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Christopher Webster [Film Festival 09.22.08] movie review western

Year: 2008
Directors: Ji-woon Kim
Writers: Ji-woon Kim / Min-suk Kim
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

The Good:

My gut tells me I should just bust right into the good stuff here and tell you all the reasons I loved the heck out of this film but, like a good mix-tape, I don't want to blow all my good material right out of the gate, so I'm gonna start by giving you a little perspective first. All through the production of The Good the Bad and the Weird, two major red-flags kept me from fully getting behind the film. One was that, as much as I really dug Ji-woon Kim's K-horror flick Tale of Two Sisters, I couldn't help but remain skeptical about the director's ability to handle an action adventure film, let alone the western genre. The second was, of course, the title. Was Kim essentially remaking Leone's spaghetti western classic and transplanting the events in a uniquely Asian locale, or was it just meant as a cheeky post-modern piss take on the genre? Honestly, neither one of those potential films would have interested me much. Well, this is very rare, but I'm thrilled to say that I was totally wrong about everything, and all my reservations were laid to rest when I sat down and got b*** slapped by what will no doubt be one of my favorite films of the year.

So, what is The Good the Bad and the Weird? Well it's a lot of things. First and foremost, it's Ji-woon Kim's technicolor, K-Pop love letter to the western genre as well as almost the whole gamut of popular Asian cinema. It's a brilliantly executed ballet of violence and adventure storytelling that'll have you picking your jaw up off the floor many times before the credits role. It's also the kind of good post-modernist film where an actor like Byung-hun Lee ("The Bad") can mug for the camera sporting a new millennium Yakuza hairstyle, while Woo-sung Jung ("The Good") can look like he's just walked off a 60s Leone set in Al Maria Spain without anybody winking at you as if to say "aren't we all clever here." But most importantly, it's a bugnuts crazy funride of a film that was worth every penny its producers put into it.

The story of The Good the Bad and the Weird is sort of deceptively simple. Three (or was it four?) nefarious groups of bandits in 1930s Manchuria are all after a secret map that promises to lead to untold riches. However, when a petty thief played by Kang-ho Song ("The Weird") accidentally ends up with it after a train job, he unwillingly becomes the focus of a massive cross country manhunt. From there, the film is like a western version of a Guy Ritchie film where a whole bunch of different criminals, almost too many to keep track of, find themselves embroiled in this insane comic quest for the same thing.

In terms of style, the film is outta this world. The action is choreographed to within an inch of its life and incorporates everything from classic western standoffs to fast paced sword play and Kung-Ku wire work. It's also smart enough to pay respects to its Italian western predecessors while still adding its own unique Asian flavor to the genre. The epic first train heist scene will have you hooked.

The Bad:

I've only really got a couple of gripes with the film. One is that, Kim seems to have some trouble keeping tabs on his massive cast of characters and I was often left wondering which bandits were from which group and where the heck the map even was. At one point, petty thief Song is distraught about his elderly Granny having lost the map he gave her to hold onto, and then somehow later in the film he's got it again. Did I miss him getting it back, or did he have it the whole time? However, because the film is so full of colorful characters, action and hilarity, you're barely given time to worry about these inconsistencies. I can't hep but wonder if, on a second viewing, the answers I need would be more obvious.

Another minor gripe is the film's running time which, at about 2 hours and 10 minutes, felt a little long. I've heard the same gripe from others who viewed the film at the fest this year and it seems to me that there's an obvious place to trim. There's a chase scene at the end that runs extremely long and, while its well done and full of great action, its just way to long. Like, if you thought the jungle chase scene in Indiana Jone and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was long, wait till you get a load of this thing.

The Weird

Kang-ho Song, who you'll probably remember from The Host, absolutely steals the show as the bumbling Tuco-esque petty thief. His comic timing is pitch perfect and yet he still manages to come across like a capable bandit and tough guy at all the right times. He sports two German lugers and knows how to use them, but is also prone to getting his head stuck in brass diving bells in the middle of a gun fight.

Kim also does an awesome job at making each of the bandit groups and characters individual and eccentric. There's a bandit that dresses like Conan and wields a giant wooden hammer of Thor. There's dual sword carrying Yakuza guys with lines shaved into their hair. Oh yeah, and there's a gang leader that wears a flamboyant purple fur coat and yet still manages to be incredibly scary. Yes this film is just that cool.

And the music... oh my god the music was so well done the mind boggles. What a perfect marriage of Morricone's signature surf guitar sound and K-Pop fun. Composers Dalparan and Chan Young-gyu hit this one right out of the park.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing this film again if only to be able to digest its scope now that I'm more familiar with the intricacies of its plot. If you're faced with the opportunity to see this film on the big screen I would say, without hesitation, to take it!

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Ulrik (13 years ago) Reply

Can't wait to get my hands on the Korea DVD...


Anonymous (13 years ago) Reply

Can't wait to send this one to friends back in the States, especially the film geeks. I hope it plays a cinema though--you're right, some of this beauty needs to be seen on large screen.


mya (13 years ago) Reply

never knew until mr. jung woo-sung in Honolulu.
Korean movies are very expanded Fun and cool!
if this message can reached mr. jung woo-sung, do you recoganized me?(c'se not) but you the my first korean actor. please come again, HI always waiting you. Goodluck!

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