A Western with Seoul

The Good, The Bad, The Weird, kim­chi Western, rated R, in Korean with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Robert Nott

The Good, The Bad, The Weird, a Korean shoot-’em-up, is an ex­treme case of style over sub­stance, but the style is so in­vig­o­rat­ing — par­tic­u­larly for guys who like cow­boy movies — that it’s easy to get car­ried along in the non­sen­si­cal ac­tion scenes with­out giv­ing a lot of thought to the story line be­hind them.

The ti­tle, the plot, and the three main char­ac­ters — a bounty hunter, a moody killer, and a petty thief — all serve to pay homage to Ser­gio Leone’s spaghetti-Western clas­sic The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This pic­ture even fea­tures at least three scenes that are di­rect copies of bits from Leone’s film. But The Good, The Bad, The Weird out-spaghet­tis the most ac­tion-packed spaghetti Western — to the point of ex­haus­tion. Is it still en­ter­tain­ing in spots? You bet.

Di­rected and co-writ­ten by Kim Jee-Woon, the film is set dur­ing the tur­bu­lent, law­less 1930s in Ja­panese-oc­cu­pied Manchuria. The first ac­tion scene, in­volv­ing the rob­bery of a train, com­bines mu­sic, sparse di­a­logue, harsh desert land­scapes, and a cam­era that seems to be per­pet­u­ally on the run, as if to an­nounce, “We’re go­ing to have fun. Come join us!” Low-level thief Yoon Tae-Goo (The Weird, played by Song Kang Ho) is at­tempt­ing a one-man rob­bery of money and jew­els from a train car­ry­ing lots of Manchurian sol­diers and a much-cov­eted trea­sure map. When Yoon Tae-Goo gets his mitts on the map, he doesn’t re­al­ize what he’s hold­ing in his hands.

But pro­fes­sional killer Park Chang-yi (The Bad, played by Lee By­ong Hun) knows the map leads to a big pay­off. Aided by a dozen or more ruth­less gun­men, he too is plot­ting a rob­bery of the train. Mean­while, bounty hunter Park Do-Won (The Good, played by Jung Woo Sung) is af­ter ei­ther The Bad or The Weird, so he boards the train and starts shoot­ing at just about ev­ery­one.

In the first 15 min­utes, there is a ram­bunc­tious train derail­ment, a suc­ces­sion of gun bat­tles, and a goofy foot chase across the desert, with The Good fir­ing his shot­gun at the fast-footed Weird. All this is viewed by a Chi­nese war­lord who wields a mean mace. As he watches this con­flict play out from the safety of a nearby hill, he calmly turns to a sub­or­di­nate to ask, “Any guess on what’s go­ing on here?” For about half of the pic­ture, that ques­tion re­mains unan­swered.

Ul­ti­mately it be­comes ob­vi­ous that the three pro­tag­o­nists — as well as Ja­panese sol­diers, some shad­owy un­der­world fig­ures, Chi­nese ban­dits, and a gang known as the Ghost Mar­ket thugs — all want the map. Things get com­pli­cated fast, so much so that it gets dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish one group of gun­men from an­other.

“Life is about chas­ing and be­ing chased,” The Good says at one point — sum­ming up the filmmaker’s in­tent, as the pic­ture quickly ca­reers from one elab­o­rately staged gun­fight and pur­suit se­quence to an­other. The fight chore­og­ra­phy and stunt work are im­pres­sive, though the film­mak­ers get a lit­tle too caught up in us­ing weights, pul­leys, ropes, and, in one in­ge­nious bit, a div­ing hel­met (why would there be a div­ing hel­met in the Manchurian desert?) to punc­tu­ate the nearly non­stop gun­fire. We get eight to 10 min­utes of shoot­ing, and then a few min­utes of di­a­logue fol­lowed by a scene of peo­ple rid­ing across the desert, and then an­other eight to 10 min­utes of shoot­ing, and so on. While a sense of fun per­vades much of this ac­tion, the film in­cor­po­rates a few too many un­pleas­ant scenes of vi­o­lence, and the knif­ing and carv­ing that takes place around the one-hour mark is par­tic­u­larly un­pleas­ant.

Nev­er­the­less, there is dark hu­mor ga­lore, comic dou­ble-takes, at least one eye poke, an agree­able Granny char­ac­ter who hides in the closet while bul­lets rid­dle her house, and an off-color bit of busi­ness in which a cou­ple of char­ac­ters die from a sword to the heinie. To top all that off, there is a thrilling, un­be­liev­able cli­mac­tic bat­tle in­volv­ing four (or is it five?) sets of ri­vals, all mov­ing across the desert on horses and jeeps and mo­tor­cy­cles and trucks, blast­ing away at one an­other with ruth­less aban­don. As it moves to­ward its pre­dictable fi­nal duel, The Good, The Bad, The Weird be­comes less and less like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and more like Stan­ley Kramer’s comedic ex­trav­a­ganza It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. With the ex­cep­tion of The Weird, none of the char­ac­ters are de­fined well — most of them are just mov­ing tar­gets to be mowed down when the go­ing gets gory. (The horses take quite a beat­ing in this film, by the way, so an­i­mal-lovers should take heed. There are a lot of ducks in the film too, mostly act­ing as ex­tras; but for­tu­nately, noth­ing bad be­falls them.)

But as an ex­am­ple of the cin­ema of ex­cess, this movie is still a lot more en­joy­able to watch than, say, Ri­d­ley Scott’s Robin Hood. And the sound­track (by Dal­paran and Chang Yeong-gyu), with its Span­ish gui­tars, horns, whistling, and Asian surf mu­sic, is worth pick­ing up. Play the sound­track at a party and watch as your guests stop and say, “What the hell is this?” And that’s the kind of ap­proach you bet­ter take with you if you see The Good, The Bad, The Weird. It’s a gutsy pic­ture that nonethe­less plays it­self, its char­ac­ters, and the viewer out long be­fore the fi­nal cred­its roll.

The mag­nif­i­cent eight (or so); inset, Song Kang Ho

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.