The Good the Bad the Weird (2008)
The Good the Bad the Weird (2008)

Genre: Action and Western Running Time: 2 hrs. 10 min.

Release Date: July 17th, 2008 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Kim Jee-woon Actors: Kang-ho Song, Byung-Hun Lee, Woo-sung Jung, Jae-moon Yoon, Seung-soo Ryu, Young-chang Song, Chung-Ah Lee

 


 

N

umerous filmmakers have crafted their own spin on the popular cult genre of the Spaghetti western. Few have created as admirably oddball an offering as Kim Jee-woon’s “The Good the Bad the Weird.” An obvious homage to Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” the South Korean “guksu” Western helps itself to more than its idol’s name by focusing its treasure-hunt plot around a noble bounty hunter, an evil assassin, and a goofy thief. But where Leone’s masterpiece keeps the action relatively light and the story more circuitous, Kim’s film reverses the formula, providing a monumental barrage of gunplay – and only peppering the proceedings with occasional backstory tidbits that don’t really flesh out the characters more than their one-word titular descriptors already have.

In 1940’s Manchuria, a corrupt ruler hires ruthless mercenary Park Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun) to steal a treasure map from his associate, Kanemaru (Lee Hang-soo). The presumably simple task proves more difficult than anticipated when Kanemaru’s train is attacked by not only Park’s band of outlaws, but also notorious thief Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho) and bounty hunter Park Do-wan (Jung Woo-sung). When Yoon nabs the map first and attempts to sell the prize at a bazaar, word quickly gets out. What follows is a series of skirmishes and shoot-outs that culminates in a colossal showdown, pitting “The Good,” “The Bad,” and “The Weird” against each other – as well as in opposition to a host of other parties desperate to acquire the treasure, including the Ghost Market Gang, Manchurian schemers, and occupying Japanese forces.

Despite some notable comedic moments, mostly thanks to the imitable Song Kang-ho, the action sequences in “The Good the Bad the Weird” are easy to gravitate towards as the film’s defining triumph. Mixing endless streams of bullets, reminiscent of John Woo’s early Hong Kong epics, with fast-paced contemporary gangster flicks results in a tantalizing display of visceral excitement. Though very little hand-to-hand combat actually takes place in the adventure, the majority of close-quarters gunplay recalls the hard-hitting impact of modern martial arts movies. The action choreography is impressive in both scope and complexity, allowing lengthy segments of mayhem to maintain intensity and intrigue. The hyperactive camera itself adds heavily to the appeal, weaving in and out of the escalating chaos and bullet-riddled landscapes.

As thrilling as the action gets (the film’s climactic, final desert chase that smashes each warring faction together is a near-flawless high point), there’s little emotion to be found from the experience if one can’t empathize with the players. Both “The Good” and “The Bad” rarely push past being just that. The former appears to do the right thing not out of realism but rather an unwillingness to veer into grayer areas. He’s a bounty hunter with a vendetta but his motives are questionable only in a lack of shrewdness and foresight. His willingness to partner with a completely untrustworthy burglar for an unknown reward doesn’t exactly exude a sense of astuteness. The latter lawbreaker reveals all the traits of a psychopath mixed with an angsty teenager, but lacking any real personality. He simply does bad things because he’s supposed to. Luckily, “The Weird” provides in spades what the others cannot. He is devilish, devious, and an incorrigible scoundrel. He’s also manipulative and selfish and not above outbursts of violence, though “innocents” are never his targets. Song Kang-ho imbues his character with zany mannerisms and humorous deliveries that never ceases to command attention whenever he’s on screen. While most will likely come for the promise of outlandish action, the discerning crowd will stay for Kang-ho’s performance.

– Joel Massie

  • 6/10