Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Good, The Bad, The Weird

The Good, The Bad, The Weird
Original Title:

Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom
Directed by: Ji-woon Kim
South Korea 2008
Western/Action/Adventure, 125min
Distributed by: Njuta Films

Two men sit in a solitary chamber. There’s discussion about a swindle, a map that has been sold is to be taken back. Bounty hunter Park Chang-yi [Byung-hun Lee] smirks at his employer and heads of after disclosing his alternative plan to how the map can be reclaimed from Japanese business man Karemaru [Hang-soo Lee].

Moments later the full power of a steam engine blasts though the frame. The camera moves into the wagon and surprisingly it’s not Park Chang-yi we see but a second bandit raiding the train. Yoon Tae-goo [Kang-ho Song] moves through the wagons blasting soldiers in his way before he bursts into the moving office of Karemaru. With a plan to steal their money Yoon Tae-goo get’s more than he bargains for when Park Chang-yi’s men attempt to stop the train and Yoon by chance discovers the map. A third gunman appears, Park Do-won [Woo-sung Jung] and with an apparent aura of authority surrounding him, he starts to shoot the bandits in Park Chang-yi’s gang, which obviously leaves Yoon Tae-goo in the line of fire. Yoon Tae-goo manages to escape as does Park Chang-yi leaving Park do-won to, just like the other two, ride off in separate directions until their paths cross again – much sooner than they think.

This could have been the opening sequence of any great American or Italian western from the sixties or seventies. But it isn’t, it’s the vibrant and adrenaline inducing presentation of characters in Ji-woon Kim’s magnificent The Good, The Bad, The Weird.

The name being an obvious pun on Sergio Leone’s epic The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - The Good, The Bad, The Weird is more than just a smart play with words, as this movie is by far one of the most impressive modern made westerns of a long, long time. What stands out with the movie is that it’s not just a simple play with the genre, it’s taken the whole characteristics, tone and traits of the western and placed it all in a logic setting that has it feeling like a perfect fitting Stetson hat – a Stetson hat with a definitive taste of bibimbap.

After the very genre fitting opening the action toned movie takes a swerve into adventurous territory as Yoon Tae-goo and his mate Man-gil [Seung-su Ryu] start reading and fantasising what that map is all about. But they are not the only ones after the supposed treasure on the map, as this is why Park Chang-yi – infamous for always getting his man – also is after the map. To complicate it further, as the map has been stolen from the Japanese army, they too want it, and along with that the Manchurian bandits that Yoon Tae-goo and Man-gil once where part of, also want a piece of the action. On top of that there’s Park Do-won who wants’ to capture both Park Chang-yi and Yoon Tae-goo, as they are wanted and their incarceration will bring him a sizeable reward. It’s a complex weave, that spawns several subplots that all come to impact in an outstanding battle towards the end of the movie.

Set in Manchuria during the 1940’s Kim’s movie works solidly off that great genre the Western and their ever fascinating skill for bringing pretty sordid characters to the screen and despite all their flaws and bad doing, having the audience actually taking a liking to even the worst of the characters. That’s exactly what happens here. After a start up segment where the audience label the three characters of the title, the good, the bad and the weird, the movie starts heading into its action adventure mode. Yes there is a sense of the Indiana Jones films , or even Jackie Chan’s Armour of the Gods 1987 invoked, but the film never really get’s as cliff-hangery and fragmented as those movies tend to get. Instead it stays pretty clean and solidly to a “the first man to the X on the map” story, which makes for a more focused and straighter story.

You can’t talk about any spaghetti movie – or Kimchi Western as Kim has referred to his movie as – without talking about glorious gunfights and apocalyptic shootouts. There’s the tour de force of Franco Nero pulling out that Gatling gun and wiping out an entire army in Sergio Corbucci’s Django 1966, there’s the crushing impact of the violent shootouts in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch 1969, and there’s the cynical fun of Enzo Barboni’s My Name is Trinity 1970 - The Good, The Bad, The Weird brings it all, and it’s a very entertaining mix that comes out of the grinder.

There are a lot of things that click to make this movie such a damned fine movie. Amongst them is the casting. I’m of the opinion that to some extent, typecasting is a great tool as it eases the establishment of characters as they bring their catalogue of work with them to the movie. A character who has always been a favourable kind of goody two shoes character will be easier to like, where as he will become much more disturbing if you cast him as an evil character. Just think of someone like Robin Williams in all those quirky good guy roles he’s played and then think of him in Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo 2002 where he’s a complete psycho. William’s back catalogue and the kind of character we are accustomed to seeing him play adds to the tension, because we want Williams to be a good guy and it creeps us out on a deeper more subconscious level when we see him as the sinister Seymour Parrish – a cold blooded psychopath.

Apart from being a who’s who of hot South Korean talent, The Good, The Bad, The Weird uses it’s actors to bring subconscious baggage with them – even if all character positions are to be flipped head over ass in the last act – and it helps the movie in a great way, because you will never see it coming. Casting Woo-sung Jung as the good is fairly obvious as fans of his movies will know that he often plays headstrong and determined good guys in his movies. Just like he did in Sung-su Kim’s blockbuster Musa (The Warrior) 2001. Byung-hun Lee’s enigmatic and scarred character performance in Kim’s previous movie; A Bittersweet Life 2005 brings a enigmatic and scarred edge to his character, and obviously Kang-ho Song’s fantastic performances in Chan-wook Park’s grim and tragic Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance 2002, and as the mentally retarded, but still a hero Park Gang-du from Joon-ho Bong’s The Host 2006 help us feel sympathetic to his character from the word go.

After setting up the characters their arcs start to take their journey. It’s a damned fine ride and there is a surprise twist at the end. Staying true to the tone of the movie though, the rightful justice is neglected and the characters that have evolved the most are rewarded instead. Although it is a fitting conclusion as the outcome is determined buy the shifts in character value. HUH? Well yeah, it sounds odd, but take into consideration that the road to redemption is far more effective and motivating than the road to revenge. The road to the climax, and the final reel surprise is told though a healthy dose of effective subplots that deliver back-story and exposition. Sometimes this can harm a movie and make derail off track, but it works like a charm in The Good, The Bad, The Weird.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird showcases some highly impressive talent throughout the production. Characters are fascinating, the cinematography is stunning, the effects and huge set pieces are spectacular and the tempo is impeccable! The action packs a punch right from the start, that train sequence that opens the movie is awesome, and has some great moments, and then as we start to understand the constellation of characters the narrative draws us in. To further enhance the movie, there are some outrageous shootouts that challenge that jaw dropping awe that the eighties Hong Kong action brought with them. The final battle – where the three men, and the Manchurian nomads take on the Japanese army are riveting, and just when you think that it’s coming to an end you still have the climactic standoff to get through and the reveal of the map's secret.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a movie that easily will appeal to fans of Asian action, Bullet ballets, and good old Westerns with a spicy South Korean taste to it. I never really got the hype around Ji-woon Kim’s A Tale of Two Sisters 2003, as it always felt to me as a so-so movie and not really as good as others made a the same time. But I really liked his entry into the first Three series – Memories 2002, and A Bittersweet Life is mind blowing. So The Good, The Bad, The Weird comes as a pleasant surprise. It’s of the lighter nature than his previous pieces, and is without any exaggeration a d fantastic action adventure movie that you should make sure to check it out, because it is a magnificent movie.

2:35.1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Dolby Digital 5.1, or Dolby Digital dts. Korean, Chinese and Japanese dialogue, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian or Danish subtitles are optional

NjutaFilms trailershow.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird is also available on BluRay from NjutaFilms too!

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