Small wonder that after director Kim Jee-Woon's magnificent "A Tale of Two Sisters" and the terrific "A Bittersweet Life" that his next film would be so eagerly anticipated. "The Good, The Bad, The Weird" has won numerous awards in Asia, it is South Korea's highest grossing film in 2008 and has been selected for the Cannes film festival. I've said before that an Asian western isn't exactly an original concept; there was a video game called "Western Samurai", the Hong Kong produced "Peace Hotel" and most recently, Takashi Mike's "Sukiyaki Western Django" from Japan. Well, it seems like South Korea won't be left behind and with Kim Jee-Woon at the helm, expectations are rather high and the man doesn't disappoint.
A two-bit bumbling crook named Tae-Goo "The Weird" (Song Kang-Ho, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the Host) robs a train only to unintentionally make off with a Quing Dynasty treasure map. Everyone wants this map; the Japanese army, the Korean independence group as well as a lot of shady characters. On Tae-goo's tail is a relentless killer named Park Chang-Yi "The Bad" (Lee Byung-Hyun, A Bittersweet Life) who is also after the map and has a seemingly personal reason as to why he wants Tae-Goo's head on a plate. In hot pursuit for both of them is a bounty hunter named Park Do-Won (Jung Woo-Sung, The Restless) who can do nicely with the bounty for Chang-Yi's capture or the treasure itself. Now, these three men are on a collision course--who would win out in the end?
Kim Jee-Woon's "The Good the Bad the Weird" is an extremely well-made film and is a highly entertaining genre-busting affair. This chaotic period similar to the wild west in America, a Machuria-set "kimchi" western (as opposed to "spaghetti" or "sukiyaki") is a melting pot of all things awesome about westerns and looks like a homage to Sergio Leone's "spaghetti westerns". There's a train heist, lots of shoot-outs in a small town and cool characters. You'll see bits and pieces of "The Good the Bad and the Ugly" (so obvious with the film's title), "A Fistful of Dollars" and even Miike's "Sukiyaki Western Django". The film has a very large budget and it shows, the film is exquisitely shot and the superb style and camerawork reminded me of Ryuhei Kitamura (Azumi). Director Kim definitely knows his stuff in style and with the film's intriguing concept, Asian and Korean cinema fans have reason to see this film, and it is definitely something that a "solid" Asian film fan just can't miss.
The film's set designs and architecture maintain some of that "dynasty-era" Korean period but it does have a strong touch of the old west. It has some rather creative touches; there is some swordplay, knives used with brutality, there's a big guy with a huge hammer, a "sleeping Buddha" under construction, rifles with telescopes, motorcycles and jeeps, saloons and more--all these contribute to the film's "mixing of genres" style. Director Kim also seems to be having a lot of fun with the film, as he never forgets his touches of humor to help the film's pace and his stunning camerawork which proves to be the film‘s showstopper. Explosions and gunfire are aplenty; highlights include a very cool gunfight in a small town and a long chase sequence with the ensembled cast supported by hundreds of extras. I've read that Kim actually had cameramen hanging on wires to shoot the desert scenes--Kim Jee-Woon's talent shines through.
The action scenes are very exciting and exquisitely executed. It looks like director Kim took some pointers from Ryuhei Kitamura because they are just so full of "coolness" that can make action scribe John Woo a little jealous. Kim avoids the use of computer-generated trickery but instead depends on elaborate stunts and camera trickery in the action scenes; there is some CGI enhancements but they're mostly for the set designs. Ok, so some scenes required a large suspension of disbelief, I rather found Jung Woo-Sung's Do-Won's skills with a gun a little too over-the-top especially when he engages a large number of the Japanese army. He never even gets grazed by a bullet so either Do-Won is unbelievably good or these guys just supremely suck. But hey, this is a minor complaint, after all I don't think this film was meant to be taken seriously and more of a homage film. Hey, please take note that Kim doesn't hold back with the blood--and the way he executes it kept the film from having too much of that "comic bookish" feel. There is also a legend of a certain "Finger chopper" that gives some surprises and I felt that the screenplay played its cards well.
Song Kang-Ho's Tae-Goo arguably steals the show and proves to be the film's most interesting character--the actor also proves as to why he is one of South Korea's most sought after performers. The man can act in almost any film I've seen that further cements his reputation in versatility. Lee Byung Hyun does have the most intense presence onscreen, his character along with Song Kang-Ho's Tae-goo are the kind of characters that can elevate the film into "cult status". Jung Woo-Sung's "the Good" character feels a little too cool and lacks precision, but the actor does do the best with what he has. Still, the three popular actors mesh very well and has dynamic chemistry. Oh, the women are also great-looking and serves to titillate the male audience.
"The Good, The Bad, The Weird" is a very polished film that lived up to my expectations. The film's plot isn't too deep, but the film's "wow" factor is just so incredibly impressive that I can look pass the very simple plot which makes it essentially a chase film. It is a solid film, that exudes popcorn entertainment but its characters do carry much of the film's weight. It may be a little too pre-occupied in becoming captivated with itself but its small flaws aren't really worth to nitpick. The film is an action-packed affair that action junkies will never become bored--as for the rest, they can find something else to like in the film--its characters, style and performers will definitely impress. I'm happy to say that Kim Jee-Woon's film lived up to the hype.
Highly Recommended! [4 ½- Out of 5 Stars]
Note: The 3-disc Korean region-3 release has both the theatrical uncut Korean version and the International version which may arguably be a better paced, leaner film. The Korean cut has more development to Tae-goo's character and some extra scenes in the end. Luckily both versions are available in the Korean dvd release.
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