By Pablo A. Tariman
Like it or not, a Chinese action picture is almost always predictable with endless exhibitions of martial arts prowess of the lead actors.
They have bodies of steel yet limned in by a martial arts guru who teaches them it’s not about fighting and winning. Yes, there is always a slice of wisdom in every Chinese action flick to balance all that flawless boxing and airborne kicking stunts.
But watching a crime-action picture like A Better Tomorrow is a totally new experience.
A vivid portrayal of the coastal town in which the action takes place is like an invitation to nostalgia.
There’s the old town look, the busy harbor filled with fish merchants and a view of smaller islands from afar. It is as though the filmmaker is looking at the place of his childhood and looking at it now as an old resident re-examining his hometown virtues.
A Better Tomorrow is a remake of a 1986 John Woo action cinema classic of the same title.
In this revival, director Ding Sheng gives it a new look with a new feel to it with a new set of cast members who are good fighters and good actors.
To Sheng’s credit, the remake makes for a pulsating action flick that re-explores the drug scene in a Chinese coastal town.
Overall, it is a tale of two brothers who find themselves working in opposite directions and believing in contrasting virtues.
Zhou Kai (Wang Kai) is into smuggling while brother Zhou Chao (Ma Tianyu) is a police officer who will not hesitate to handcuff a brother breaking the law.
The film has a touching portrait of a conservative family who cherishes good old virtues even as one brother loves adventures that will bring in quick money.
As expected, the two will always be in conflict but their father — weighed down by dementia — likes to remind them that no matter what happens, they should love and forgive no matter what it costs.
There is a touching character of a friend named Ma Ke (Darren Wang) who attaches himself to the smuggler brother.
They forge a special friendship and indeed they are attached to each other until the bloody end. It is a gritting contrast to the other brother torn between love for biological brother and the rule of law.
As it is, the film delivers as a crime-action flick. The actors give their characters an earthy feel and they remain unscathed all throughout the bloodshed saga.
Against the backdrop of a conservative family, you see an Asian version of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
In one touching scene after spending some time in prison, Zhou Kai visits his brother and kneels before the image of his dead father.
When the characters meet their bloody end, you remember another family in The Godfather and what they stood for till the very end.
This remake finds its mark with superb acting and brisk storytelling. It is another haunting film that tells us over and over again that crime doesn’t pay and if you live up to it, it comes with a stiff price.
Released by Star Cinema, A Better Tomorrow is now showing in cinemas.