Love and Death in Saigon
1989 Directed by Tsui Hark. Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Anita Mui, Tony Leung Kar-Fei.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 10, 1994
Hey. Wait a minute, pal. Just how many Tony Leungs do we need, anyway? There are so many these days that they have to be identified by their full Cantonese names tacked onto the backs of their Anglicized ones. Tony Leung Kar-Fei (of The Lover) stars alongside Hong Kong heartthrob Chow Yun-Fat (this Tony Leung is not to be confused with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, who starred opposite Chow in John Woo's Hard Boiled) in what is actually A Better Tomorrow III (and you will of course remember that John Woo directed numbers one and two) directed by sometime-Woo-collaborator Tsui Hark, who, if memory serves, attended UT Austin some time ago. (Got that? Good… we're gonna have a quiz later.) Chow is Mark, the gangster with a heart of gold from A Better Tomorrow I and II, although this time out, director Hark has given us a prequel of sorts, set during the final days of the Vietnam war, in which we come to understand how Chow's multi-sided character came to be that way (very much along the lines of the opening to Lucas' Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where we caught young Indy first laying hands on that trusty bullwhip and fedora; here, however, we see how Mark got his cool Ray-Bans, black duster, and twin .45s). Mark and his cousin travel from Hong Kong to Saigon with hopes of helping their father (who, for some reason, they call “uncle”) flee the war-torn land. In between battles with both the Vietcong, the NVA, and everybody else, they meet and fall in love with Anita Mui (Rouge, The Heroic Trio), a sleek, sexy black marketeer who's handier with a CAR-15 than either one of the boys at this point. Unlike Woo's take on the series, Hark is ever the unrepentant romantic, playing up the love triangle and playing down the violence that the series has become known for. (Interestingly, Woo was actually slated to direct A Better Tomorrow III, but backed out at the last minute in favor of his own Vietnam epic, the far superior Bullet in the Head.) Hark manages to steer clear of the formulaic drivel his Swordsman series has devolved into, but he never quite gets the hang of shooting something that's not a chop-socky period piece or a Wong Fey-Hong biography. Woo's version of Saigon '74 is infinitely richer in both detail and dread; Hark's attempts here seem pale and rushed in comparison, as if, once away from flying wizards and magic trees, he loses his bearings amidst the reality of the war. It's a valiant effort, but one that just misses the mark.