The first film in our Chow pow-wow, A Better Tomorrow 3, is a prequel to John Woo's two breakthrough crime dramas, A Better Tomorrow and A Better Tomorrow 2. It tells the story of how Mark Gor gained the Mark Gor look and the Mark Gor attitude. Everybody remembers Mark Gor, right? He was the wise-ass friend of Ti Lung in the original A Better Tomorrow, the one who was rendered lame while on a mission of revenge, and then died one of the silliest cinematic deaths we've seen a Honk Kong actor die. Since Bruce Lee in Marlowe, anyway.
For a Better Tomorrow 3, John Woo is replaced by Tsui Hark, who produced the first two movies. And while Tsui Hark is a fine director of action movie, heroic bloodshed movies (where heroes and villains are almost interchangeable by their moral stances) are just not his thing.
A Better Tomorrow 3 opens with Mark Gor arriving in Saigon in 1974. He is there to meet his cousin Mun, who is getting out of jail. After Mark reunites with Mun (played by Tony Leung, but not the one who was in Hard Boiled), and Mun's father, they decide to get rich by running guns. We think this sounds like an intensely bad idea, but there you have it. To do this, Mark and Mun need to deal with Kit, the head of the local smugglers. She is played by Anita Mui (Rumble in the Bronx, Heroic Trio) as both sexy and haunted, sorta like Sylvia Plath as played by Sharon Stone.
That's a big gun you got
Basically, both Mark and Mun want to put the moves on her, but she's only really interested in Mark. The three of them become inseparable friends and together manage to survive after being double crossed by the villainous General Bong. (We swear, we are not making this up.)
All of our players, including Mun's father, return to Hong Kong. Mun's father starts an auto repair garage, but dog-gone it, he dies after the place is bombed. Why is his shop bombed? Well it seems that Kit had a husband, Ho, who was thought long dead. But he's back, and he wants to teach Mark not move in on his territory.
Ho takes Kit back to Vietnam, and Mark and Mun go after him. Mark and Mun must try to rescue Kit against the opposition of Ho, Bong, and the entire Vietcong army which just happens to moving into Saigon at the time.
Basically, this movie fails because, even for an HK movie, it's pretty unbelievable. Mark starts out in the movie as bit of a goofball. And we are supposed to believe that he got his trademark attitude, trench coat, and penchant for gunplay from Kit. It's not just that the transformation seems so extreme, it's that Anita Mui is not terribly convincing in her role. Mui may be able to play a lot of things well, but a stone-cold gunfighter is not one of them.
Besides that, ABT3 attempts to set Ho up as the honorable villain archetype that appears in many heroic bloodshed movies, but he doesn't show up till nearly halfway into the film. And then we are supposed to believe that he and Mark respect each other, but it's tough to see how, as that switch happens fifteen minutes later! And this comes after Ho threatens to kill Mun and kills Mun's father! Director Tsui also misses the point of the final gunfight between Mark and Ho. Ho has a pistol, while Mark is two-fisting M-16s. This may be cool, but it gives Mark a distinct advantage in terms of firepower, and undercuts the scene in general. With Mark seeming destined to win, does his victory seem particularly heroic? Sadly, no.
If you are a big fan of A Better Tomorrow, or a big fan of Chow Yun Fat, then this film may be worth watching. To all others, we would suggest giving this one a pass and catching The Killer or the original A Better Tomorrow.