The Good, the Bad, the Weird (UK - BD RB)
Chris takes a look at the recent Blu-ray release of this Kim Ji-woon Western...
In the desolate wilderness of 1930s Manchuria, notorious bandit Park Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun as the Bad) is hired to steal a treasure map from a Japanese official travelling by train. However, in the process of hijacking the train Park and his gang come under attack from a bounty hunter called Park Do-won (Jung Woo-sung as the Good). In the ensuing chaos the map is stolen by a bumbling thief called Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho as the Weird), who along with his friend Man-gil (Oh Dal-su), heads to the outlaw haven known as the Ghost Market. Upon arrival they try to decipher the map but soon come under attack from Park and his gang, forcing the reluctant thief to team up with the bounty hunter. What follows is a series of action-packed encounters in which the three men vie for possession of the map while fending off unwanted attention from the Japanese army, Korean freedom fighters, and Manchurian bandits.
This release presents the shorter 'International' version of the film, which apparently has slightly better pacing. Of course I can neither confirm or deny that, but I do know that the ending has been altered from the original Korean version, which is featured elsewhere on the disc. I'm at a bit of a loss to explain the film beyond the brief summary above, because the plot isn't exactly that memorable. The majority of the film's two-hour-plus runtime is comprised of action set-pieces in which heroes, anti-heroes and villains fire off about a gazillion bullets and perform lots of outrageous stunts. Don't get me wrong, the movie is a hell of a lot of fun, but for me it lacks the sort of substance that would hold up to repeated viewings. I'm used to watching more 'conventional' Asian features like Oldboy and Hero, and while I did find parts of the film amusing my sense of humour has never really tallied with that of the majority of Asian cinema.
It's also worth noting that this UK release is cut by five seconds. The cuts were compulsory because they pertained to footage of animal cruelty (horse trips). I can't say that I honestly saw where the cuts had been made, but I know a lot of people flat-out refuse to buy films that have been cut. Personally I'm not too bothered by slight trims that have zero effect on the story, but I believe the Korean Blu-ray is uncut should you have a differing opinion.
Icon Home Entertainment is a relatively unknown quantity for me when it comes to Blu-ray releases (I only own one of their other titles), so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this transfer. I needn’t have worried though, because The Good, the Bad, the Weird’s 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC) image looks very impressive. A small amount of edge enhancement aside, it hasn’t been processed excessively, as the presence of light grain will attest. It’s very sharp, with plenty of fine detail in the close-up shots, and colour rendition is extremely pleasing, with the brighter, bolder hues found in locations such as the Ghost Market almost leaping off of the screen. Contrast is also strong and black levels deep, retaining a fair amount of detail in the shadows. I seem to be ending a lot of my recent video summaries with the words ‘excellent’ or ‘outstanding’, and this one is no different. It really is a first-rate effort and could easily be used as a showcase title for the Blu-ray format even with the minimal haloing.
The disc includes both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtracks in Korean. I chose the latter for the purposes of the review and once again I was suitably impressed. It’s an incredibly lively, even raucous, effort right from the outset, with plenty of surround action throughout. A myriad of discrete effects—mainly bullets, motor-vehicles and dialogue—create an enveloping experience, and panning between the various channels is superb. Bass is also powerful when called upon, and there are numerous explosions for the LFE to get its teeth into. Thankfully the track also handles the subtler moments well, with the sound of rainfall an especially effective mood-setter. The clarity of the dialogue is first-rate throughout the entirety of the film, and the soundtrack compliments the action nicely, especially when a familiar track recently popularised by Kill Bill shows up during the final battle. I wouldn't go so far as to call the track reference quality, but it's not a million miles away. In fact, my only real nitpick is that the surrounds are sometimes a little too aggressive, occasionally overpowering the front channels.
The disc includes forced English subtitles, which appear to offer a competent translation and are well-timed and easy to read.
Running Fast (01:30:25 SD): This is an extremely comprehensive making of documentary in which director Kim Ji-woon takes us through every facet of the production. He starts by discussing his desire to make a Western (and, interestingly, a science fiction film), before moving on to the specifics of shooting the film. I don't want to go into every little detail, but suffice to say this is a more comprehensive making of documentary than you'll find on the majority of discs.
The Good, the Bad, the Weird and the Vicious (18:53 SD): This is a subtitled 'round-table' discussion with director Kim Ji-woon and the three leads. It's actually quite frank, and they discuss some of the things that they were unhappy about during the making of the film with some good-natured banter thrown in for good measure. I'm assuming that the featurette originally came from the Korean release, because the subtitles are a little off.
Analogue (10:54 SD): This featurette is supposed to deal with the cinematography, lighting, action sequences and sound, but it appears to be truncated from the version found on the SD DVD release. Lee Mogae, Oh Seung-chul and Jung Doo-hong are absent, leaving only sound designer Choi Tae-young to elucidate us on his sound design. One has to assume that this is an authoring error.
Space (10:28 SD): This featurette focuses on production design, costumes and set decoration. Cho Hwa-sung (production designer) talks us through his approach to the film and takes us on a short set tour, and Kwon Yun-jin (costume designer) discusses the period costumes he created for the film.
Deleted Scenes (43:53 SD): A huge collection of deleted scenes follows, offering up almost forty-five minutes of content. Most of the scenes were likely axed for pacing and time constraints, but they generally flesh out the story and fill in some of the blanks.
Alternate Endings (19:28 SD): There are five alternate endings, some of which are more comedic than others. The fourth ending is probably the strongest of the bunch and might even have worked as a better ending than the one featured in the completed film.
Trailers (01:34 HD): The disc includes a solitary trailer for the recent feature Push.
The Good, the Bad, the Weird is an entertaining movie full of action and comedic moments, with good performances from its central cast. I think perhaps I would have enjoyed it even more if I was more familiar with Westerns in general, but it's never been a genre that I've been particularly interested in. If you are a Sergio Leone fan you'll probably spot all the little nods and winks that I missed, enhancing your enjoyment beyond the simple thrills of the set-piece scenes. In any event, this is an impressive Blu-ray Disc. The audio-visual quality is up there with some the better titles I've seen and the extras a both substantial and interesting, so I have no qualms about recommending this title.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 15th June 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 Korean
Extras: Making of, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Endings, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kim Ji-woon
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung, Oh Dal-su
Length: 129 minutes
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