Set in the southern, port city of Busan, South Korea, Kim-hyuk (Joo Jin-mo), is a fairly high-ranking gangster, up to gangster shenanigans. His right-hand-man is Young-choon (Song Seung-heon), and these two, together, get the job done.While Kim-hyuk is climbing up the corporate ladder, so to speak, he's haunted by the memory of his younger brother Kim-chul (Kim Kang-woo), who he left behind (along with their mother), in North Korea. Kim-chul is still very much alive and well, and has been apprehended by the authorities. When Kim-hyuk gets wind of this, he is naturally overcome with emotion and wants nothing more than to make things right with his younger brother. This, as you can imagine, isn't so simple as Kim-chul, understandably, harbors a lot of resentment towards his older brother for leaving him and his mother behind. Kim-hyuk still has a job to do however, so he tells Young-choon that he'll be heading to Thailand with new gang recruit, Jung Tae-min (Jo Han-sun), in order to complete a deal that has been in the works. When the boys arrive in Thailand and get to the meeting point, things immediately don't feel right. Needless to say, things don't go as plan, a shoot-out occurs and ultimately, Kim-hyuk is left alone and thrown in prison for three years by the Thai police. During this period of time, Young-choon, refusing to look weak to others in their "business", seeks revenge on Kim-hyuk's behalf. He walks away from the experience, but just barely. Kim Chul, meanwhile, has enlisted in the police academy, with his motivation being that the killer of his mother was never found. Time keeps passing, Kim-hyuk continues to write his younger brother letters, and little bro continues to rip them up and toss them in the trash. Young-choon, having been out of the game for a minute, has been reduced to a cripple doing measly little jobs just to make a quick buck. To make matters worse, an unexpected individual with ties to these gentlemen and their past, has come to power and boy does he abuse the hell out of it! When Kim-hyuk finally gets out of prison, he returns to Korea under the promise that he'll lead an honest life. This turns into a case of easier-said-then-done once the aforementioned past acquaintance decides to ruin the brothers' lives. Kim-hyuk and Young-choon aren't the type to just lie down and take it, so they go after him with full force and together with a reluctant Kim-chul, the ports of Busan turn into a war-zone.
File this one under, yet-another-remake-that-didn't-need-to-happen. However, since it did happen, I'll talk about it as objectively as possible. The acting in A Better Tomorrow is fairly solid, especially from Joo Jin-mo, as Kim-hyuk. This dude delivers in a mostly convincing way and you do start to feel that he's emotionally tortured, being pulled between his present and past, the life he should lead and the life he's led, and so on. Part of me thought, "oh, this is going to be a hardcore action movie!", and it wasn't. Granted, the climax is pretty balls-to-the-wall action, but more an hour and thirty minutes, you're stuck with some pretty dry melodrama. I suppose there's too much focus on the pained Kim-hyuk trying to make things right with his younger brother. Kim-chul has been dealt a poor hand, but he comes across as a real whiner that at first you're sympathetic to, but that sympathy quickly turns into annoyance. Song Seong-hoon as Yoong-choon is an awesome character that you feel is just incredibly underused until the end. He has one great moment to shine when he seeks revenge for Kim-hyuk, but I suppose the filmmakers wanted to use him sparingly, which is a shame. Talking about the small amount of action that does take place, well...it's over-the-top, especially at the end. Nothing wrong with that really, but these dudes are shooing grenades and machine-guns on the docks and there's not one cop around for like 20 minutes. Suspend disbelief people...you just have to. The ending is different from the original Hong Kong film (which I promised I wouldn't talk about), but somehow you still see it coming from a mile away regardless.
After reading all of that you're probably thinking I came away from A Better Tomorrow mostly underwhelmed. Fair assessment smart guy (or gal)! A bunch of GQ Korean dudes posturing with weapons and over-the-top emotional scenes does not a good movie make. Chow Yun-fat reportedly said the same thing. (Lee)