If you’re a fan of Sergio Leone’s 1966 classic spaghetti western, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, you need to gallop, not walk, to the Carolina Cinema on both Friday night, April 16 and on Saturday, April 17 to see the “kimchee western,” The Good, The Bad and the Weird. South Korea’s most expensive film is so terrific–and so full of fantastic cinematography and artistic details–that you will want to see it both times it will be showing. I haven’t had such a good time in a movie in ages.
The movie is set, not in the vistas of the Wild West of America, but in the similar desert wasteland of Manchuria in the late 1930s, where the Japanese Empire has started its expansion that will eventually lead to World War II. Among the native Chinese, the tribal warlords, the invading Japanese and various and sundry world-wide wanderers are many Koreans, including our three heroes–er–outlaws.
First we meet The Bad (Byung-hun Lee), a dapper, leather-gloved sociopath who has agreed to rob a train to steal a treasure map. What he doesn’t know is that The Weird (Kang-ho Song), an older thief wearing motorcycle goggles, is already on board stealing it–and killing innocent passengers in the ill-fated attempt. Soon enters The Good (Woo-sung Jung), a scarf-touting bounty hunter on a fast horse who’s determined to bring the scofflaws in for the reward. “Life is about chasing and being chased,” says the bounty hunter, and that is definitely the motto of the movie.
Assuming that the treasure map means that jewels from the Quing dynasty, or at least from the Russian Romanovs who also claimed Manchuria at one time, are buried in the desert, the three derring-doers set off to steal the map and then follow its mysterious directions to the treasure. Easier said than done, particularly if every moment is accompanied by the portentous music of Dalparan and Yeong-guy Jang, who manage a hilarious imitation of Ennio Morricone, Korean style.
Space prohibits amusing you with all the things that happen in the movie. Let’s suffice to say that it involves trains, and motorcycles, knives, rifles, and nasty sticks, flying on ropes, and escaping over rooftops. There are sleeping grannies, rampaging warlords, fierce freedom fighters, greedy Japanese invaders, a High Noon show-down and more. I am sorry to say that there are no real women’s parts in this movie, not even a saloon girl of easy virtue. Ordinarily I’d deduct a half point for this oversight, but the movie was so good in every other way that I didn’t have the heart to be an upset feminist. This is pure testosterone entertainment with lots of tongue-in-check self-parodying, broad slapstick and even some good old satire — I’m not sure how the Japanese are going to like this film, but we’ll let the filmmakers worry about political correctness.
In addition to an adventure tale full of more twists and turns than a swizzle stick, as well as some touching character developments, movie is positively dazzling with spectacular historic sets and wild-era bending costumes. And the cinematography is breathtaking. I couldn’t have taken my eyes off the screen if you’d paid me. I’ve never heard of the director/co-writer Ji-Woon Kim, but I am sure one day soon he will he will take the worldwide cinema world by storm as much as he’s already done in South Korean.