By Lee Hyo-won
John Woo’s “A Better Tomorrow” showed the world what Hong Kong noir was all about, and the Korean remake of the 1986 classic is now awaiting release on Chuseok next month, with the support of Woo as a producer.
Through a video clip released by the film’s publicist, Woo said he decided to participate in the project because of the confidence he had in director Song Hae-sung and the cast members.
And indeed, the new “Tomorrow” has caught the attention of even those who didn’t grow up watching the original film, as it brings together four of the most sought-after stars — Joo Jin-mo, Song Seung-hun, Kim Gang-woo and Jo Han-sun — under the helm of director Song, whose critically acclaimed films include “Failan” and “Maudy Thursday.”
“The movie’s appeal has been strengthened by the power of the actors,” director Song told reporters Tuesday in Seoul. “The sole fact that these actors have come together in one scene itself is a big selling point for the movie, and the main focus should be watching how these men deliver their roles.”
Joo plays Hyeok, the head of a crime ring, who reunites with his younger brother Cheol (Kim), with whom he was separated when they were young. But Cheol, a police officer, believes Hyeok had abandoned him, and is determined to channel his anger into efforts to arrest him. Meanwhile, Yeong-chun (Song) and Tae-min (Jo) are the best of friends but things go awry when Tae-min betrays the gang. Due to Tae-min’s scheming the other three become tangled up in a messy situation and tragedy ensues.
“‘A Better Tomorrow’ is every man’s fantasy,” said Song Seung-hun. “I was worried because the comparison with the original is inevitable. But our movie is not a simple remake; it’s a reinterpretation based on the framework of the original, with Korean values and its own color.”
Kim agreed, and added, “I have more confidence in our film because I feel that the characters have added dimension and complex emotions.” Jo, for example brings an edgier character — including a tough Busan dialect — after pulling off stunts and slapstick in “Attack the Gas Station 2.” He said, “I discovered new sides to my own personality through my screen persona, who is really ambitious and evil.” His three co-stars said they were quite jealous of Jo who got to play the powerful villain.
Joo also said the original film has had a special place in his heart ever since he saw it in his youth, but he decided not to watch it during the shoot because he was afraid he would imitate the acting.
In the Woo film, screen legends like Chow Yun-fat and the late Leslie Cheung defined macho chic with sunglasses, raincoats and gun-toting action. Action is still a big part of the 10 billion-won remake, and the actors recalled the adrenaline-pumping sequences that were shot in Korea and Thailand.
Joo, who revealed his rough side through Kwak Kyung-taek’s “Love,” remembered suffering from skin problems while shooting a water sequence in Thailand, while Song, who showed he was more than a pretty face in “Fate,” said it was agonizing to pull off “life-threatening” stunts himself.
“There was a scene where I had to jump stories onto a car and then roll on the ground. The martial arts director asked if I wanted to do it myself, and I was hoping the director would stop me, but he averted eye contact,” he said. “I felt betrayed and had no choice but to do it myself.”
Kim, who made a turn from melodramas to water-treading action in “Marine Boy,” recalled a startling car explosion scene. “(Jo) Han-sun was closer to the explosion while the three of us were farther away. We were so shocked because it was a lot louder than we expected, and when I didn’t see Han-sun I was worried for a moment he might have died. And this was not long after he became a father. He came out of it uninjured but was all sulky.”
The director meanwhile said he was thankful for the actors for braving the dangerous scenes. But he stressed that the movie is first and foremost driven by the drama rather than the action: “The movie is really propelled by the emotional interaction between the characters and the action is there to heighten and express the dramatic tension.”
In theaters on Sept. 22. Distributed by CJ Entertainment.