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The Good, the Bad, and the Weird

August 30th, 2010
The good, the bad, and the weird

I remember seeing ads and possibly a trailer for this film, but had forgotten about it until it made the new release wall at Happy Bats. It was quite good and surprisingly long. It is superior to “Sukiyaki Western Django” despite the lack of participation by Quentin Tarrantino.

The film opens basically with a battle on a moving train, this has more in common with “Once upon a time in the West” than it does “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. The train battle introduces the three title characters and finalizes the premise that everyone wants this map, which the Weird guy stole before the Bad guy could steal it, while the Good guy is trying to hunt him down. There are at least two other gangs in the film with some interest in the map, the gang that overlooks the carnage around the train and tries to make sense of the scene and the Ghost Market gang. Later the Japanese/Manchurian army goes after the map.

There are many gun fight scenes as well as some knife fighting. The Good guy catches the Weird guy and is going to turn him in for the ransom but they become partners and go after the treasure and of course the ransom for the Bad guy. It is a good Asian action flick. There are some crazy stunts, but also it is a little hard to believe the Good guy doesn’t get shot and killed or at least wounded at sone point.

The movie takes place during the 1920s in Manchuria. Parts of China and all of Korea are under Japanese rule. A wide variety of weapons are used from revolvers, to clip loading pistols, to automatic machine guns, even artillery. Also used are spears, knifes, axes, morning stars, and one notable war hammer. The gangs are half wild west, half steppes nomads, half mad max biker gang. The movie is very visually different with familiar Western and kung fu touch points.

Like I said this film pulls it off better than “Sukiyaki Western Django” and has the quintessential Korean quality. It features dialog in Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, even some French and a little English. I watched it with subtitles, I don’t know if you can get it dubbed or not. I believe it is filmed mostly on location in Northern China and there is at least one really elaborate set (the Ghost Market) where several running gun fights take place.

Although the Weird guy tries to avoid it, the film ends in a three way shootout. Before that it even echoes the Sergio Leone original as the Good guy holds a gun on the Weird guy while he digs. This three way shootout involves a lot more bullets than the original, with the possibility of no or maybe two survivors. I don’t know if there will be a sequel.

The final shootout in the Korean version has the famous extreme eye close ups, but not the quality of the character actors. The director also doesn’t hold the extreme close up for nearly as long as Leone did in his Westerns. This is a more modern and faster paced movie, with lots of explosions and bullets and nameless bad guys dying.

The three main actors have appeared in a number of other Korean films. Song Kang-ho has been in “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” the least of the Vengeance trilogy in my opinion. He is also in “Memories of Murder”, “The Host” and most likely to have been seen by a Western audience “Snowpiercer”.

Lee Byung- hun is a more traditional Korean movie star. He’s been in a number of Western movies including a remake of the “Magnificent Seven” but the movie I recommend and actually bought a copy of is “I Saw the Devil”. I found that trailer on YouTube.

The bad guy is played by Jung Woo-sung. He’s been in many Korean movies but I don’t think he’s done a major Western film. I can’t recall seeing him in any other Korean movies.

I tend to follow directors or even writers more than actors. There are three Korean Korean directors I recommend. The Vengeance Trilogy is directed by Park Chan-wook. I would have said he was the most famous Korean director but the success of “Snowpiercer” perhaps Bong Joon-ho is more famous now. Park Chan-wook was one of the producers of “Snowpiercer”.

My third most favourite Korean director is less well know. He’s made a number of movies. I have bought at least one after I found it on sale in China. “The Isle” is not for everyone but I do recommend Kim Ki-duk. I don’t even recommend watching the trailer if you’re squeamish.

If you have a favourite Korean film you can leave a comment below.

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