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REEL ACTION: Kim Ji-Woon's The Good, The Bad, The Weird

03.18.2011by: Eric Walkuski

Rating: 4 out of 4 /Buy the DVD Here

Directed by: Kim Ji-Woon
Starring: Byung-hun Lee, Woo-sung Jung and Kang-ho Song

THE PLAN: Three men - a bounty hunter, a bandit and a hired killer - go on separate searches for a fabled buried treasure in Manchuria during World War II. They'll only have to contend with each other - as well as a group of crazed thieves and the entire Japanese army.

THE KILL: THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD will be like catnip to a movie-lover, and I say that without hyperbole. It unfolds like a wild dream, combining impressive action, good-natured humor, intense violence and stirring suspense in a vat made out of ass-kickery, unleashing a result guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. It's not often I find myself grinning like the f*cking Cheshire Cat throughout an entire film, but this one produced that very result.

It's hard to engage in a staring contest with THREE men, but they give it a go...

Director Kim Ji-Woon has been inspired by many-a-western, although the clear influence is the work of Sergio Leone, whose spaghetti westerns subverted but celebrated the genre with their stylish, entertaining depictions of lawless frontiers populated by quiet badasses, psychotic villains and lovable bandits. This movie has all three archetypes, and it's not at all a stretch to say that this film's title and characters have been directly influenced by Leone's most famous film, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. It must be said, however, that Kim's film isn't strictly homage; it has a vivid identity of its own, and the sheer energy and craft Kim's action sequences contain should put almost all of Hollywood to shame. This is how you do action without resorting to cut-cut-cutting every two seconds, boys and girls.

Like the aforementioned 1967 Leone classic, THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD has three lead characters who dominate the screentime: Yoon Tae-goo (played by the wonderful Kang-ho Song, from THE HOST) is a sloppy, crafty, thoroughly amusing bandit; Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee, from GI JOE) is a remorseless mercenary; and Park Do-won Woo-sung Jung (the upcoming remake of THE KILLER) is a steady, silent bounty hunter. All three are on the hunt for a a treasure map they believe will lead them to, well, treasure. All three have motives and backstories that aren't immediately clear, and all three of course converge frequently and violently, laying waste to their surroundings in the process. When the Japanese army gets involved (this is WWII, after all) even more hell breaks loose.

Hooves don't fail me now!

The outline for the story has, of course, been used in countless westerns, but that's the point. For all its eye-popping, kinetic action, THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD is telling a tale as old as the dust. But that's fine, because Kim is so determined to give us a knee-slapper of a good time that it all feels fresh again, at least for the two hour and ten minute running time. Particularly infectious is the humor injected into the proceedings, mostly courtesy of Song's superb performance; with his goofball smile and childlike mannerisms, he makes not only a great comedic foil for the chaos that occurs around him, but simply delivers a flat out splendid performance.

I gave this flick a look after seeing the recently released I SAW THE DEVIL, which is Kim's latest directorial effort. They couldn't be more different; the new film's dark heart beats with intense menace and despair, while WEIRD constantly feels like a celebration: of adventure, of having fun, of cinema itself. With these two films alone (he has others, including the equally different TALE OF TWO SISTERS) Kim has proven he's capable of a great many, different things, and a director to really keep an eye on going forward. This terrific film is a good place to start if you haven't given him a chance yet...

The US Trailer!

TOP ACTION: The lengthy shootout/chase in "the ghost market" - a ramshackle shanty town that is all too willing to collapse under the weight of all the bodies that are hurled through its walls and crash through its roofs. Really one of the more enjoyable sequences of its type that I've seen in a very long time. (Let it be said that the movie features a few such rousing scenes.)

TOP DEATH: A dude on a horse gets blown to smithereens (actually, both he and horse do) by mortar shell. Neigh.

TOP DIALOGUE: Park Chang-yi: "They died like dogs. Died in vain. Actually, no one dies in vain. Only those left behind feel empty."

FEMALE EXPLOITATION: Nothing really to speak of - unless you're fond of comical grandmas...

DRINKING GAME: Drink every time you're wowed by one of the many great stunts in the film; you'll be popping wheelies on your tricycle right after the credits roll.

TRIVIA: According to IMDB, this is the most expensive movie in South Korean cinema history.

Byung-hun Lee has been in two other Kim Ji-Woon films: A BITTERSWEET LIFE and I SAW THE DEVIL.


Tags: reel action



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