Film Review: The Good the Bad and The Weird (2008)

2 Oct

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For an action film, this Korean western is quite a labyrinth. With the basic plot involving a precious map and a crafty double cross delivered rapidly in the first minute, you”ll need to pay close attention. Even after this, as it transforms into a a colourful and energetic explosion of fighting, running, and John Woo style face-offs, you’ll need to stay focussed to avoid obfuscation.

good the bad and the weird1The ‘Bad’ takes the form of devious and handsome Park Chang-Yi (Lee Byung-hun), a Yakuza style hitman who is paid to retrieve a precious map from a passenger on board a train. The plan goes awry when a thieving bandit already on board the locomotive, engages in a random heist of the first class carriage and ends up with the precious document (the ‘weird’ bandit is played by Song Kang-ho in a brilliantly wacky, but understated, performance). Things are further complicated when Park Do-Won (Jung Woo-sung), a mysterious bounty hunter, enters the scene, and pursues with single minded vigour the reward placed on the heads of both the thief and the hitman. It’s an escalating battle initially converging on the train and but which soon fans out and sweeps up other members of the manchurian bandit society and the massive colonial forces of the Imperial Japanese Army.

 

In order: The bad, the weird, the good.

In order: The bad, the weird, the good.

Over the last couple of decades Korean film has become one of the most rejuvenating areas for cinema, and has had some notable success breaking through to western audiences. The Host, a monster disaster movie both funny and frightening, and Old Boy, which blended a David Fincher atmosphere with traditional martial arts, are two examples but there are plenty more. We recently reviewed Korean director Pil-Sung Yim’s take on Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale Hansel & Gretel and were impressed beyond measure. The wide range of films emanating from just south of the axis of evil have utilised an informed Hollywood sensibility, but have always moved beyond this base by adding distinctly off-beat elements.

Korean cinema: Taking Hollywood and running with it.

Korean cinema: Taking Hollywood and running with it.

Pay attention!

TGTBATW is a playful and slightly exhausting cat mouse and game between three well matched foes, who exist in a celluloid netherworld halfway been Hollywood cowboys and Asian gangsters – ‘Kimchi’ land. Enthralling and insanely fun if your in the mood for the ride, irritating and pointless if you’re not. I was reluctantly in the latter camp, but I don’t like too much noise and have never been into westerns (though like the idea of them, and I really need to see The Searchers). With an impotent level of interest, I kept vagueing out and consequently found it a little hard to follow – which is testament to the knotty nature of the plot, which demands you don’t miss a beat.

Luckily there is much to enjoy beyond the relentless action. Fantastical sets, amazingly lively and creative photography, and well delivered performances from a distinct bunch of misfits, makes this a unique and vivid mashup of the spaghetti western genre, transposed to 1930s Manchuria. There’s even a little Mad Max in there, as the motorcycle riding thief is chased across an endless desert, pursued by a ragtag collection of criminals on horseback. The twisting of Director Kim Jee-woon tangled and tighlty scripted plot, brings to mind the elements which make so enjoyable the work of his Hong Kong counterpart, Johnnie To. It looks like it was a lot of fun to make, and a behind the scenes extra at how they captured the chaos would be fascinating. There’s definitely a lot of talent behind the project.

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While modern action films from USA, such as Transformers 2 and Disney’s tedious pirate films, seem to have left individuality and characters behind for head-in-a-vice-grip battle scenes and safe, predictable choices, Korea continues to invent and suprise. With a local box office that has American films playing second fiddle to local acts, Australia really should try and emulate the success of the South Korean model. Though it probably doesn’t help that most Australians speak American.

Ronan MacEwan

The Good the Bad and the Weird is now showing as part of ACMI’s latest ‘Long Play’ series until October 20. Buy Tickets.

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One Response to “Film Review: The Good the Bad and The Weird (2008)”

  1. Gram Morris October 5, 2009 at 2:27 pm #

    I’ve never enjoyed a western either

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