The Good, the Bad, the Weird
Directed by Kim Jee-woon. Starring Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho, Jung Woo-sung. (2008, NR, 130 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 30, 2010
The summer blockbuster season arrives early and from an unlikely region – South Korea – with the release of this rollicking Fantastic Fest '08 favorite, which mines the traditional Western genre and infuses it with fresh, frequently hilarious life. The film reimagines Sergio Leone's six-guns and dust-devilry amid the Japanese-occupied borderlands between China and Korea, circa 1930. Kim's audacious and hyperactive staging, not to mention a jam-packed, action-centric storyline that throws in everything and a fistful of dynamite, is nowhere more evident than in the first breathtaking sequence set aboard a moving train. The sequence introduces motorcycle-riding bandit Tae-goo (the porcine Song, last seen as the vampiric priest in Park Chan-wook's Thirst, as the "weird"), Chang-yi (Lee as the "bad," the very model of dashing villainy), and Do-won (Jung, in duster and breeches, as the "good") and sets up the rest of the film's lengthy, ongoing chase over a stolen map that everybody wants to get their hands on. Kim has cemented himself as a genre-hopping cinema stylist of the first order; his A Tale of Two Sisters took J-horror tropes and made them even creepier, while A Bittersweet Life stole the title of cool crime story from John Woo and has yet to return it. The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a showstopping take on spaghetti Westerns (which would make it a Shin Ramyun Western, I suppose) along the lines of its good, bad, and ugly antecedents, but unlike those calculatedly dry, ruminative, and grimly laconic forebears, Kim's film is a riot of comic action, pitting the smooth criminality and goateed haute couture of Chang-yi against the iconic, rifle-wielding bounty hunter Do-won. (Tae-goo, for his part, favors a German Luger – weird indeed.) And unlike the slow-motion drawl of Leone's classics, Kim's film moves like a bullet, ricocheting off all manner of incidental storylines without ever fully losing sight of what's most important here: explosively choreographed action set-pieces. Set against a terrifically rousing score (courtesy of Dalparan and Jang Yeong-gyu) and boasting spectacular Gobi desert compositions from co-cinematographers Lee Mo-gae and Oh Seung-chul, this is a deliriously fun and often downright trippy homage to great train robberies, black-clad bad guys, and Occidental heroes, all done with enthusiastic panache. A better kickoff for the summer movie season is, frankly, difficult to imagine.