I have read in other places around the internet about the inferiority of Seung-gi Kang's South Korean remake of the much beloved 1986 Hong Kong film "A Better Tomorrow", which in itself was a remake of a little known (in the U.S.) 1967 movie called Ying xiong ben se (Story of a Discharged Prisoner). I guess a movie with this much baggage behind it is not going to get a fair shake, and how could it, not only did "A Better Tomorrow" launch the international careers of director John Woo and co-star Chow Yun Fat, start a franchise (sequels, knockoffs, etc.), but it started the whole heroic bloodshed movement in HK cinema, and is ranked as the second on the list of the 100 greatest Chinese Motion Pictures. In HK, and other countries, the look of Chow's character Mark led a generation into dressing in long trenchcoats called "dusters" and wearing ray-ban sunglasses while chewing on a toothpick, some even feared it would lead the youth to choose a life of crime and degradation. I have such a strong affinity for the film myself that I can say it is easily one of my favorite films, top 250 for sure. So how does a remake live up to all this, well it can't, but I knew that, and so should you, but based on it's own merits this a is a worthy successor.
Over the past decade or so, South Korea has been a hot bed of exciting, daring and original filmmaking, director Hae-sun Song and his team of screenwriters have tackled the subject of A Better Tomoorow and brought it into a new light just by changing the location of the story. Told from the point of view of two brothers, who were separated years earlier in a semi-failed attempt to cross from North to South Korea: Cheol has never forgiven Hyeok for abandoning him and their mother (i.e. making it across), and the consequence of their failed escape from repression. Otherwise, the story follows Woo's original quite closely, this is version may be a little less violent, though it is R-rated for "strong bloody violence throughout." The writing and production are top notch, the dramatics as strong as the '86 film. Woo himself felt strong enough about the movie that he and his longtime producing partner, Terence Chang, are listed in the credits as executive producers. This is a darker, more bleak film in many respects though.
The only real let down would have to be with the new cast, the three leads who I am not familiar with, having never seen them in any films prior. They are Kang-woo Kim, Jin-mo Ju and Seung-heon Song, and while they do a fine job, they lack the chemistry and charisma that Leslie Cheung, Ti Lung and Chow Yun-Fat brought to the original film, their dynamics were a big part of the success of that movie's. Otherwise, only the freshness of an original work is missing. This is a good film, and if you enjoyed the Woo classics, this is a welcome return, putting the heroics back into the bloodshed.