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Original Title:
Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom

South Korea 2008

Western, Action

Kim Ji-woon

Song Kang-ho
Lee Byung-hun
Jung Woo-sung
Ryu Seung-su
Oh Dal-su
Ma Dong-seok
Kim Kwang-il
Jo Kyeong-hun
Oh Seo-won
Son Byung-ho
Uhm Ji-won
Song Young-chang
Yun Je-mun

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The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Story: Rogue Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho) mugs a train and steals a mysterious map. Also on board of the train is Park Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun), who is hired by a gangster boss to get his hands on the exact same map. Not happy about the fact that Yoon now has the map in his possession, Chang-yi chases after him through the desert. But his hunt is complicated by Park Do-won (Jung Woo-sung), who is after the money on Chang-yi's head, and moreover works for the Korean Liberation Army who wants him to obtain the stolen map since it is said that on this very map the route to an enormous treasure is sketched, which might give the Koreans the resources to free themselves from Japanese occupation. However, the Japanese also take part in the treasure hunt. Tae-goo isn't interested in all the political power struggles, though, he only wants to grab the gold supposed to be burried somewhere. Anyway, he doesn't know, yet, that Chang-yi has a personal score to settle with him. Furthermore, he temporarily has to somehow team up with Park Do-won. The chase through the wide lands of Manchuria will only end at a place marked with an "X"...

Review: "The Good, the Bad, the Weird", contrary to what is often alleged, isn't the first western from Asia, as Takashi Miike's "Sukiyaki Western Django" beat director Kim Ji-woon to a draw by a mere few months, even though it has to be pointed out that there were already some rather unknown additions to the genre before that. Yet, as it is often called analogous to the spaghetti-western, this is in fact the first Kimchi-western. Fortunately, there is only little use of elements of the original material from Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", as Kim Ji-woon's western succeeds in creating its very own framework, and actually feels like a mix of western and Asian movie. A mixture, that works out astonishingly well. Because even if it's hard to overlook that the film has some problems, like a certain disjointedness and problems concerning the character drawings, this doesn't change the fact that "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" is one hell of a fun ride and makes the audience feel its uniqueness with every single frame.

The story takes place in Manchuria during the 30s when Korea was occupied by the Japanese. The Japanese also just had annexed Manchuria during that time, so that this could have delivered a nice political frame for the movie, if done right. Sadly, the filmmakers didn't make use of this chance, and therefore only those interested in history may make out some of the historical connections drawn in the background. With respect to this the multi-cultural composition of the movie isn't that surprising, as apart from Korean there is also spoken Japanese and Chinese, since Manchuria was under the jurisdiction of the Chinese before the Japanese invaded, after all. Oftentimes it's funny to listen to the actors struggling with their mandarin-Chinese. It doesn't sound that well, nonetheless... Still, the many cultures we meet here make this film very colourful and entertaining.

"The Good, the Bad, the Weird" has been shot in western China, near the Gobi Desert, where there is a lot of sabulose flatland. Therefore, the shots, and especially the many chasing scenes through the desert, look very epic in scale thanks to the panorama look. More than anything else Kim Ji-woon proves that he has widened his repertoire once again since his "A Bittersweet Life" when it comes to the technical aspects. The tracking shots are breathtakingly dynamic and especially the shootout during the middle of the film when Do-won swings across the shooting ground on a rope while taking out his enemies, is a scene that will be remembered. Moreover, there are some shots, that realistically couldn't have been possible to perform, and have been realized by well-inserted and modest CGI-usage. Little details like blood spattering into the camera, and there isn't really little use of the red life juice, create a realistic feel that stands in strong contrast to the general more fantastic presentation of the movie. Do I need to say more than: Koreans in long coats and with Cowboy hats?

Funnily, the hat suits Jung Woo-sung ("A Moment to Remember", "The Restless") impressively well! It just would have been nice if his personality had been drawn a bit more three-dimensional, as he always remains the flat drawn "good" headhunter of the trio, about whom we never really get to know anything. Lee Byung-hun ("A Bittersweet Life", "Addicted") on the other hand plays a little too cliché-loaden villian, even if he fills this role quite well and at the same time would win any fashion contest with ease. The actual main character is the weird of the group, embodied by Song Kang-ho ("The Host", "Memories of Murder"). Song once again outdoes himself and manages to portray a fascinating and extremely wacky character, who is simply fun to watch when creating a big mess on screen. Anyway, what's really strongly apparent is the ever-dominant humor in the movie, which can be quite odd in its own unique way and most of the time also delivers the necessary amount of winks for an Asian western to hit the right notes. There are many situations, more than anything else the high number of side characters and parties, that will make you laugh out loud. Big kudos to the fact that the film doesn't take itself too serious at all!

As already stated there are also some minor problems. "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" is often loud, action-loaden and fast-paced, yet, at some points there are also some slow-downs and certain scenes which harm the western since they don't add to a coherent overall picture. With its running time of 139 minutes the movie really could have been cut down a little, even the more as the epic length of the original wasn't something the filmmakers wanted to copy anyway. However, the finale is well done, especially in corporation with the music, which may have some western elements to it here and there, yet mixes them with latin-rhythms and even Asian sounds.
"The Good, the Bad, the Weird" just aims at being fun to watch and to entertain the viewer, which it actually succeeds in well, also because of the fact that it's obvious that the actors had fun doing this film, too. Nonetheless, it would have been nice to see a little bit more substance and character development. Song Kang-ho can make up for these shortcomings most of the time, and when you give in to the serious entertaining value of the movie you will get carried away by the stylish action right away. Not to forget: Who wants to skip a Korean western, anyway?!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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