Ji-woon Kim’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a spectacular thrill ride that’s sure to be as entertaining and probably more so than most of the summer blockbusters released during the first month of the season. With a title that’s a clear nod to Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, it shouldn’t be surprising to reveal that Kim’s film is a reinterpretation of the Western genre. But that barely hints at the clever, riveting experience you’ll have watching this film. Even the choice of inspiration is itself inspired. Think about it: This unbelievably entertaining slice of self-referential entertainment works with the imagery and themes of Leone’s films, themselves a foreign commentary on a very American ideal. In other words, The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a post-modern foreign take on a typically American genre through what was already a foreign take on an American genre. But you don’t need to have ever seen a minute of the films starring “The Man with No Name” to enjoy Kim’s incredibly accomplished action/adventure, one of the best films of the year to date.
The three title characters are introduced with an amazing train robbery sequence that would stand as the climax of most major films but is merely the opening act of this action extravaganza. The final car of the crowded train holds a document that is not just your typical treasure map but something desired by criminals and governments around the world. The first man to the map is “the weird,” a portly bandit named Tae-goo (the great Kang-ho Song, last seen in Thirst) but he’s quickly chased by the suave “bad,” a notorious killer named Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee), and “the good,” a noble bounty hunter named Do-Won (Woo-sung Jung). Of course, playing with archetypal imagery, the bad Chang is typically dressed in a black suit with slicked back hair and the good Do-Won is seen in a brown duster with a slick matching hat. The rest of the film is basically a chase movie with Tae-goo racing across the Japanese-occupied land between China and Korea c. 1930, followed by the good, the bad, and dozens of other people trying to get their hands on the map.
Fans of Leone’s films should be warned that The Good, the Bad, the Weird does not mimic Sergio’s dry, slow burn style. There are moments of calm, but they are mere moments. And, if there any complaints to level at the work, it could be that it’s too over-the-top. This is not for fans of talky Westerns. For the most part, it’s closer to Kung Fu Hustle than High Noon, but I mean that in a very good way. It is a comic action masterpiece with great performances all around and one breathtaking shoot-out after another. Hollywood will try to sell you all summer long on their latest blockbuster being the thrill ride to beat this season. It will be a movie miracle if any of them are as straight-up entertaining as The Good, the Bad, the Weird.
Rating: FOUR BONES
Release Date: May 7th, 2010
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Byung-hun Lee, and Woo-sung Jung
Director: Ji-woon Kim
Writers: Ji-woon Kim & Min-suk Kim