“The Good, The Bad, and the Weird,” is just about the most amazing Korean film I’ve ever seen. It’s a sprawling, insane love-letter to spaghetti westerns in general, and “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly,” in particular, as you’d expect from the title. It’s also strongly influenced by Raiders of the Lost Ark, and, believe it or not, The Road Warrior. (Which I suppose brings things full circle, since The Road Warrior is basically a postapocalyptic spaghetti western by design).
The plot only superficially overlaps with its more-or-less namesake. Basically, “Hey, there’s a treasure, lets go get it,” and three characters who can’t be trusted and don’t like each other trying to beat the others to it. It culminates in a three-way Mexican standoff. (Manchurian standoff? Despite being Korean, this movie takes place in Manchuria in 1939, very shortly before World War II breaks out.) That’s a pretty broad comparison, though, and most of what actually happens in the film has nothing to do with the Eastwood flick. For instance, at no point in this movie do we diverge from the plot for a half hour to help the Confederate army blow a bridge to slow the Union advance.
“The Good,” is a Korean bounty hunter who inexplicably dresses like a spaghetti western cowboy. Got the hat, got the duster, the awesome rifle, the quick-draw tie-down holster with six guns that never run out of bullets. He’s awesome. He’s also not in very much of the movie, as he’s, well, “The Good,” and Good isn’t nearly as much fun as evil or weird. If you haven’t seen TGTB&TU, Eastwood’s “Good” is only in relation to the other two. He’s not a nice guy. This film’s “Good” is, though, so he tends to be absent a lot. He’s an insurmountable badass, however, and has just about the most amazing gunfight ever a third of the way into the film.
“The Bad” is played by Lee Byung-hun, whom I’ve never heard of, but he just oozes “Movie Star.” Remember the first time you saw Chow Yun-Fat in “The Killer,” when he walks in with the suit and the sunglasses and the guns, and just *owns* the screen? I remember my wife saying “If he could speak English, he’d own Hollywood.” Well, Lee Byung-hun doesn’t quite have THAT level of grab-you-by-the-throat-and-force-you-to-pay-attention impact, but he’s darn close. He’s just flat-out evil here, and kind of inexplicably ’80s looking, with his New Wave haircut and his earring.
“The Weird” is oddly the main character. I know Eli Wallach got way more screen time in TGTG&etc than people remember, but his more-or-less equivalent here is the star: A not-very-bright crook with more ego than skills, occasional bouts of panic, cowardice, and an unexpected backstory that makes you wonder if his personality was real or just an act all along.
“The bounty on you is 300 Yon.”
“I’m only worth as much as a piano?”
“A used piano, at that.”
The movie deliberately bends time, with scenes that could come from any cowboy film, WW2 film, and chop-sockey flick playing side by side. It’s deliberately anachronistic, with the 80s rock star bad guy, cowboy good guy, and 1930s hobo comic lead, and this is deliberate, and a good choice.
Direction is very solid, though the steadycam gets a little too jittery in a couple scenes. Shot composition is nice. The action sequences are fantastic. There’s a fifteen-minute long chase sequence involving a motorcycle, a jeep, mongol horsemen, a gang of bandits, a cowboy, and the Imperial Japanese Army that just keeps getting bigger and bigger and more super-crazy-no-way gonzo over-the-top. It’s the kind of sequence that would make George Miller say, “I’ve wasted my life,” and start crying.
The score is gorgeous, too. It blends modern music, traditional East Asian stuff, and some very solid Ennio Morricone pastiches. It’s freakin’ awesome. I *WILL* find a copy of this for my collection.
My one caveat is that this is a pretty brutal film. Lots of blood, lots of splatter, some particularly vicious scenes with knives, two comedic-yet-really-gross skewerings. Not for the squeamish.
Just the same you guys, oh my gosh, this movie…! Wow.