Friday, May 14, 2010


By: Mediasaurus Rex

I don’t think I am alone in saying that I have struggled my entire movie-going adult life trying to stay awake through the entire THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY. The Clint Eastwood vehicle is a long-winded mood piece that is ground-zero for the 60s era spaghetti westerns. Director Ji-woon Kim’s update of the film runs about thirty minutes shorter than the Sergio Leone classic, but it is all about wicked pacing and style. THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD is an Asian film, frenetic and wonderfully shot, that takes all of the standard western movie cues and adrenalizes them with modern action-film mayhem.

What starts as a convoluted, hard to follow tale about a map, a train robbery, and more bullets than ever necessary gels in its second act with three main characters playing a delicious round of egotistical tug-of-war. There is Park Do-wan (Woo-sung Jung) who is the good. Do-wan is a bounty hunter who never smiles and cocks his rifle with a spin of the gun like THE TERMINATOR. Do-wan is a stoic; he channels old-school Eastwood with clarity. He is on a mission, and his hat is low over his face. The bad is Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee), a man who at a distance, looks strangely like Prince in his 80s incarnation. Chang-yi’s hair hangs over his right eye perpetually. His left eye always looks weepy. Chang-yi is a killing machine though. He uses bullets with inhuman skill and in one particularly brutal scene, slashes his opponent with a knife multiple times while dancing around him counter-clockwise. The weird is Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Sang), an aviator hat and Lennon sunglasses-wearing smart aleck who has a history in Korea that he would like to forget. Tae-goo is a criminal trying to make his way in the world. Unfortunately, the pride-dashing bounty on his head is merely the lamentable value of a piano.

The plot is rather simple. All of these characters are killing and stealing their way through northeast Asia in the 1930s. Chang-yi has been hired to rip a specific map off of a bank chief who happens to be riding on a train. However, before Chang-yi and his crew of savages can stop the train, Tae-goo has already made a hold-up of his own, securing the map and setting off a chain of events that brings Park Do-wan hot on his trail. The story is about the treasure map that allegedly leads to some goodies squirreled away before the fall of the Quing Dynasty. As more and more bandits, professional criminals, and even the Japanese Army tear the Manchurian desert apart in search of Tae-goo and his map, the film becomes more of a tribute to the ROAD WARRIOR than any western in recent memory.

In some ways this film is an unconventional marriage of IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD and THE STING put to Tarantino-style gunplay. But the key of it all is this film’s nonstop quirk. Fire-eaters, ducks, a running theme of mouths full of half-chewed food, and a classic brass diving helmet are just a few of the random items that permeate this film. THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD also features mouthy henchmen that ask the wrong questions and a sloppy guy with a machine gun turret who, when shot, mows the rest of his crew down. There is also the classic opium den scene and some of the most precise bullets fired since BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. If it was in a western, THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD salutes it.

This is a self-titled “Oriental Western” where convention is flipped, pinned, and tied up in obscure knots. The seamless CGI in this film (most notably a hawk with a carrion rabbit in its beak) trumps silly modern American throwback movies like INDIANA JONES AND THE CRYSTAL SKULL with ease. The world of THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD is a violent one, where bullets of exponential quantities are blasted at some characters, missing some entirely while the plasma of others sprays the camera lens.

What keeps the film going and locks the viewer in is the fact that THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD is nonstop fun. Wide camera shots suck up the desert and kick dust in everyone’s face. Moments of peril are edited out at times and at others zoomed in on. A running, squirm-inducing theme of chopped fingers keeps the pacing on the dangerous side. Tae-goo’s behavior counters this darkness as he behaves like a complete clown thief. Do-wan is as macho as they come, swinging from cargo ropes, firing his rifle from above, and never missing a target. Chang-yi is a wiry, muscularly ripped menace, sporting two cartilage piercings in his left ear and some vicious scars on his face. THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD drips with style, contains just enough substance, and references its predecessors with nonstop superiority. Hollywood should be taking some serious notes on what Ji-woon Kim has done here because it is damn near flawless.


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