Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Better Tomorrow III: Love & Death in Saigon / Ying hung boon sik III jik yeung ji gor (Hong Kong, 1989)

Spoilers. John Woo directed parts one and two of this popular series about the ultra-cool gangster Mark Gor, who actually dies one of the funnier "tragic" deaths in the second instalment. Thus director Tsui Hark had little option other than to do a prequel for his entry into the series which he had previously only produced. While fans of the Woo films might have an axe to grind in regard to this Hong Kong bullet ballet, people unfamiliar with the series will probably find Love & Death in Saigon entertaining in its own way, especially when viewed as an ironic comedy.
Tsui Hark, never one the most subtle directors of Hong Kong, definitely lets his penchant for over-the-top and completely unbelievable situations and plotting run wild in this one, resulting in some pretty good laughs and great eye-candy fight scenes. This movie may not be the best movie that Hark has graced his name to, but it is indefinitely better than his badly flawed attempt at breaking into the American market, Double Team (1997/trailer). The only thing in Double Team that was any good was Mickey Rourke's greasy, cocaine and alcohol addled performance as the bad guy; in A Better Tomorrow III every performance works and the tacky, laughable story is at least pulled off with the tongue firmly in cheek.
Chinese pop diva Anita Mui has definitely never been made-up more ugly than in this film, her make-up job looking like that of Joan Crawford in her Trog (1970/trailer) years. That every man she crosses paths with should fall madly in love with the neon-lipsticked, gun-toting killer is almost as unbelievable as the fact that her make-up never smears, no matter what happens. Still, she does make an oddly impressive presence in the film, much more so than she does as the bland and frumpy character she played in Rumble in the Bronx (1995/trailer). As Chow Ying Kit, she is the person that teaches all-thumbs Mark Gor how to kick ass in two-fisted gun fights and even gives him his trademark black trench coat — before taking a ton of bullets in her back and leaving the man with eternally broken heart.
The story has the type of logic found only in Hong Kong. Gor (Yun-Fat Chow) arrives in Saigon in 1974 to meet up with his jailbird cousin Cheung Chi Mun (Tony Leung), who wears a thick-rimmed pair of glasses dorkier than those of Buddy Holly. Being men of sound minds and the time being one of war, the two of them decide that dealing guns is the way to success; through their business deals they meet up with shady-lady Chow Ying Kit (Anita Mui) and become the best of friends. Eventually they all end up in Hong Kong, where Mun's Pop opens a shop. Of course, honor and friendship influence their every action, which results in one of the funniest love triangles in a long time, a love triangle that doesn't become any less laughable after Kit's supposedly long dead gangster husband Ho (Saburo Tokito) shows up. He promptly blows up the uncle's shop, beats the shit out of the two interlopers and then splits with his babe Kit for Saigon. Of course, Gor and Mun follow hot on their trail, driven by both love and revenge.... The big show down in which Ho and Kit bite the dust is as wonderfully hilarious as it is a well choreographed shoot fest.
Of course, A Better Tomorrow III doesn't hold any water under the slightest of scrutiny, but fans of mindless Asian fun that take pleasure in laughing at stylistic excesses will enjoy themselves. Everyone else will just scratch their head and wonder why anyone would want to watch trash like this… but then, most people I know think that about most of the films I watch.

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