Saturday, May 15, 2010

Movie Review: The Good, The Bad, The Weird

Joheunnom, Nabbeunnom, Isanghannom

“The Good, The Bad, The Weird”

Korea, 2008

Genre: Historical, Western

130 minutes

When a hapless train thief stumbles across an invaluable treasure map, he finds himself mixed up in a fight for his life with some of the most dangerous gunslingers of the wild East.

Set in the barren desert of Japanese-controlled Manchuria, “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” exemplifies the high-octane, pulp-action style of cinema coming out of South Korea lately. Blending Western gun fights, slapstick comedy, and a strong nationalistic message, this film is non-stop entertainment from start to finish. With a driving, upbeat soundtrack and a colorful cast of characters, I can say without a doubt that this is the frontier of action cinema right now.

The film can’t really be discussed without bringing up the political themes brought up in the story. To truly understand the movie’s plot, characters, and message, there needs to be some historical context. During the 1930s, just prior to World War II, Imperial Japan controlled much of northern Asia, including Korea and the Chinese province of Manchuria. With Korea struggling for independence, times were hard for many that lived under Japanese rule, and fled elsewhere to start new lives. There is still much resentment against the Japanese people in Korea and China, and so the Imperial army is often cast as a convenient antagonist in historical films. Sometimes, such as in Jet Li’s “Fearless,” efforts are made to show that not all Japanese were villains during this time, but there is no such effort made in this movie.

Still, possible anti-Japanese themes aside, it can’t be denied that this film was a hit with Korean and international audiences alike. Centered on the hilarious antics of Song Kang-ho (whom you may recognize from “The Host”), the movie keeps you going back and forth between uproarious laughter and pulse-pounding action. Thankfully, director Kim Ji-woon turned to a variety of practical pyrotechnics and special effects for the bulk of the film, a crucial detail that definitely had a hand in bringing the acting performances to the next level.

Depending on the cut you see, your mileage may vary with what you get out of the movie. You might see just another fun action flic, a great romp through the Gobi desert with horses and six-shooters and explosions. I can assure you that “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” is so much more than that, and truly deserves a place on your shelf as a staple of action-comedy cinema.

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