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A guksu western. Three Korean gunslingers are in Manchuria circa World War II: Do-wan, an upright bounty hunter, Chang-yi, a thin-skinned and ruthless killer, and Tae-goo, a train robber with nine lives. Tae-goo finds a map he's convinced leads to buried treasure; Chang-yi wants it as well for less clear reasons. Do-wan tracks the map knowing it will bring him to Chang-yi, Tae-goo, and reward money. Occupying Japanese forces and their Manchurian collaborators also want the map, as does the Ghost Market Gang who hangs out at a thieves' bazaar. These enemies cross paths frequently and dead bodies pile up. Will anyone find the map's destination and survive to tell the tale? Written by
Most expensive movie in South Korean cinema history as of 2009. See more »
The railway sleepers are made of concrete. At the time sleepers was made of wood. See more »
[a captured Tae-goo runs past Do-Won as he's trying to escape]
Are you going somewhere? Escaping?
No, of course not. just gave the rope a tug and it fell out. You folks shouldn't be so careless.
Fine. Just go back in and sleep, then.
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The Entertaining, The Admirable and The Down Right Frustrating
With a film title such as this, it is unavoidable that Ji-Woon Kim's latest foray will be compared to Sergio Leone's epic masterpiece that is "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly", and while the comparison is not entirely necessary to write a critique without bringing it up is ignoring the obvious. In 2005, Ji-Woon Kim released the highly lauded and severely engaging film "A Bittersweet Life", in which he took the reformed gangster plot device and twisted it wonderfully to create an intelligent action-thriller. It is evident that in the aftermath of his unprecedented international success, Ji-Woon Kim was given free reign to create any film of his choosing, spawning the genesis to his latest endeavour "The Good, The Bad and The Weird".
We all have films that we classify as being in our "top ten" or even "top five", films that speak to us on a level that we are so incredibly immersed within the story being told that we connect on a subconscious level to create unbound admiration. Ji-Woon Kim has a passion for the spaghetti western, and climax to the "Man With No Name" trilogy, "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" and with his free license has not intended to copy, parody or pastiche Leone's creation but to attempt to create an Easternised Western using the fore-mentioned film as a template. Inevitably, the director has had to update the story and transplant the time line for a completely new audience and to maintain historical plausibility which is admirable but his nature as an action film director proves to be the films Achilles heel.
To say there is little plot in this film is to say there is too much, for after the films introductory, and satisfactory, skirmish the story descends into the chase of a map which is about as flimsy as the glue that, allegedly, holds the plot together. The story hops gleefully, and unashamedly, from one action scene to the next, and while the criticisms that the sequences are fifteen minutes in excess of what they should be are accurate, it is the overwhelming lack of perspective or objective that infuriates the viewer. It is all well and good having a twenty minute battle royale in the middle of a desert, incorporating all the warring factions within the story but to have nothing more than a simply cut and one of the protagonists to be miles away in complete isolation without one of the hundreds chasing him in sight is nonsensical and irritating. Perhaps though, the most frustrating is the lack of development in the three most important pieces of this puzzle. For example Woo-sung Jung, who plays "The Good", has studied the Clint Eastwood films thoroughly mimicking his stance, tone and style in his attempt to recreate the feel of his character, yet lacks the aura and gravitas of Eastwood to pull off the anti-hero role sufficiently. Not simply this, but at this stage in Leone's trilogy the "Man With No Name" while still fixated with obtaining his fortune had softened as an individual making it easier for the audience to connect with him come the final confrontation. With Ji-woo Kim's version it is unintentionally the case that the character traits of all three interchange at varying junctures making it nigh on impossible to sympathise enough with one individual character to make us care about the film in anything more than two hours of mind numbing action.
As not to completely eviscerate the film there are notable plus points which must be mentioned as the score overlaying the film is perfect for a film of this sort carrying along the action elements with a slight undertone of Morriconne's iconic creation. Ji-woon Kim shows he is still a director worth worrying over as there are some luscious landscapes in his rich and vivid cinematography, showing he knows how to capture a film while Kang-ho Song shows his versatility as he adds zany charm to a list of roles which include his undoubtedly iconic revenge driven "Park Dong-jin" in Chan-wook Park's "Sympathy For Mr Vengeance". These noted exemptions aside, one cannot help but feel that "The Good, The Bad and The Weird" is an ultimately hollow experience, a concept which had all the tools to be a success yet escapes into the comfort of an action genre all too frequently. It leaves me personally wishing Ji-woon Kim would have shown the characteristics of his earlier work "A Bittersweet Life" and taken the arguably more pretentious but the more rewarding route of jettisoning some action and slowing the pace of the story down so as to allow the characters the time to develop and flourish and not be the mere cutout clichés that they occasionally turn out to be. What sums this film up perfectly is its ending sequence which utilises the same dramatic tension that Leone so wonderfully created, before shattering that illusion and choosing the most clichéd, ridiculous and unfortunately laughable of all the available alternate endings. "The Good, The Bad And The Weird" goes down in history, as of 2009, as being the most expensive South Korean film made, yet if Hollywood has taught us anything it is that bigger and more expensive does not always mean better. While "The Good, The Bad And The Weird" is unintelligibly watchable you do wonder if this, or another of South Korea's plethora of talented directors could have created a grander cinematic experience for a few dollars less.
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