Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Kim Ji-woon does it again (see previous post). This time out, the genre-hopping Korean director serves up a heapin' helpin' of what I would call "kim chee ramen western." Yes, in an affectionate nod to the Dollars Trilogy of Sergio Leone, Kim delivers a fast-paced, wildly exotic horse opera set in Manchuria in the 1930s filled with gun-slinging Chinese outlaws, opium-smoking prairie prostitutes, marauding Korean bandits, thieves, psychos and revolutionaries ... oh, and the Japanese Imperial Army, all in constant motion via motorcycles, trains, trucks, jeeps and, of course, horses. Lots of horses.

At the center of it all is the irrepressible Song Kang-ho (The Host, The Quiet Family, The Foul King, Thirst, JSA, Secret Sunshine, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Memories of Murder, etc. etc.) as Yoon Tae-goo, The Weird. While robbing a train he comes into possession of a treasure map (which becomes the operative MacGuffin of the piece). He's a two-pistol shooter, greasing, hmm, maybe 100 guys throughout the picture? 200? (The mortality rate in this movie is off the chart.) Then there's Jeong Woo-seong as The Good (a bounty hunter named Park Do-won), doing a slick Korean version of Clint Eastwood. And finally we have Lee Byeong-heon as The (very) Bad Park Chang-yi, channeling a sinister Alain Delon by way of Prince (trust me, it works -- you've just gotta see it). These guys go round and round, winding up in a three-way standoff similar to their original counterparts in the film's namesake. Along the way we get many an homage to the Leone trilogy including a scene involving metal plating used as a bullet-proof vest, as well as a bit where someone's hat is shot off, then continually shot out of reach.

Kim Ji-woon was also influenced by Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992). "I wasn't particularly aiming to make the Western genre popular in Asia," he told an interviewer at Cannes last Spring. "It's enough that I can revive the Manchurian Western genre in Korea."

There's so much lead flying through the air in The Good, the Bad, the Weird, it could pass as a weather condition. Some might feel the action sequences go on a bit; that all depends on how you feel about action sequences. Fortunately, Kim's are the best in the business: Inventive, thrilling, outrageous. My advice is don't fight it, just sit back, relax, and let the madness sweep over you. As contemporary Korean westerns go, you really can't do better.

EDIT: I recently purchased this DVD of the film. It's the shits. Terrible, blurry transfer. Clearly somebody downloaded a low-res, compressed version, pressed it on disk and distributed it to vendors who don't bother to check out their foreign titles. DO NOT BUY THIS DISK.

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