Back Comments (1) Share:

Feature


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. (Apologies to Chris for swiping his synopsis, but he summed it up so well…)

The Good, the Bad, the Weird
When the time comes to discuss the best of modern Korean cinema (and the time always comes) there are two names thrown about with well earned abandoned – Park Chan-Wook and Bong Joon-ho. Both directors found crossover success in the Western world, which has lead to some comparative over-exposure (if there can be such a thing). Though there’s a virtual smorgasbord of talent laid across the region at this point, including Crying Fist director Ryoo Seung-wan, Save the Green Planet director Jang Joon-hwan, and Welcome to Dongmakgol director Park Kwang-hyun, I personally complete the New Wave ‘trifecta’ with the eclectic Kim Ji-woon. Kim isn’t quite the intellectual Park is, and he isn’t quite the consummate experimenter Bong is, but he’s proven his sharp sense of humour ( The Quiet Family), his baroque sense of class ( A Tale of Two Sisters), and that he has style to burn ( A Bittersweet Life). With The Good, the Bad, the Weird Kim kicks down the doors with a genuine rock ‘em, sock ‘em action flick on a scale that would make Sergio Leone proud.

Kim’s always been a bit of a show-off, but nothing in his oeuvre really approaches the sheer audacity on display here. The film opens with a long take that starts in the sky, follows a hawk to the train tracks, zips into the train’s smoke stack, and follows Song Kang-ho through several train cars, where he eventually unloads two handguns on some unsuspecting victims. Most films would probably be satisfied with one such set-up, but every five or so minutes a new shot featuring a myriad of directorial complexities is introduced, including gymnastic steady cam footage, nearly impossible crane shots, and hordes of cast members each using their own complex little props. There’s no mistaking that this is a vibrant, nearly perfectly executed piece of action/adventure, nor is it hard to mistake Kim’s intent to show off. The story is, sometimes unfortunately, secondary to the whip-pan camera work and budget busting production design. Sometimes the interlocking plot elements become almost aggressively convoluted, but it’s hard to accuse the film of being too predictable, despite basing itself loosely on one of the most popular Italian westerns of all time. Direct comparisons to Leone’s classic, by the way, are pretty cosmetic, including the pairing of the ‘hero’ and the ‘misfit’ in a shaky truce, the basic motivations of those characters, the journey to hidden treasures, and the final duel. For the most part Kim inverts our expectations concerning adaptation.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird
It’s a bit hard to keep track of everything the first time around, but it’s worth the effort, and ultimately worth the second viewing, even for those that weren’t necessarily wooed by its many charms the first time around. And speaking of charm, how about the cast, especially the three leads? Song Kang-ho being good in a movie is about as news worthy as the sky being blue at this point, but this particular performance is possibly his purist in the sense of comedy. All the actors take at least a partial cue from their counterparts in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but Song is a pretty close stylistic analogue to Eli Wallach’s Tuco (The Ugly), though his character has more screen time, and side plots. Lee Byung-hun, who I loved in Kim’s Bittersweet Life, could’ve skated by on his best glower and sneer, but his presence is imposing, and he brings some pretty extraordinary pathos to key bits of his story (is this his first villain role?). Jung Woo-sung (who I’ve never seen in another movie before) gets the short end of the stick with the less chewy Clint Eastwood role, and he doesn’t have the deadpan chops to pull out any real laughs, but there is plenty of gravitas in his lone badass performance.

Besides taking many of its cues from the Western greats (visually speaking I’d say there’s more Once Upon a Time in the West than anything else), The Good, the Bad, the Weird is comparable to Tarantino’s Kill Bill films (Kim even uses a similar version of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ on the soundtrack), and other post-modern spaghetti western homage, like Álex de la Iglesia’s 800 Bullets, but I was most reminded of Takashi Miike’s ode du Leone/Corbucci Sukiyaki Western Django. Miike’s film is even more avant garde, strange and funny, but like most of his work it hits and misses all over the place. Kim’s film features the same anachronistic sense of design, and general disinterest in scruples, but overpowers Sukiyaki Western through scope, and force of pyrotechnics. I’m a huge fan of Miike’s work, and still find him to be one of the most exciting working filmmakers, but I don’t think he has it in him to direct something as complex and huge as The Good, the Bad, the Weird’s pre-climax desert chase. Frankly I’m not sure many directors outside of David Lean or Steven Spielberg could manage a comparable sequence (that includes Tarantino, by the way).

