Friday, March 20, 2015

Film Review: A Better Tomorrow (2010)

A Better Tomorrow (Review)
Song Hae-sung/Joo Jin-mo/2010
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime 

"...one of the most melodramatic South Korean movies I've ever watched..."

Kim Hyuk (Joo Jin-mo) is a detective who escaped from North Korea as a teenager. He also works as an illegal arms smuggler. While conducting his business with his pal, Lee Young-choon (Song Seung-heon), Hyuk also searches for his younger brother, Chul (Kim Kang-woo), who was separated when his family escaped...

A Better Tomorrow follows Hyuk as he tries to rekindle his relationship with Chul. Meanwhile, Hyuk and Young-choon continue their illegal arms smuggling business. They are joined by Jung Tae-min (Jo Han-sun), a new and very ambitious member. Of course, Jung Tae-min decides to betray them and Hyuk is separated from his brother once again. Chul goes on to become a detective, Young-choon is crippled, and Tae-min becomes a leader. In other words, there's a whole lot of story compressed into this two hour feature. The film leads to an explosive climax of deafening gunshots and bromance. The ending is decent, but feels too melodramatic – also feels a little undeserving.

In fact, A Better Tomorrow is a very melodramatic film. It's one of the most melodramatic South Korean movies I've ever watched, and I've seen hundreds. I usually don't mind the melodramatics, but this film was often too much. Almost every other scene felt like a cheesy monologue – someone usually ends up crying, too. A Better Tomorrow is also a inefficient film. It may have focused on one too many characters for the two hour runtime. Aside from their brotherly relationship, I hardly got to know either Hyuk or Chul. I barely even realized Hyuk was a detective. None of the characters' backgrounds are really highlighted. With everything going on and the little character we have to work with, the film forces you to piece everything together as it goes – it makes for an often confusing and convoluted experience.

A Better Tomorrow is effective, though, at least to a certain point. Sure, I didn't like the melodramatics, but I did think the brotherly relationship worked out in the end. The crime aspects of the film, like the illegal arms smuggling, also kept my attention. This isn't a hard boiled action film like, let's say Hard Boiled. However, the action sequences it does feature – I counted two set pieces off the top of my head – are great. The climax alone features a memorable action sequence. Sure, it's also melodramatic, but it worked. I can't fault it too hard for that.

The acting was decent. Like I said, someone usually ends up crying at the end of a scene, it's usually Joo Jin-mo or Kim Kang-woo. Jo Han-sun delivers the best performance out of the bunch, I never wanted to punch someone so bad. (Maybe I have...) The film is shot very well, it's oozing with style. The camerawork and action choreography were strong, too. Director Song Hae-sung crafts a confusing, melodramatic crime film. I really wish he toned it down a bit. I didn't hate his direction, but it felt inefficient.

Overall, A Better Tomorrow is a decent film. I liked the action scenes and the film is somewhat effective. The storytelling is inefficient and the story is filled with melodrama. Although I definitely didn't hate the film, A Better Tomorrow simply isn't a very good film. If you're looking for Korean action or gangster films, you can probably find a better movie (you get it?) to spend your two hours – try The Suspect, No Tears For The Dead, or Nameless Gangster. I wouldn't go out of my way to watch this. If you can get it for cheap, it may be worth your time.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

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