You Gotta See This: The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Rated R for Nonstop violence, some drug use/ Runtime 130 mins/ Western, Action, Comedy

Compare to: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), The Quick and the Dead (1995)

I first became introduced to Korean cinema, if I remember correctly, in 2006 when I first watched Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy. It pretty much disturbed me. I was thinking about it for days afterward and my 19 year old brain felt like it might collapse onto itself. I was confused about whether or not I could like it after seeing an ending that can easily be described as disturbing. So I just didn’t really watch any more Korean films for a while. That, along with the fact that Japanese Horror was for some reason, really popular at the time, and I couldn’t tell the difference between the culture’s films I was watching. Audition, Ichi the Killer, 3 Extremes: they were all just really messed up and I didn’t care to go into it any further. Now that I’m older, not only can I tell the difference, but I’m starting to think that American film makers need to start learning a thing or two from Koreans. And by “learn,” I don’t mean “remake” like Spike Lee will be doing to Oldboy in the next couple years.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird(2010 US, 2008 Korea) is an Action/Western that takes place in 1930s Manchuria and follows Yoon Tae-goo (The Weird), a bandit who’s only interest is money and coming up whatever schemes he might need to so he can get it. Park Chang-yi (The Bad) the hitman on the other hand, doesn’t seem as interested in money as he does power, and all that goes with it. Both are sent to retrieve a treasure map leading to buried riches out in the Manchurian wilderness. Enter Park Do-won (The Good), a mysterious gun-for-hire who also wants the map but knows teaming up Tae-goo might be the only way to get it. As if that weren’t enough, bandits and the Japanese army are also aware of the map. All have their reasons for wanting the treasure, but most will die trying.

Obviously taking its name from my favorite movie of all time, GBW is also inspired by The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in other ways as well but with a very original feel to it, suffice it to say. Certain similarities pop up, such as the Good and the Weird’s characters teaming up, much like Eastwood and Wallach in 1966. The plotline of hidden treasure is of course taken from the Italian Western as well. But that’s surprisingly about where the similarities end save for a few character traits. The Good is still quiet, stoic and insanely accurate with his rifle. The Bad is now a gangster/hitman who is much more brash and perhaps more deadly than his Italian counterpart. The Weird is just an all around strange guy and probably the standout role in this film as well as the character in Sergio Leone’s classic. But enough comparisons!

If you’ve ever seen the awful GI Joe movie, not only do you know that Channing Tatum can’t act, but you’ve also see TGTBTW’s Lee Byung-hun who plays Storm Shadow. As much as I hate the GI Joe movie, I’ve never had a problem with Byung-hun playing that character and he’s quite good as The Bad in this film also. Who’s equally good but in his own way is Song Kang-ho as The Weird. This man is talented. He seems to pop up in every other Korean film I’ve watched so far and it’s an extensively different role every time. One scene I liked and possibly my favorite of this film is The Weird being taken prisoner by gang members taking the guise of the Japanese army. Waking up in a cell next to three scared children, their escape is the perfect combination of well-choreographed action and crude humor.

Another aspect of this film as well as many other Korean films is the cinematography. It feels pretty pretentious to even bring that word up. In fact, I’ve made fun of critics who ever so delicately describe the masterstrokes that are Asian cinematography. But dang, good camera work just makes a movie immensely more entertaining, even if you can’t put your finger on it. Well timed and well shot, the feels is stylized yet impactful. When two men begin fighting each other; beating, stabbing, or shooting, it looks cool but it doesn’t look like something you’d want to be a part of because it looks like the two men fighting might actually kill each other. This is as opposed to many movies that have fights where you know the hero is going to come out on top and with the erratic nature of the characters, it really is hard to determine who might make it to the end of the story alive.

Now hopefully, if you’ve made it this far in the overview, you’re not completely turned off by the idea of having to read subtitles. “If I wanted to read, I’ll go get a BOOK!” I understand that subtitles aren’t for everyone. But if Crouching Sadness, Hidden Melodrama got the attention it did, this movie should gain more recognition. It’s won several awards overseas but a cult following here would be well deserved to say the least. Once it starts with the ridiculously exciting train robbery, it doesn’t slow down until the last gunfight.

Look for more Korean films on this site in the future. I wouldn’t put them on here if I didn’t think a general audience could get into it either so don’t take my word lightly on this. This movie is awesome.

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