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Video


My first experience with The Good, the Bad, the Weird was, thanks to a whole lot of impatience, a pretty crummy bootleg DVD, so this IFC Blu-ray release is, by and large, a bit of a revelation. It’s a low place for my expectations to be coming from, I suppose, but gee gosh this 1080p Blu-ray release looks pretty. Kim and cinematographer Oh Seung-Chul cram so much stuff into every frame it’s almost a crime not to watch the film on the biggest screen possible, and in the highest possible resolution. There are fine textural details, patterned details, intricate wardrobe designs, wallpapers, and just about every other minute element easily missed, or worse, compressed by lesser resolution transfers (specifically that bootleg piece of junk I watched). The colours are just as overwhelming to a 480p transfer. The palette includes pretty much every hue in the spectrum, all bright, full-bodied, and cut against each other like diamonds. There is some fine film grain, and a few flecks of white print damage here and there, but overall the print is very clean, and the bright colours don’t feature any compression artefacts or blocking. The one unmissable problem with this transfer is edge-enhancement, and other comparable sharpening artefacts. This is not a consistent issue, but does mare the more sweeping wide-shots, specifically those of the Manchurian desert, where the otherwise impressive detail of thousands of tiny rocks occasionally becomes a sea of little white lines. My only other problem is the occasional grey/blue quality of black levels.

EDIT

: I'm sorry to say I missed the fact that this appears to be a 1080i, not 1080p transfer. I didn't notice any interlacing effects, but this is clearly not the ideal way to release the film. According to Chris' review the UK release is 1080p.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Audio


Big action, big music, big DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The Good, the Bad, the Weird is brimming with sonic fury, from rushing trains and automobiles, to fiery explosions and humungous gunshots. Kim and his sound designers use contrasting aural elements to impressive suspenseful effects as well, often taking the time to entirely suck all but the most subtle ambient sound out of a scene before unleashing another barrage of crunching steel and throbbing music. The constant use of steady camera movement through sets leads to some more interesting directional effects, including well staged movement around and behind the viewer. The dialogue track, which is usually well centered, occasionally quiets the rest of the mix a little more than needed, but usually the use of stylistic silence built around these more talky moments works to get a plot point across without standing too far apart from the rest of the film. Those worried that their LFE channel might be feeling a little lonely might want to cut right to the big cross desert chase that leads into the climax, which features all the thunderous horse hooves, revving engines, and rapid fire machine guns you could ever want. Composer Chan Young-gyu takes a sort of ‘do-it-yourself’ approach to the Tarantino method of reusing other film music, specifically Ennio Morricone’s work with Sergio Leone. The music is a bit more modern than Morricone’s (specifically when it comes to the use of drums), and has a slight increase in the Spanish department, but keeps the basic feel.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Extras


The disc’s extra begin with a behind the scenes reel (15:00, SD). This footage looks and acts like similar raw, roughly cut set footage on similar Korean DVDs, but Kim’s filmmaking is intricate to watch the massive process. It’s almost shocking how much of the film was shot practically, and without stunt doubles. I’d prefer more focus, and perhaps some interview footage or commentary to put the footage into context next time. Next up is a reel from the red carpet at Cannes 2008 (3:00, SD), where the film premiered. All the participants look incredibly uncomfortable, and the footage is really roughly cut, but there’s a lo-fi charm to the extra. This is followed by two ‘Making-Of’ featurettes (3:20, 1:00, both SD), which include more behind the scenes footage intercut with interviews from the cast and crew. Both featurettes are press kits/trailers at heart, so emphasis is placed on the awesome hardships and scope, likely in an attempt to sell the thing as epic (which, of course, it is). This also puts emphasis on the actors doing their own stunts without CG assistance. The extras end with a series of interviews with director Kim Ji-woon (3:10, SD), and the three stars, Song Kang-ho (2:41, SD), Lee Byung-hun (3:00, SD) and Jung Woo-sung (2:40, SD), along with a trailer. Unfortunately all those deleted scenes, which can be found on the UK release, are missing.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Overall


I was pretty green when I reviewed Kim Ji-woon’s cock-eyed gangster drama Bittersweet Life several years ago, but among all the spelling errors and awkward prose I managed to catch all of the director’s Spaghetti Western cues. At the time I remember thinking perhaps I just had Italian movies on the mind, and I was seeing what I wanted to see, so the The Good, the Bad, the Weird’s very existence was a kind of personal verification. The fact that it ended up being a good movie is a nice extra benefit. I could get behind an argument in favour of shortening the film a bit, and wouldn’t argue that the plot loses its way a few times, but I haven’t seen a better old-school, digital-lite action film on this scale in a very long time. Another solid gateway drug from Kim for those that haven’t yet discovered the wonderful world of New Wave Korean cinema. And there’s no better way to see this massive motion picture than on the biggest screen possible, in the sharpest possible resolution, so this mostly great Blu-ray transfer is a joy (

EDIT

or not, I did not notice it was 1080i). The extras are pretty weak, and missing the deleted scenes found on the UK release. It appears that this Blu-ray features the Korean release ending (based on the Wikipedia description), but the runtime is about 9 minutes shorter, closer to that of the International release.

Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


Links: