“The Good, the Bad, the Weird”, the latest film from Korean master director Kim Ji Woon sees him delving into yet another genre, having tried his hand at horror with “A Tale of Two Sisters” and gangster melodrama with “A Bittersweet Life”. As can probably be gleamed from the title, the film pays tribute to the iconic western “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” by Sergio Leone, a director he had long admired and whose works he had frequently referenced in the past. Of course, with this being a Korean production, the film was labelled a “kimchi western” rather than a “spaghetti western” – underlining not only its nationality but also the sense of dynamism and spice that Kim injects into the proceedings.
With a cast that boasts three of the Korean industry’s biggest names, the film does represent somewhat of a change of pace for the director, being far more upbeat and action packed than his last few rather melancholic outings. The move paid off, and the film certainly proved popular with domestic audiences, emerging as the biggest box office hit of the year, and enjoyed similar success overseas, premiering at Cannes and being released on big screens around the world. It now arrives on region 2 DVD via Icon Home Entertainment as a 2 disc special edition with a host of special features including an alternative ending, interviews and several featurettes on the production.
The action is set deep in the badlands of Manchuria in the 1930s, where many Koreans fled to escape the cruel Japanese occupation of their homeland. The film opens as eccentric bandit Dae Goo (popular actor Song Kang Ho, recently in “The Host”) robs a train, snatching a treasure map from under the nose of rival outlaw Chang Yi (Korean heart throb Lee Byung Hun, also in “A Bittersweet Life” and who has taken the questionably brave move of starring in Stephen Sommers’ forthcoming toy-inspired popcorn flick “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”). Dae Goo falls foul of bounty hunter Do Won (Jung Woo Sung, “The Warrior”), though the two decide to head off to find the treasure together, pursued not only by the psychotic Chang Yi but also by the Japanese army and hordes of other rival bandits.
Although it is fairly obvious which of the three main characters are the titular good, bad, and weird, all three are fascinating figures with their own back story and motivations, and the three stars deliver enthusiastic performances. As such, although familiar and very much in line with the Leone spaghetti western formula, the plot is gripping, with Kim adding a surprising amount of emotional depth and ironic character reversals that give more meaning to the spectacle and violence. As with his other works, he does play upon the conventions of the genre, though in a subtle rather than gratuitous manner, working within the formula with a sly wink. The film is funny throughout, though avoids becoming too much of a spoof, with most of the humour being genre savvy and manic. Indeed, the film has the winning feel of a classic caper, very much in the old fashioned, two fisted Western style, and despite a couple of dips in pace during the more politically charged middle section, it keeps the viewer entertained throughout.
The film is certainly exciting, being filled with shootouts and thrilling chase scenes, and Kim shows a real eye for action. The frequent set pieces are spectacular and creatively staged, with several stand-out sequences that rival anything from Hollywood. The film is surprisingly violent in places, though again this is very much in-keeping with the Leone theme, and the proceedings are never nasty or mean spirited. Kim’s colourful and stylish direction makes the most of the epic desert vistas and local costumes, as well as giving the action an exhilarating sense of danger, and the film makes for supremely enjoyable viewing, marking perhaps his most commercially accessible outing to date.
Ji-woon Kim (director) / Ji-woon Kim, Min-suk Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Kang-ho Song … Yoon Tae-goo / The Weird
Byung-hun Lee … Park Chang-yi / The Bad
Woo-sung Jung … Park Do-won / The Good
Kyeong-hun Jo … Doo-chae
Kwang-il Kim … Two swords
Cheong-a Lee … Song-i
Dong-seok Ma … Bear
Dal-su Oh … Man-gil