Ding Sheng is no stranger to rebooting a classic HK movie. He already did it once in Police Story 2013 <警察故事2013>, revitalising the hugely-popular franchise inside out with a more labyrinthine storyline in the vein of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon and even reduced Jackie Chan’s usual renegade cop role into a moody protagonist. A bold move nonetheless, even though Ding Sheng’s overall effort was more of a mixed result that didn’t exactly reaches its full potential.
Five years later, he is back for another reboot of a classic HK movie. And this time, it turns out to be John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow <英雄本色>, the seminal 1986 action classic that paved the way for the “heroic bloodshed” subgenre and famously turned Chow Yun-Fat into an iconic HK star. Now, I bet most die-hard HK movie fans must be thinking: Why bother rebooting such an iconic movie? Well, this isn’t actually the first time A Better Tomorrow <英雄本色> receives a remake treatment. Back in 1994, Wong Jing uses the brand name to make his own version starring Ekin Cheng, Lau Ching-Wan and Michael Wong in Return to a Better Tomorrow <新英雄本色>. Finally, in 2010, a South Korean remake of A Better Tomorrow was released but none of them able to hold a candle to the 1986 original.
Back to Ding Sheng’s A Better Tomorrow 2018 <英雄本色2018>, is it any good? If by comparison to 1986 original, the new version is obviously inferior in most levels. But even viewing this as a standalone feature, the movie only manages to achieve a fairly decent result. The story, co-scripted by Ding Sheng and Xu Yang, is basically more of the same with a few notable exceptions. Like the 1986 original, A Better Tomorrow 2018 <英雄本色2018> focuses on two brothers from the opposite side of the law: Zhou Kai (Wang Kai, stepping into Ti Lung’s shoes), who is a drug smuggler while his younger brother, Zhou Chao (Ma Tianyu, playing the late Leslie Cheung’s role) is a dedicated cop. Darren Wang, in the meantime, plays Chow Yun-Fat’s iconic Mark Gor role as Ma Ke.
Despite the familiar storyline, this new movie doesn’t slavishly copy the 1986 original. At least, in terms of tone and style. Ding Sheng isn’t really interested to emulate John Woo’s slow-motion shootout sequences, even though he did pay a brief homage during the gunfight scene in the Japanese restaurant where Ma Ke slides down the staircase on his back while firing two pistols (an obvious tribute to A Better Tomorrow II <英雄本色2>). Most of the action in the new version is more grounded. Personally, I don’t mind all the changes. Problem is, the action is mostly mediocre and lacks intensity. Even by the time the climactic shootout finale in the shipyard takes place, Ding Sheng fails to end his movie with a bang. The director also includes a new love interest for Zhou Kai, which is sadly nothing more than a filler role played by Li Meng.
Although Ding Sheng tries his best not to blatantly replicate the 1986 original, he can’t seem to help himself when he went wild over Leslie Cheung’s famous theme song. The song keeps playing to the point of near-parody, ranging from a car radio to even a street band! It’s like as if Ding Sheng wants to keep reminding us that we are watching a new Better Tomorrow movie.
As for the actors, both Wang Kai and Ma Tianyu give decent performances. But Darren Wang’s pop-idol look of a street gangster is hardly impressive. Frankly, his role could have handled better by someone else more qualified. Yu Ailei, who filled in the antagonist role previously played by Waise Lee, delivers a competent performance as Cang.