East meets West…
Absolutely breathtaking from its opening train robbery to its jaw-dropping climactic desert chase sequence – unlike any you’ll have ever seen before – The Good, The Bad, The Weird isn’t simply one of the greatest films to come out of South Korea. It’s one of the greatest action adventure movies ever mad, period.
Set in late-1930s Manchuria, a desert wasteland between China and Russia, Ji-woon Kim’s film is a pitch-perfect homage to Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with a uniquely Eastern twist. In this lawless land live three strangers – ‘The Good’, bounty hunter Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung); ‘The Bad’, gang leader Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee) and ‘The Weird’, low-level criminal Yoon Tae-go (Kang-ho Song) – whose lives are about to collide over an ancient treasure map. As the three go up against each other in a battle for the map, they are also pursued by various bandits and the might of the Japanese army…
The Good, The Bad, The Weird is frantic from start to finish, a colourful whirlwind of comic book action, ultra-violence and comedy that never lets up. All of the traditions of the genre are here; wide open spaces, gun battles and train robberies, but well and truly infused with an Asian influence (roving gangs, samurai fights) that spices up proceedings.
There’s also a brief smattering of social commentary, the film briefly referencing the difficult relationship between Japan and Korea, and the final chase highlights the Manchurian melting pot of old-school traditional clans and the new technologies of the Japanese army all fighting for supremacy. But the focus is firmly on the whip-cracking action, of which there is a great deal; a constant flurry of stand-offs, chases and flashbacks that are a constant barrage on the senses. It’s certainly not a film you can relax into, it demands you remain on the edge of your seat throughout.
But, with its lack of CGI and truly magnificent stunt work, it’s all good old-fashioned fun.
It’s certainly not the first Eastern Western – Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) and He Ping’s Sun Valley (1996) have previously melded the genres – but, thanks to the supreme and enthusiastic efforts of the film’s impeccable leading trio and Ji-woon Kim’s masterful direction, The Good, The Bad, The Weird should certainly be the one that finds the widest audience. 5 stars
The Alternative Ending is proof that Ji-woon Kim made the right decision in excising it for the finished film, and there’s also a great making of and interviews with the director and his cast. There are featurettes on ‘Analogue’ (cinematography, lighting, actiona sequences and sound) and ‘Space’ (production design, costumes and set drection) plus a handful of deleted scenes. 4 stars