Kim Ji-woon‘s film is not a remake of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, but there’s more than a streak of Sergio Leone in this extraordinary South Korean action-adventure. An uptempo noodle western (the niftiest way to term Far Eastern spaghetti), The Good, The Bad, The Weird tips its hat to such classics as For A Few Dollars More and Once Upon A Time In The West with its near-namesake serving as the strongest influence.
Despite being derivative though, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is determined to do its own thing and strikes out as a unique, stylish feature in its own right. With enthusiastic verve, Kim Ji-woon reappropriates Western mythology and iconography to 1930s Manchuria and injects it with the raw energy and action sensibility that so strongly underpins Asian cinema. Just as mesmerising Thai horse melodrama Tears Of The Black Tiger took the all-American genre, lovingly turned it inside out and shook it up into a bizarre cultural hybrid, The Good, The Bad, The Weird does the same for South Korea. The result is spectacular.
Alongside the director’s assured ability in handling nostalgia, special effects and narrative effectively without over-or-underplaying any elements, the leading actors of the title – Jung Woo-sung, Lee Byung-hun and Song Kang-ho, respectively – cement the movie’s strength with compelling performances. In a fantastically farcical plot, enigmatic bounty-hunter Park Do-won is ‘the Good’ and black-hearted Russell Brand-a-like Park Chang-yi is ‘the Bad’. These characters find themselves going after a treasure map possessed by Yoon Tae-goo, the pistol-toting, pilfering ‘Weird’ played by recognisable star of The Host, Song Kong-ho.
Add the Japanese imperialist army, ghost market traders and other assorted bandits to the chase and you end up with a caper of cross-purposes, coincidences and crazed haircuts. Played out across striking scenery that calls to mind – for me at least – the otherworldly landscapes of Tatooine in Star Wars, The Good, The Bad, The Weird boldly blasts on with cathartic violence, bombastic style and black comedy. Altogether, it’s an enjoyable ride as an adventure flick, and the extensive action sequences and shootouts are all impressively crafted and invigorating.
For all the gung ho gun-blasting and freewheeling humour, however, The Good, The Bad, The Weird has a great sense of grandeur with its detailed period setting and stunning cinematography. It’s by no means a knockoff copy of classic westerns but a bold substantial vision of its own – in a way, Kim Ji-woon has made Once Upon A Time In Manchuria.
The director’s ambition and endeavour is evident in the array of documentaries packed into the double-disc DVD release. The Good, The Bad, The Weird represents one of the Korean film industry’s largest scale projects and so to receive such informative and interesting special features is a supplementary bonus. The collected extras – over two hours worth of material – show just how immense the film’s production was in terms of technology, design and style. Likewise, the ‘Making Of’ documentary and interviews offer not only potent comment and reflection from cast and crew but an intriguing insight into the challenges of shooting such a huge project in the dust and heat of the Chinese desert.
The exhaustive process of putting together The Good, The Bad, The Weird seemingly took a heavy toll on Kim Ji-woon and his team and it appears from the DVD that after all their toil, they had no idea how to wrap it up. The multitude of alternate endings are all included along with deleted scenes, all of which offer fans of the film the chance for debate and further immersion in the movie’s thrilling world. The DVD then packs a punch and nicely expands upon what is an astounding Eastern western.