THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD (2008)
A fistful of riotous fun, action-filled Western sees bandits and army forces pursue a treasure map and its loot in the 1930s
Westerns abounds with genre conventions, many of them established in its golden era in the 1950s and further grown and entrenched by Italian director Sergio Leone during the 1960s.
In The Good, the Bad, the Weird, multi-genre directing Kim Jee-woon creates a Leone-inspired Spaghetti Western that borrows heavily from the classics while injecting a distinctly Korean feel.
Director Kim’s expansive directorial talents and his films’ staggering cinematography are well served in the sweeping scenes of a Western. While Kim happily rotates through every genre imaginable, his action set-ups always excel best and that remains the case here.
Bringing this all together is the all-star trio in the title roles – Jung Woo-sung (the Good), Lee Byung-hun (the Bad) and Song Kang-ho (the Weird).
Set in the 1930s in Manchukuo – a Japanese puppet state across Northeast China and Inner Mongolia – bandit and hitman Park Chang-yi (the Bad) is hired to steal a treasure map from a Japanese official on a train. However, Yoon Tae-goo (the Weird), a petty thief, gets there first.
Then Park Do-won (the Good), a bounty hunter, arrives at the scene to try and kill Park Chang-yi, allowing Tae-goo to escape with the map, leaving both the Good and the Bad in pursuit of him. Further to this a group of Manchurian bandits and then the Japanese Army all join the chase for the map and then its treasure.
The film is more than just inspired by prior Westerns, but a take-off of many element – most unapologetically Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), including a final showdown with the three title characters and that classic tight zoom between their faces.
What enables the film to move beyond being derivative are the many uniquely Korean aspects. The action and fight scenes are very much from the Korean playbook, while the addition of the authoritarian Japanese troops and debates over a free Korea also instill a Korean narrative arch.
The opening train scene, where the expanse of the frontier combines with the claustrophobic battle ground of the train carriage, offers a high-octane start. A thrust that is continued in various other marketplace shootouts and then a final dash across the open land combining all competing groups.
A common thread in almost all Director Kim films is the violence and this is tepid by his standards, but still finds time for some cringe-inducing scenes centred on the illusive figure of the ‘Finger Chopper’.
Overall, the film is an exhibition in boundless fun and entertainment. There is plenty of comedy too, anchored by the always hilarious Song Kang-ho as the Weird.
It is not Director Kim’s most profound film, but it is the one you can watch in any mood. Just a couple hours of Western action and visceral amusement. And further proof that Kim can turn his hand to any genre and instantly look an old hand in that space.