The Good, The Bad, The Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈, Kim Jee-woon: 2008)

A heist is arranged by cold-bloodied-killer-with-a-reputation-to-match Chang-yi to steal a map that is being transported by train but before he can get his hands on the document it is stolen by a thief by the name of Tae-goon. During all of the commotion of the heist a third character appears – a man with a very big gun by the name of Do Won – who is also intent on getting his hands on the map. As  Tae-goon flees the scene he is unsure what he has stolen, but is aware that the other two are likely to come looking for it. ‘Chase ensues’…

A big, daft spaghetti western popcorn flick from acclaimed director Kim Jee-woon and starring three of Korea’s biggest stars, The Good, The Bad, The Weird always had a lot to live up to. Prior to it’s release the expectations of fans were sky-high – something that was eventually matched by it’s box-office takings domestically, followed by several other territories worldwide. So does the finished film live up to the expectations expected of it? Well, pretty much…

With The Good, The Bad, The Weird Kim seems to have aimed for a Spielberg-like blockbuster action film, and on this score he’s well and truly succeeded

Anyone expecting a character-driven plot with political references and social references to the 1930’s setting will be sorely let down by The Good, The Bad, The Weird. Before the arrive in theatres it’s never entirely clear what sort of film director Kim Jee-woon is going to deliver next, he’s a director equally at home in various genres and with different cinematic focuses – be it character, plot, themes or visuals. With The Good, The Bad, The Weird Kim seems to have aimed for a Spielberg-like blockbuster action film, and on this score he’s well and truly succeeded. Hitting the ground running – and barely stopping for a breath until the final credits roll – The Good, The Bad, The Weird is one big chase film. It has a few similarities to its obvious namesake – an object is sought after by several different parties, all of whom find their paths crossing in different ways up until the inevitable finale – but largely this is all about cinematic showmanship, taking the audience for a ride. It means that there’s little depth to either the characters or the plot – each man is portrayed in completely different ways,Tae-goon is a clumsy chancer, Chang-yi is the cold-bloodied but stylish killer, and Do won is the ‘mysterious stranger’ – and each has his own reasons for wanting the map at the centre of proceedings. Director Kim Jee-woon excels visually with all sorts of imaginative cinematography and slick editing and with only one brief exception he never lets things slow down. There’s also a a great soundtrack to boot. The three leads get to indulge their characters visually – each has his own trademark style and traits – and all three  look like they’re having a ball to boot. Song Kang-ho (The Host, Memories of Murder) gets the majority of the screen time with his clumsy but likeable thief Tae-goon. It’s the sort of role that Song excels at – lots of chuckling and childish grinning while somehow managing to just keep on top of the mad situations that he gets himself into. Lee Byung-hun (A Bittersweet Life) is all around impressive as the cold-blooded Chang-yi – his scarred face and long hair with psycho-stare is the type of image that you can imagine becoming  iconic, and he seems to be relishing a role that’s about as far away from some of his previous ‘pretty-boy'(!) on screen performances as he could get. It’s Jung Woo-sung (Musa) who gets the short end of the stick, his mysterious bounty hunter gets the least screen time and the character is given least to do. He’s not bad in the role, but he hasn’t been given a strong enough character to reflect the type of on-screen charisma that the Song and Lee show. He does, however, get one extremely cool scene which finds him flying around across the rooftops with a massive gun. Which can only be good.

With its three colourful central characters The Good, The Bad, The Weird manages to keep them busy for the majority of it’s screen time. The chases are inventive – with the best use of a deep-sea diving helmet on-screen, and a chase which includes horses, cars, a motorbike, guns and really big explosions – and the script is always gently amusing. The supporting cast are also very good – Yoon Je-moon (Mother) is particularly funny, and Ryoo Seung-soo (Happiness), Seong Yeong-chang (Thirst) and Son Byeong-ho (Vampire Cop Ricky) all put in brief but colourful appearances.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird is slick entertainment that it’s difficult not to like. It’s the  type of light-hearted fun that is worth a swift rewatch. It’s not perfect though – there’s a lack of depth that shows through on a second viewing, and several sub-plots that feel as though they’ve been trimmed down in order to streamline the action. Lee Byung-hun gets the closest to some type of character development, but even this is largely jettisoned for the final act. Kim Jee-woon has defended his lack of political comment in the film as irrelevant – this isn’t a period film in order to address historical ideas, it’s a cinematic one. As much as it’s title is a reference to Sergio Leone’s classic film, so Kim’s film indulges itself in the cinematic spectacle itself – if there’s little room for complex drama it’s because he doesn’t want one to clog up the on-screen action. While it leaves the film feeling a little light-weight it’s also barely worth complaining about – The Good, The Bad, The Weird is an incredibly effective and satisfying blockbuster. And the ending is a cracker*.

*The ending to the film depends on which version you see, the original Korean ending is an extended version and has a different emphasis. Both, however, are excellent.

좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 (The Good, The Bad, The Weird)
Directed by Kim Jee-woon
Produced by Kim Jee-woon, Choi Jae-won
Written by Kim Jee-woon, Kim Min-suk
Starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung, Yoon Je-moon, Ryoo Seung-soo, Seong Yeong-chang, Son Byeong-ho

The Good, The Bad, The Weird  Image © Barunson Film Division