Monday, August 23, 2010

Movie Review: The Good, The Bad, The Weird

DVD Discovery
Sick Shooters
The Good, The Bad, The Weird doesn’t aim, just fires


There’s no way it took both director Kim Ji-woon and writer Kim Min-suk to pen the screenplay to The Good, The Bad, The Weird, unless one was assigned only adjectives and the other only verbs. With costumes comprising the bulk of character development, and dialogue consisting mostly of grunts and expletives, if the screenplay tallied more than 20 pages, it’s only because someone was drawing pictures in it. This journey into the wild, wild East is not about nuance and verbal finesse. No, it’s a MacGuffin-fueled chase through 1930s Manchuria, with a punch-drunk Peckinpah at the wheel. So, yeah, it’s pretty much awesome.

The MacGuffin here is a map of unknown relevance originally in the possession of the Japanese military. Park Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun), “The Bad,” is a bandit and assassin dispatched to steal said map from an official aboard a train that Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho), “The Weird,” just happens to already be robbing. Park Do-won (Jung Woo-sung), “The Good,” also shows up, as he’s hot on the trail of both outlaws, presumably because he wears a mustache that demands justice.

The initial ménage-à-boom-boom aboard the choo-choo could have been the climax of most conventional action films but is but the opening salvo in the film’s one-upmanship of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns. Literally, the entire remainder of the flick is Tae-goo fleeing with the potentially significant map to God knows where, dodging both murder-enthusiast Chang-yi and honor-obsessed Do-won. Some trace elements of the Korean quest for independence from Japan pop up, as does a bizarre subplot involving finger removal, but such things are only discussed while reloading.

Some have dismissed the film as hyper-violent, but unless these critics also pen angry letters to Wile E. Coyote, they are hypocrites. Filled with all the color and consequence of a cartoon, Ji-woon’s kinetic extravaganza is Looney Toons for grown-ups, with its equal disregard for emotional weight and Newton’s laws. Try not to be giddy watching Do-won swinging from conveniently placed ropes while gunning down goons with the rifle in his free hand. It’s the sort of thing Indiana Jones would do if George Lucas didn’t have him running from giant bugs and monkeys.

What’s more, the three characters are stupidly fun in their one-dimensionality. From Chang-yi’s overtly evil emo haircut and superfast knife play to Tae-goo’s goofy hat and rampant double gun use to Do-won’s Asian Clint Eastwood impression, each daffy dude is delightful. Nobody is afraid to look dumb, and thank goodness for that.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird does overstay its welcome thanks to bizarre sidetracking, including one sequence that sees Tae-goo kill not one but two captors via knife proctology. It also culminates in a three-way standoff that feels incredibly anticlimactic after a nearly 40-minute motorcycle-versus-ponies chase through the desert. But perfection was never promised, only powder-keg pleasure. Fact is, as far as action movies go, the advice to American directors looking to ramp up the action should be the inverse of manifest destiny: Look East, young men.

Grade = B+

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