NOTE: This review will include spoilers, unfortunately. If you choose to read the review before you see the movie, I would like to vouch that the quality of this movie and the experience of watching it, like many other greats, is not weighted solely on the story that is told. That said, Reader Discretion advised.
I had recently taken an extreme interest into Korean cinema of the 00s. A great deal of the movies have been enjoyable and pleasing to the eye and the cinematic experience, such as Park Chan-wook’s J.S.A. and Vengeance trilogy, Kim Ji-Woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and I Saw the Devil (2010), Kang Je-gyu’s Taegukgi (2004) and Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (2006). They have a lot more than meets the eye and I encourage anybody who’s a cinephile to take a try on whichever of these film’s styles or stories catches their eyes. That includes the picture I’m about to review, another picture by Kim Ji-woon.
Kim’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird, as its title suggests, takes its inspiration from Sergio Leone’s Italian masterpiece The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) in the sense that three different bandits in a desert land under war search for a buried treasure, in a race against each other. The similarities end there. From the very second the movie begins, it’s very obvious the story is of Kim Ji-woon and Kim Min-suk’s creation. The very paced out opening of GBU is forsaken in GBW for the sake of an intro sequence where the three leads immediately collide in outright familiarity with each other. The writers more or less probably said ‘fuck pace’…
Let me put it this way… If Jim Jarmusch’s brilliant Dead Man (1995) could be called a ‘western on acid’, you may as well call The Good, the Bad, the Weird a western on cocaine. Even with two stars that are big enough for me, a non-Korean cinephile, to recognize, the movie’s star is the violence. It’s an intense in-your-face action style, utilizing CGI only in the right flourishes to make the picture look like a cartoon; Certainly over-the-top, but without succumbing to the vibrant cotton candy look ofSpeed Racer (Wachowski/Wachowski, 2008) or the camp of Stephen Chow’s action/comedy resume.
A better film connoisseur (and filmmaker) than I had once put violence in cinema as being ‘an attitude’. Well, this picture had that attitude in spades and it invested everything it had on it. You can never take a moment’s breath to follow the story (and believe me, the story is hard enough to follow) before another no-holds-barred shootout occurs or somebody is brutally stabbed, maimed or tortured, even slapped. It pulls out all the stops in action cinematography too, from wide pans and zooms (both at points sped up before you can realize this was the exact same shot you were looking at before), single-shot sequences, quick cuts and the ever-so-novel blood on the camera lens.
The two sequences that will catch your eye when you watch it immediately will be the shootout at the Ghost Market and the climactic desert chase sequence where every single entity in the picture is after our lead character, The Weird (Song Kang-ho). The former easily plays off like a little kid in one gigantic playground, albeit its completely brutal in how the children play. The latter is just an edge of your seat ride like something out of an Indiana Jones picture staring Jackie Chan.
Speaking of our characters, while nowhere near the great work of Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef or Clint Eastwood, the lead actors turn in somewhat decent performances. The Weird is very easily the most interesting character and that’s why he makes a good protagonist. That is until, out of left field, he is marked as the infamous Finger Chopper, an legendary sadist who is mentioned earlier in the film as the one who the Good (Jung Woo-sung) is hunting down.
… At that point, I just called bullshit on the picture. But I was fine by it for the time being, partly because it was the end of the
picture and also because I didn’t stick with the movie for its script. The character was still humorous and exciting before that Shyamalan move on the part of the writers.
Right after that, they make up for it by tributing the final shootout from Leone’s Italian work… and turn into one of the hardest sequences in the picture to watch. It goes fromThe Good, the Bad and the Ugly to The Wild Bunch(Peckinpah, 1968) the moment the three fire at each other. But the movie still continues for a few minutes after the aftermath of this battle (I highly suggest you find a better legal copy of the movie than on Netflix, which inexplicably cut down the ending of the picture. It’ll be a lot more rewarding).
There’s a lot more to the movie than I’ve laid out, but the violence is the main thing that remains in my mind. And I’m pretty sure that was intentional.
I give it a 6.5 out of 10. Fun but all style and little substance. Check it out.
Whether you like it or not, I insist this is only the tip of the iceberg in Korean motion pictures, let alone in the international film market. I once again insist that anybody, movie buff or not, get into pictures from other countries, because they’ll eventually find a good cinema culture to engage in. Mine is Korea, clearly (If you don’t count America for me).