Reboot of John Woo classic focuses on drama
Thu, Aug 19, 2010
The Korea Herald/Asia News Network

When the Korean remake of John Woo's seminal, genre-defining shoot'em up, "A Better Tomorrow" rolls out in multiplexes all over Korea during next month's Chuseok holiday, don't expect a faithful update.

Song Hye-sung, director of such searing melodramas as the critically acclaimed "Failan" and "Rikidozan," says that the focus of his version was the dramatic portrayal of loyalty, family, friendship, and the always popular theme of male bonding.

"When I decided to get on board the project, I watched the original film again and although it was still the exhilarating action picture it was when I first saw it as a university student in the '80s, there was something lacking and that was drama," Song said during the film's official unveiling on Wednesday in Seoul.

"So I decided that would be the driving force of our remake because I would like audiences to expect our film to be not just an action film but a dramatic film."

Song quickly added "people are talking about the film as if it's going to be this big action spectacular but what they will get is a strong dramatic film that also happens to have action. The action is just an incentive. The drama in the film is the driving force. The scenes not involving gunfire aren't an intermission in between action sequences."

The remake stars Joo Jin-mo, Song Seung-hun, Kim Kang-woo, and Jo Han-sun with a plot that, for the most part, retains the basic framework of John Woo's 1986 original, according to the film's producers.

Like the original, the main focus of the story involves the contemptuous relationship between two brothers ? on the opposite sides of the law.

Kim Hyeok (Joo) is an illegal weapons dealer, while his brother, Cheol (Kim), is a rookie detective assigned to take his brother's operation down. Both share a tragic past as defectors from the North.

Meanwhile, Song Seung-hun has the unenviable task of taking on the role that Chow Yun-fat made famous. He plays Lee Young-choon, the hot-headed life-long friend of Hyeok who ends up penniless after being betrayed by a fellow crime syndicate member in Jung Tae-min (Jo).

According to director Song, it was three years ago that producers first approached him with the prospect of remaking the film that made international stars out of Chow Yun-fat and the late Leslie Cheung.

It was a tall order for Song to take on as he had never helmed an action picture before. So at first, the notion of taking the project seemed a little too tall.

"At the time I flat out refused," Song said.

"A large part of my refusal to get on board was because the original was such an iconic film that defined a specific era. At the same time, however, the gravity of the project pulled me in and I thought even if I got blasted by fans of the original, I thought I could do it justice if it was done right."

The film's four leading men, too, felt the weight of pressure on their shoulders in following some tough acts.

On stepping into the shoes of veteran Hong Kong actor Ti Lung's role for the remake, Joo Jin-mo said he was a fan of John Woo's original as a teenager but avoided seeing it again when he agreed to star in the film.

"I stayed away from watching it before shooting began because I was fearful that if I did revisit the film, I would end up emulating the performance from the original," Joo said.

"My character in this reboot is a complete overhaul and a reinterpretation. I'd like to watch the original now that we're done filming and compare."

Kim Gang-woo, who plays the role the late Cantonese pop star and actor Leslie Cheung played echoed Joo's sentiments of describing the Korean remake as more of a reboot than a remake.

"The weight of pressure to deliver a film on par with such a famous film was lifted when we saw the final cut," Kim said.

"The characters in our version carry added dimensions that are revealed in layers that show various emotions at play which was lacking in the original. Because of that, we were able to gain even more confidence that we made a good film."

With the release of the original, the film's director John Woo pioneered a new form of stylized action.

It was chock full of meticulously choreographed, operatic gunplay that thrilled audiences like never before.

It featured Hong Kong soap opera star Chow Yun-fat, virtually unknown in the West, brandishing a pair of guns clad in a sleek black Armani trench coat, rocking Ray-Ban aviator shades, topped with a toothpick in mouth.

The image he created instantly shot the lanky leading man into superstardom, becoming the iconic figurehead of the fabled golden-era of Hong Kong action cinema in the 1980s.

The Korean production, made with a modest budget of 10 billion won ($8.4 million), was filmed in China, Thailand, and Japan with Busan as the film's main setting.

Joo and Song later spoke of the difficulties they experienced shooting key action sequences.

"The most difficult time I had while shooting was on location in Thailand for a scene which required me to run through a puddle of water that seemed like it had been there for about 100 years," Joo joked.

"We ended up shooting that scene longer than everyone had anticipated and by the end of the day I had to be treated for a skin infection from being exposed to that puddle. The staff also got infected and had to be treated."

For Song, it was negotiating a jump from a three-story building, landing on top of a car, and rolling off onto the jagged asphalt that was the most difficult.

"Our stunt coordinator asked if I wanted to have a go at it but I was quite fearful of doing it myself. I really wanted my stunt double to do it for me," Song said.

"But when I turned to director Song for approval of my decision, he was quite adamant that I needed to do it myself."

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