Return to a Better Tomorrow
Director: Wong Jing
Writer: Wong Jing
Stars: Ekin Cheng, Lau Ching-Wan, Chingmy Yau, Ben Lam, Michael Wong
A low level Triad named Lobster (Lau) rises to the top of the ranks after his boss Chun (Cheng) is framed for cocaine smuggling and must flee to the Mainland. Chun finds out that the Big Brother, Wei (Lam) was the one who set him up -- not only that, he also raped and tortured his girlfriend Chili (Yau) to boot. Upon his return to Hong Kong, Chun tries to convince Lobster that the same thing will happen to him unless they take revenge on Wei.
Except for some similarities in the plot, Return to a Better Tomorrow really doesn't have anything to do with John Woo's classic A Better Tomorrow. Ekin Cheng may try to look cool but he sure as hell isn't Chow Yun-Fat. But director Wong Jing has never been one to shy away from some cheap publicity, so the title stuck, I guess. At least it's not as shameless an attempt to cash in on Woo's name as another Wong Jing film, The Last Blood (called Hard Boiled 2 for international release) which had absolutely nothing to do with Hard-Boiled.
So what we have here is yet another "disgraced Triad getting revenge" film coupled with a typical Wong Jing script, which means the movie runs all over the place. The resolution of RTABT leaves huge plot holes, which are wrapped up with a quickie scene that brings no sense of closure to the film. I could have done without the numerous subplots as well, such as one where Chun gets nose cancer. They really add nothing to the film, mostly because they are resolved so quickly or just dropped altogether. Normally, Wong's schizophrenic style works (for some ungodly reason) very well. I think the main problem with RTABT in this sense is the editing. Most of Wong's movies move so quickly that you really don't notice the plot inadequacies. However, in this film, the pacing really slows down at times. This hampers the film as a whole, since Wong's "blitzkrieg" style of film-making is lost.
The acting in RTABT is pretty bad as well. When you have Michael Wong (who plays a Triad rat) and Ekin Cheng as two of your leads, you're asking for trouble. They're considered to be two of HK's worst actors and they do nothing to improve their standing here. Wong delivers half his lines in English and still manages to screw them up, while Cheng does his standard wooden "best." The other actors seem to be phoning in their lines. Chingmy Yau doesn't even manage to deliver good eye candy after the first two acts of the film. Even Lau Ching-Wan is fairly bad (at least compared to some of his other work). Why you would try making one of your lead characters in a film like this buffoonish comic relief is beyond me. I got so sick of his incessant mugging I was glad when some bad things started to happen to him. The only decent actor in the movie is Ben Lam, who always seems to put in a good smarmy villanious performance.
What saves RTABT (and what actually makes it a fun movie to watch) is the action. Wong Jing might not be the world's best script writer (though he has done some good work in the field, this isn't his best by any means), but he sure can create some great action sequences. The gunfights in RTABT are very well done -- not as good as Woo's, mind you -- but they're exciting enough that you forget the crap which surrounds them. Wong even tries to one-up Woo by having Chun fight with dual shotguns. Ben Lam shows off some formidable kicks as well, though poor Ekin isn't much of an opponent. Be warned, though -- the violence may be too much for some. Wong pulls no punches in this department. People don't just get shot, they get turned into bloody pulps. Women and even children are subject to gory deaths, though there's nothing quite as grisly as the "fetus in a jar" bit from God of Gamblers Returns.
If you're expecting an action movie with intelligence, look elsewhere. But if you're willing to forgive some (well, a lot) of shortcomings for the sake of intense action, give Return to a Better Tomorrow a try. File this one under the "guilty pleasure" file and have a good time.
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