The Good The Bad The Weird Review
Whilst one half of Korea is firing missiles to prove its virility the other half is mounting blockbusters to prove that it can compete with its Asian neighbours and even overshadow Hollywood itself. The Good, The Bad, The Weird is every bit the statement of nationhood that The Host and Brotherhood were before it. Those previous South Korean movies involved the country trying to out-perform Japan's Godzilla and the USA's Saving Private Ryan, and here they are again plundering the very American genre of the western. Compared with their neighbours' dubious efforts to make a mark in nuclear proliferation, this huge budget piece of entertainment seems likely to be both better aimed and more effective at beating the West.
Of course, the mantle Kim Ji-Woon's film seeks is that of Sergio Leone. The man who redefined the western as lawlessness, imperialism and greed, taking it back from Hollywood and telling the tale of America from the perspective of the European left. You might say that this new film translates Leone into the battles for nationhood in Asia in the 30's and 40's.You might say this if any politics were allowed to enter the action, but Leone's political morality plays are replaced here by an apolitical romp.
The biggest budget in South Korean film industry can't be wasted on retrospective finger wagging, and here the money finds its way into elaborate shanty town sets, epic battles and an excellent train setpiece. What is retained from the maestro is some explicit references to his films and the structure of three protagonists with different interests bearing down on an inevitable confrontation. The title tells you about their characters with the psychopathic rogue hitman rather undersold by "weird", and the opportunist thief chased by the persistent bounty hunter. Perhaps the audience's sympathies are played with in a last minute revelation about just who is "good" and who is "bad" but the moral framework of the film is pretty obvious throughout.
Like the inspiration, the point is to be epic. There is though a fundamentally different understanding of this idea here, with Kim Ji-woon piling on the entertainment and the action leaving his film rather breathless. Leone's approach was more spare, emotionally deeper, and willing to bore a viewer - no such risk is taken here. Familiarity is created by a score which seems to get very close to other recent blockbusters such as the Bourne Trilogy, and for all of the hat shooting and three handed conclusion, this is a modern product rather than operatic exploitation with a political point.
As a popcorn stuffing thrill ride, the film is magnificent. It isn't quite sure how to deliver on its climax, yet it is a hell of a lotta fun getting there. Stylish, packed full of battles and chases, and centred on three interesting characters with armies of supporting players holding their ends up as well. I am not sure about historical accuracy but with seemingly endless momentum, witty interplay, and novel well mounted action, who cares! The Good, The Bad, The Weird may not change the world like a nuclear misfire but it'll certainly help you forget about it.
Transfer and SoundThe appearance of the film is often dry and hot and my feelings about this transfer was that it looked a little too processed. There is undeniable detail, strong contrast and vibrant colours but the image seemed like high quality video rather than as if it had come from celluloid. This may be a question of personal taste but compared to the Leone films it references the transfer here lacks a certain cinematic quality in my opinion.
The sound though is terrific. The master audio track rumbles with every blast, and bullets zip about your living room with a real clarity and a sense of proximity. The surround mix is strongly three dimensional with depth and a sense of atmosphere for ambient moments and tremendous low frequencies for the battles and pursuits. Unfortunately someone has opted for burnt in English subs - when will they learn?
Discs and Special FeaturesThis is a Region B locked disc with 80% of the dual layer capacity used, with some 31GB of that being the file size of the transfer. All of the extras are presented in standard definition and these include featurettes, a making of documentary, interviews and a profusion of alternate endings, five in fact, and lots of deleted scenes. The documentary begins with the director talking about his passion to make a western and follows him as he works to plan this huge budget extravaganza. Subbed in English, we watch right through until the film's premiere.
The featurettes look at sound, cinematography and production design, illustrating the skill of the technicians involved and just highlighting how novel some of the aerial gunfights of this film are - next time you watch someone swinging from a rope firing a rifle think of the poor cameraman doing the same behind him!
The five alternate endings all offer variations on the one in the film, which felt a little unfinished to me, and I would have plumped for the fifth one offered here instead. The deleted scenes are presented windowboxed and include little in the way of greater depth to the story and have clearly been excised for pacing and length. They may have offered some more continuity to the plotting, although the film seems to thrive on a little disconnection and perhaps further explanation would have been redundant.
Far from redundant is the interview piece with the main cast discussing the experience of the film and all the hoo ha since its release. I particularly enjoyed Lee Byung-hun's tales of thinking the film wasn't for him and the open reflection on how the film had been received by the media.
SummaryA nice package, a decent transfer, and a rocking action movie. Now if only someone can convince the North to swap bad bombs for good film-making.
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