A Better Tomorrow III
"Tsui Hark got lazy."
A Better Tomorrow III (1989)
AKA: A Better Tomorrow III: Love and Death in Saigon
Literally: Heroic Character III
Director: Tsui Hark
Producer: Tsui Hark
Writer: Tsui Hark
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Anita Mui Yim-Fong, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Saburo Tokito
Running Time: 114/136 min
Plot: The year is 1974. A young Hong Kong Chinese, Mark, travels to Saigon to make his fortune. There he encounters a mysterious femme fatale, the lovely Kit. As he becomes more involved in her various underworld deals, a tragic romance develops. On the eve of the outbreak of war, Kit's past returns to endanger her, and Mark must risk everything for the one true love of his life.
JOSEPH KUBY'S REVIEWS: Aplomb-filled Saga!
A Better Tomorrow 3 is a prequel to the first film. It's set in war-torn Vietnam and was directed by Tsui Hark.
Despite not being as excellent as it should have been, it's still underrated and undervalued by fans & critics for being very different to Woo's films. It's not a bad film, it's a very good one but just one that doesn't live up to Tsui's brilliance as a director (what can be said about Tsui as a director can be said about Chow as an actor i.e. what may be a lesser-than-usual outing from him is still better than the average director).
Watching Tsui Hark's movie back to back with John Woo's Bullet In The Head is like listening to Metallica's Kill 'em All album back to back with Megadeth's Killing Is My Business...and Business Is Good! in that it's very easy to perceive the same ideas done differently. As much as Tsui is the Chinese Spielberg, it's Woo's on take of the Heroic Bloodshed-in-Vietnam story that is the Spielberg-quality masterpiece, leaving Tsui's movie (by comparison) nothing more than the Missing In Actions with better plotting and acting.
This prequel has its moments (e.g. Tsui Hark's famous references towards time, a memorable soundtrack, etc.) and is good enough to be classified as a cinemtatically worthy follow-up to the other two films (and certainly better than most reactions from fans would have you believe) but I wish Tsui Hark could have focused on the relationship between the characters that we come to know and love in the first two films (especially as a way to make up for the previous installments' deleted scenes unless maybe Tsui sensed that he'd be able to release the uncut versions of the first two films one day).
There really isn't that much of a connection between this and the other A Better Tomorrows (besides this REALLY cool scene where Chow and Tony Leung Kar Fai step off this plane with the dark melody from the first film's restaurant scene playing in the background). It might as well be a different film altogether. They should have just used the subtitle as the main title for the film. Ironically, it was by using a famous title that meant that people went in with wrong expectations and ended up getting disappointed although it still made more money than Bullet In The Head.
That doesn't mean to say that the film fared any better critically. Many complained that Anita Mui teaching Chow how to fire guns was like Madonna teaching Bruce Willis to fire guns in a Die Hard prequel set in Vietnam where she plays a French femme fatale (which makes sense given the French occupation of Vietnam at the time of the war). One has to understand that Anita wasn't established as an action icon at that time, as she would later be with Moon Warriors, The Heroic Trio and My Father Is A Hero.
As it is, A Better Tomorrow III: Love & Death In Saigon comes off as an exploitative movie. Not merely on an action level but it feels like Tsui Hark used the A Better Tomorrow title just to make his own heroic bloodshed movie and to give his own take on the genre much commercial value. It was like as if he was trying to show Woo (and everyone else) who was the better director not just for the series but in general.
This addition to the series feels like Tsui merely used the name to craft not only his take on the genre, but to craft his own personal take on the Vietnam war and the things that happen in times of war. Perhaps if this was done by John Woo, the action would have been better as well as a better story told. Woo would eventually do his own take on the much planned Better Tomorrow prequel though one that was heavily rewritten - this was the masterpiece Bullet In The Head, which is really Citizen Kane in comparison to this picture (funnily enough the cinematographer who worked on A Better Tomorrow III was the same as the one used in Bullet In The Head).
Even when taking this all into account, it beats watching the Rambo and Missing In Action films. Despite this being a film made on a smaller budget than those films, the action is far more watchable with plenty of rewind moments and memorable inclusions. The acting is suitably low-key and the action is over the top (particularly the finale involving machine guns, a tank and a motorbike). If this was done by any other director (besides Woo), it would have been seen as a better film but it's just that coming from Tsui, expectations were meant to be reached and surpassed, something that he never really does with this film.
Be sure to check out the Taiwanese version of the film which is the full uncut version. Here is a web page that details all the missing scenes.
JOSEPH KUBY'S REVIEWS: 7.5/10
The Good: Great cinematography, I just love some of the camera shots in this. Tsui Hark is a genius - he's involved in just about every classic you can name. Chow Yun Fat is a God. As is Leung Ka Fai. Action is fun.
The Bad: This film brutalizes the entire A Better Tomorrow legacy. If you watch ABT1 in detail, Mark says his first job was "12 years ago" with Ho. A Better Tomorrow is set in 1986, so that means the first job was in 1974. But this film is set in 1974! Okay, so Mark abandons everybody he knows, becomes a triad and gets a new best friend in a matter of weeks? Please...they did no research on their own material here. Also, people point guns at Mark's head. He doesn't piss himself, he appears quite calm - according to dialogue in ABT1, ABT3 never happened! Why couldn't they have just made this a goddamn stand-alone?
The Bottom Line: Tsui Hark got lazy.
TEQUILA'S RATING: 6/10
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: If you read my "ABT II" review, you know that I despise sequels and prequels to films that don't need them. One thing I have to admit is that I liked this better than Part II, but that's not saying much. Tsui Hark makes the best of something that shouldn't of been made. If we can just pretend this movie has no ties with the "A Better Tomorrow" saga, it would have been a better film. But, unfortunately, the movie carries the title and one of the key characters so scratch that off. With ABT III, just expect the worst, and you'll enjoy it. Once again, that damn trench coat appears. How silly.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 6.5/10