still exciting nonetheless.

* The brotherhood Hyuk has with Young Choon and Chul makes me want to burst into tears. When there’s a meaningful friendship and family bond about I become an emotional wreck.

The bad

* Everyone is so stressed, going by the number of cigarettes they all light up. You may as well make a note of how many cigarettes they smoke from start to finish.

* The amount of tears being shed by the characters might put viewers off. I’m all for man tears anyway but when it’s an overload I feel like I’m going to cry endlessly too because this icy heart can lose itself sometimes.

* Unlike the original, the ending for this film does not open up to a sequel.

Overall: Anyone who has watched the original Hong Kong version will definitely make comparisons to this Korean remake. You will find a few similarities between the two and some things that were in the original do pop up again in the remake e.g. Ah Gor/Young Choon’s “Of course” line. Only difference is where it was placed during the film. The scene was different.

While the Hong Kong original had plenty of brotherhood moments and comedic situations, there is a deeper emphasis on friendship and brotherhood in the Korean version. It’s like the producer cranked up the level of angst for these men. It’s a lot darker – perhaps something you may often spot in drama-based Korean films. John Woo was one of the executive producers for this remake and described it as having its own character and own soul, and many new elements, which to me perfectly describes the Korean A Better Tomorrow. So to say one is better than the other is rather pointless here.


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**Jan 2013 - Jan 2015** British Born Chinese who occasionally self-reflects. Has more Aegyo than she should for 'old' age status. LinkedIn / Review Blog