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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
Because Hollywood doesn't have the monopoly in mindless action blockbusters...
Oh, the sweet irony. What would this world be without the acerbic, poignant, scathing realization irony offers? A less interesting place for sure. Take Ji-woon Kim's new (insert traditional Korean food) western action movie for example. The ill-advised title immediately reveals everything that is wrong with it.
Whereas Sergio Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY is a similar sprawling western adventure from which Ji-woon Kim freely borrows, it still has a masterful story behind its quirks and eccentricities that holds it together. Kim's GBW lifts the plot from Leone's movie wholesale yet forgets to mould it into a story worth the celluloid it's printed on. When the loud explosions, quick cutting and dangerous acrobatics stop for a moment, the silence becomes deafening. And while GBU will remain a staggering classic, GBW will be sooner tossed away for the next collage of things blowing up and stuntmen jumping from high places that Hollywood will serve us.
The titular three (broadly sketched as the strong silent type, the coldhearted bastard and the bumbling fool respectively) are all after a map that reveals the location of hidden treasure somewhere in Manchuria. Set in early 20th century east Asia, GBW cross-references the genre world of the American western with then contemporary historical setting, something that in theory should resemble the spaghetti western but instead comes off as a tad on the Hollywood side of things.
GBW hovers in the middle, a thinly plotted pastiche that goes on for too long, a step upward from your run-of-the-mill action blockbuster on the strength of exotic locale alone. Mildly interesting at first until you realize it's a one-trick pony. The opening and pre-climax large action scenes are quite good but the middle sags and drags painfully. Easily the most impressive action scene takes place in the desert and involves the Japanese Imperial army, bandits and some more bandits all chasing after a motorbike. The astonishing panoramas of the army bombing the desert that recall Sergei Bondarchuk's epic WATERLOO are a pleasure to be hold.
I see a lot of people praising this film, not for what it is, but for what it's not (a Hollywood blockbuster); however if we're quick to scoff at the sight of another mindless, airheaded superhero blockbuster, if we refuse to be dazzled by dramatically vapid spectacles that make up for their wafer-thin story and absent characterization by staging bigger, louder, and more CGI-laden scenes of things blowing up and buff guys posing for the camera, I don't see any reason why we should take them from South Koreans in the name of 'foreign cinema' - even when they're presented in the form of homage, or perhaps more so in those cases (as Kim shows no understanding of Leone's cinema). I'm sorry to say I ended up disliking this movie as much as I was looking forward to it.
And finally why didn't anybody tell Kim that GBU spoof titles stopped being cool 20 years ago?
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