Monday, November 29, 2010

The Good The Bad The Weird - Home Video Review




Release Date: July 17, 2008

Review Vital Stats:
Service: Netflix
Download Type: Instant Stream
Picture Quality: HD

Biases:
Loves: Sergio Leone style westerns
Likes: Action/Comedies, treasure hunting films
Neutral: Last second twists


This is one helluva a fun film. Director Ji-woon Kim has done what many other directors have attempted but failed at over the years which is capture the essence of the Sergio Leone classic The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This is the most loving homage to that film that I have ever seen and to make things even better it mixes things up just enough to give it its own identity separate from that iconic Spaghetti Western. Korean film makers have been on the rise for the past few years and with The Good, The Bad, The Weird I finally see what all the fuss has been about.

The film takes place in 1940s Manchuria during the Japanese occupation where we meet up with our three main individuals whom become interconnected by a map that supposedly leads to buried treasure. We first meet The Bad, Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee) as he is being hired by an old man to hijack a train to reclaim a map that he sold. That train we soon find out is also a target for The Weird, Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song), a petty thief that is only there to rob whatever he can find from whomever he finds. And it just so happens that the people he robs are the same people that Chang-yi was supposed to get the map from. When Chang-yi and his gang show up a gun fight ensues as Tae-goo attempts to flee for his life. Luckily for him that The Good, Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung) shows up to put a wrench in the works of Chang-yi's plans.

The Good.
Through all the chaos and gunfire on the train Tae-goo escapes with the map and from that point forward the chase is on. When Tae-goo finally realizes exactly what it was he stole off that train him and his partner immediately start scheming up ways to locate the treasure. Little do they know that both Chang-yi and Do-won are hot on their tail, Chang-yi after the map and Do-won after the bounty on both Chang-yi and Tae-goo. Later on the Japanese army along with some other bandits join in on the chase but our main three guys are always the focal point. The basic set up is fairly straight forward and to the point but the complexities come from all the different motivations that our three main characters are harboring.

What really stands out here from any of the other cookie-cutter westerns out there is the execution. First of all everything here is done practically with not a hint of CG to be found. It is always refreshing to sit down and watch a film without worrying if what you are seeing is real or not. The stunts performed during the well choregraphed shoot outs are all top notch and thank the merciful gods that the infection of shakey-cam-itis has not yet traveled over to Korea because for once in a very long time I was able to tell what was actually happening during all the action set pieces.

The Bad.
At about midway through the film there is a large gun fight that takes place at a safe haven of sorts for thieves and bandits called The Ghost Market. The way that the director was able to follow each character through the labyrinth market and not lose the audience as far as who we were watching and where they were in relation to one another was done brilliantly. We also get a really good sense of who each of these three men are just from how they handle themselves in the midst of battle. We see the cold brutality of Chang-yi, the calculating skillfulness of Do-won and the just plain weirdness of Tae-goo who runs around the battlefield like a chicken with its head cut off.

A lot of credit has to go to the actors as well because they all encompass their character types perfectly even if their characters are not equals when it comes to their depth. There is a certain nobility that Jung brings to Do-won that lets you know right away that he is the only man of the the three that can be trusted. His only interest is to bring in the outlaws whose faces adorn his flip book-like collection of wanted posters but even then we see through the his eyes and subtle facial expressions that he is not a man of compromise but he also has sympathy for a loser thief like Tae-goo whom seems fated to be constantly captured by Do-won or harassed by Chang-yi.

The Weird.
Lee isn't saddled with quite as interesting a character but still does fine when he has to come across as menacing. Most of the time he is regulated to just sitting there and staring at anyone that he is preparing to kill complete with a little smirk. While he does have a few good moments where he is given some time to shine we mostly see him playing the bad guy that finds all the death and destruction around him as amusing. I suppose I hadn't really thought about it too much until now but his goons actually do more killing than him throughout the film. We are supposed to be more threatened by his demeanor than anything else and it is a testament to Lee's ability as an actor that he was able to do so much when given so little to work with, but he does have himself a little secret though...

Then there is Song who has the juiciest role and the most entertaining character in the entire film which is a good thing because he takes up the majority of the screen time. His comic timing mixed with his ability to turn a 180 and give a dramatic performance is dam near perfect. Song is also fairly gifted at acting like a buffoon and being the butt of the joke. During the shoot out at the Ghost Market he is instructed by Do-won to make a distraction so that he can take out Chang-yi's goons more easily. His back and forth with Do-won as he tries to figure out what kind of pattern to run is only topped by when he actually does run out in the open and does this hilarious dance as bullets fly all around him. Song was given the best written character to play and hits it out of the park.

Do-won has a little chat with Tae-goo after knocking him off his motorbike.
Speaking of humor, beyond the abundant action there is always a real sense of fun being had by not only the actors but the film makers in general. Most of it can get pretty ridiculous at times, such as Do-won rappelling across ropes and sniping the bad guys off roof tops, but it all helps make the rather graphic violence seem almost cartoonish at times which I believe is a good thing here. Tae-goo steals many of the big action scenes just by acting like a fool. Probably my favorite gag in the entire film comes up during that Ghost Market shoot out when Tae-goo grabs this cast-iron deep sea diving mask (what it was doing in the middle of the Manchurian desert I have no idea), puts it on and runs around shooting everything he sees as he tries to balance himself and is practically shot by everyone around like some sort of shooting gallery duck.

The comedy really helps alleviate much of the more serious stuff that is going on and believe me there are moments that just come out of nowhere with how brutal they are. Chang-yi is interrogating a known associate of Tae-goo trying to figure out where he is and the interrogation quickly goes from tense to bloody as Chang-yi slices and dices the man to death. It is all filmed in a stylistic manner but the brutality of it still hits home and seemed out of place with all the comic mischief that came before it. I wouldn't really call those moments bad but they certainly have the possibility to take someone out of the film that was just cruising along for the ride before that.

This is a pretty dam impressive chase scene.
I mentioned previously that this is a chase film and in the tradition of films like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Raiders of the Lost Ark and to some extent the Road Warrior there is a large chase that happens at the end of this film. By the time Tae-goo, Do-won, and Chang-yi all reach the location of the treasure they are all being pursued by not only other rival gangs and outlaws but the entire Japanese army as well. When all those forces collide it makes for one exciting action spectacle with cars, motorbikes, horses, cannon fire, and mounted machine guns all smashed up into one big clusterf**k of mayhem. That chase is amazing and worth the near two hours it takes to get there all on its own. But thankfully everything leading up to it so much fun that you will enjoy yourself during the entire journey.

The showdown at the end of the film is probably the only scene where it feels as if the film makers mimicked anything directly from Leone's classic but by that time I felt as though the film had earned that moment. I also liked how it all played out and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome, although the twist that is revealed about one of the characters was a bit much I thought. I really can find almost no fault to the film beyond it being a little too long and having a rather bland villain. If you are looking for a fun and well constructed movie that just so happens to be a western then look no further. Oh and the soundtrack is fantastic to boot!

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