The Good, The Bad, The Weird

The Good, The Bad, The Weird


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"Pay attention!"

These words open the latest offering from versatile Korean director Kim Ji-woon (The Quiet Family, A Tale Of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life), as a hand is seen slamming down hard onto an old map. It is an arresting beginning to a film that never releases its grip on the viewer's attention, and rewards it with a pioneering foray into genre's wildest frontiers – and while you might well need a map to find your way through all the double-crossing subplots ("Any guesses what's going on here? No clue, huh?", as one character succinctly puts it), essentially they are, like the map itself, a MacGuffin around which are arranged some stunningly spectacular scenes of hyperkinetic chaos. Despite its lengthy duration, this film gallops along.

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The Good, The Bad, The Weird represents, along with Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django (2007), Shashank Ghosh's Quick Gun Murugan (2008) and Sadik Ahmed's The Last Thakur (2008), a new kind of genre: the "eastern", or Asian western. Where Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns may have borrowed a few ideas, or sometimes even an entire plot, from the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, this new film from Kim repays the debt in full, reimagining Leone's finest work The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966) transplanted to the lawless badlands of Japanese-occupied 1930s Manchuria, a desert landscape of ever-shifting boundaries where everyone is out to make their fortune, and everything is for sale. Here anything goes - and the same is true for this anarchic epic, as unbounded and pillage-happy as its three main characters.

Three exiled Korean adventurers, played by a dreamteam of Korea's biggest stars - vain bandit Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun - A Bittersweet Life), lucky train robber Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho - Memories Of Murder, The Host), and relentless bounty hunter Do-won (Jung Woo-sung, Musa: The Warrior) – come into violent collision during two simultaneous assaults on the same train, and then engage in a mad cross-country race to secure a stolen map which they hope will lead to the fulfilment of their dreams, whether it is to get rich fast, to exorcise the past, to wreak revenge or just to be proven the best.

In pursuit, are an international syndicate of bandits, some double-dealing drug dealers, and the amassed forces of the Japanese imperialist army – but no odds will prevent this trio from having their final three-way showdown, even if they must outride and outgun everyone else to get there.

All the stock scenes of the oater are here: wide-open plains, train robberies, gun battles, knife fights, opium dens, horse chases and tense Mexican stand-offs - but Jee-woon, a past master at manipulating mood, once again delivers a film of constant tonal surprise, with the moments of extreme sadistic violence offset (often uncomfortably) by ramshackle comedy, and grand action set-pieces sitting alongside calmer character drama.

There is no CGI, all the actors do their own stunts, and it culminates in a massed dash across the desert that shows not only where old-world martial values clash with newer weapons technologies, but also where the western meets The Road Warrior. It's exciting, funny, thrilling, and as entertaining as hell – and proves, if proof be needed, that genre knows no borders.

Reviewed on: 13 Oct 2008
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The Good, The Bad, The Weird packshot
Manchurian homage to Sergio Leone sees unlikely protagonists vie over a treasure map.
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Director: Kim Ji-Woon

Writer: Kim Ji-Woon, Kim Min-Suk

Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung, Kim Pan-joo, Ryu Seung-soo, Ryu Chang-sook, Deligeer, Yoon Jae-moon, Sohn Byung-ho, Kim Gwang-il, Ma Dong-suk, Lee Chung-ah

Year: 2008

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea

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