by NIR SHALEV
South Korean director Ji-woon Kim had previously directed a horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and a violent melodrama, A Bittersweet Life (2005), so seeing that his follow-up project is a Western might be a bit of a stretch. But after having just watched The Good, the Bad, the Weird, honestly I can’t wait for his next film.
Riffing on Sergio Leone’s classic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) this film swaps the Wild West and the American Civil War for 1940s Manchuria. We see horses, motorcycles and jeeps sharing the same space in certain scenes and I was reminded of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), which took place in the early 20th century.
The story is short and straight to the point: Park Chang-yi (The Bad, played by Byung-hun Lee) is hired by a Japanese official to steal a certain map and retrieve it for him. The map is being held by a few men with a small army who are traveling on a train and as Park Chang-yi and his bandits arrive he is too late because Yoon Tae-goo (The Weird, played by Kang-ho Song) had already killed a bunch of militia and had stolen the map. And almost like clockwork, Park Do-won (The Good, played by Woo-sung Jung) arrived and fired at both factions of bandits and militia. A three way chase commences, The Good chasing after The Weird because he’s a bounty hunter who wants to make money and The Bad chasing after them both to get the map back and get paid himself. The map seems to contain directions to a secret treasure that is found around the Russian border and the audience is in for a two hour long adventure filled with bullets, explosions, and style enough for a series of films.
This movie is extremely stylish but it never interferes with the storytelling because the style becomes a major character in the adventure. The camerawork is extraordinary: it cranes up and down and sometimes sideways; it tracks forward, back, left and right and also pans here and there. Sometimes it follows characters for minutes on end through every nook and cranny, above and below tables, and we can always tell what is happening at all times. The shootouts in the film involve different factions of bandits, some Chinese, and the Japanese military.
The Japanese military enter the second half of the film and their presence hints at the fact that the treasure map might have political objectives and we find ourselves asking, just as the characters ask each other why they’d left Korea for Manchuria after, or during the Japanese occupation. Don’t worry the film does answer every question.
The music is reminiscent of Westerns but is surprisingly cheery and very hip, sometimes slightly electronic; it suits the film and its characters. All of the characters have distinct outfits that separate their culture and upbringings and we are able to tell who’s who very easily. The Good is dresses like a hunter from a classic Western, with his brown trench-coat and hat and sports pistols and a repeater rifle; The Bad is dressed in an elegant but hip black suit and wears black leather gloves, and sports a pistol; and The Weird wears a winter hat with earflaps and a pompom and strange hunter’s vest, and sports a couple of Lugers (German WWII pistol).
The whole film is as unique as its characters and I loved every minutes of it. My only regret is that I hadn’t seen it when it was playing in the theaters and that on video I hadn’t watched it on Blu-ray because its unique color palette of neon greens and blues, its oranges and pinks would look phenomenal.
The DVD comes with a fifteen minute behind the scenes segment, individual interviews with the three main actors and the director, Cannes highlight reel, and two short “making of” segments.
Other new releases this week: Furry Vengeance, The Last Song, Red Riding Trilogy