Sunday, April 4, 2010
The Good, The Bad & The Weird (2008) Review
Upon first checking out the online spin concerning Kim Ji -Woon(A Tale Of Two Sisters)'s ode to retro-actioners & spaghetti westerns, a part of me leapt for joy as it truly felt logical that one of Korea's masters had what it took to breathe irreverent new life into these near-extinct genres. If Miike was to have a whale of a time with revamping the Django Western some years back, why couldn't it happen here? Part Leone tribute, part Balls-to-the-Wall Indiana Jones chase film, the film shifts chaotically between extremes in often times jarring fashion. Which isn't to say that The Good, The Bad, and The Weird is any kind of letdown, but rather that it is a matter of what one brings to the whole wacky affair.
In oh-so breakneck fashion, the film introduces the backdrop as 1930s Manchuria, a time when Korea's stake in the world stage was in doubt as Japan had begun to move deeper into the mainland, with many Koreans bandying for independence.(backdrop information which may, or may not affect viewers depending of their knowledge of this corner of history) Concerns for this have led to an increased number of displaced folk, seeking out their fortunes for varying reasons. And a potentially huge tip to fortune has just landed in the lap of a wealthy man eager to hire expert trackers to find it. The Macguffin in question is a map, leading to an unknown prize of considerable wealth. His separate hiring of black-clad gang leader, Chiang-Yi Park, and good guy bounty hunter, Park Do-Won lead the charge onto a busy cross-country train carrying Japanese banker Kanemaru, who's possession of this prize is key. Yet despite all this, it is the cunning antics of one Yoon Tae-goo that intercepts the map, and leaves both parties in hot pursuit.
To make matters worse, the fracas on the train has grabbed the attention of Mongolian groups, prize hunters, and inevitably the Japanese Imperial Forces in a nonstop race for the map. Just what is this map? And just how far are people willing to go for it?
Lee Byung-hun's twisted, Chiang-yi is a classic egoist, ready to plunder and kill all who stand between him and his reputation, an instant Achilles heel that works like an unstable powder keg. And Jung Woo-Sung portrays the Man-With-No-Name archetype with a sort of lost -soul that while appropriate is given a short shrift. But it is Song Kang-ho that comes off triumphantly in this film. In what easily could have been modeled into a Lee Remick impersonation, Kang-ho's schleppy charm becomes the film's bonding element. Part likeable loser, part danger to himself and others, Yoon Tae-goo is a man of considerable secrets that truly shows his stuff when in the most intense of situations.
And intensity is perhaps the word to utilize when thinking of TGTB&TW's strengths. Where the film sort of stumbles in the exposition/character development department, it truly excels in some truly exceptional action sequences. From the early shootout set-piece within a shanty marketplace, it is pretty clear where Ji-Woon is most comfortable. The editing, and stunt-work there are among some of the very best I've seen in years. (there are shots in there that truly rival manga imagery) And then the final chase sequence using a multitude of horses, motor vehicles, and artillery fire must be seen to be fully comprehended. In an age of digital cinema, it is nice to see a large-scale production embrace a true sense of danger. About the only gripe I could share in these areas are some of the musical choices that for me, feel forced and dare I say it, unimaginative for such impressive everything else. It is a crippling would in what could easily have been a landmark scene.
But alas, the weaknesses don't really end here. Even if the film intends to throw us into the fray, it's still important to let viewers in on what is truly at stake by giving us a little more character early on in the film. Instead, we are subject to what I can only call Bay-isms, where the audience is subject to montages of information with little or no true cohesiveness toward our characters objectives. It isn't until nearly into an hour into the film that we are given just enough to care about our leads before the grinder is switched on to high. And even if non-Korean viewers were likely not intended, it would still help the multitudes of viewers whom many of these homages were paid respect to.
It is almost apparent that the film's primary concern was the action, with the script's meditations on the spirit of displaced countrymen taking a grudging backseat because where this film truly flies is when all thrusters are on full, leaving us to charge along in the chase, hoping to cash in on all the dizzy fun. This all ends in a denouement that quite frankly should have been more focused than it is. I'm also of the understanding that multiple endings resulted. In some way, this reflects quite appropriately to my initial statement. TGTB&TW is not unlike our leads, longing for more, striving for glory, only to come back with what they themselves have brought to the journey.