Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Weird (Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom / 좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 )

It's My Map

It's not difficult to see why The Good, The Bad, The Weird is number 1 at the Korean box office this year, given that the titular roles are handed over to some of the heartthrobs such as Lee Byung-hun and Jung Woo-sung. But the real scene stealer here is Song Kang-ho as The Weird Yoon Tae-goo, with some of the best lines and given the moral ambiguity of his character, rather than being the Good Park Do-won (Jung) and the Bad Park Chang-i (Lee) which is cast in stone, simply endears himself to the audience, and not to mention the extended screentime devoted to him too.

But those aside, this film trounces plenty, and I mean plenty of bland, generic action adventure types cooked up by Hollywood in recent times, and having a Korean flavour in what would essentially be a Western, it adds plenty of spice to a genre that most wouldn't want to touch with a ten foot pole. The storyline's pretty straightforward, with everyone (the titular characters, the Japanese army, the Korean freedom fighters, and plenty of rival Manchurian gangsters) after a treasure map that points to some age old Chinese dynasty goodies buried deep within some desert land in Manchuria, and having the map stolen and in the possession of The Weird, this makes it one hell of a chase movie from start to finish, offering plenty of set action sequences from massive chases, to awe-inspiring gun play.

The references and inspiration from Sergio Leone's classic spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is undeniable, but this is its own movie. Making its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, director Kim Ji-woon crafts a tale that is full of rip-roaring fun, finding some good balance between comedy and stylized action. It tries though to plant many elements and characters into the story, but these are rather forgettable as the spotlight falls firmly upon our titular three. Positive elements of the movie include the excellent cinematography and camera work, which packages the action scenes like a video game, offering the audience a close up third person perspective following through the characters in their execution of maneuvers and moves, while the eclectic soundtrack is just plain music to the ears.

Jung Woo-sung (Daisy) perhaps got the shortest straw of the trio, with his limited screen time devoted to looking good and cool with his double barrel shotgun. As The Good bounty hunter, he's requested by the group of Korean freedom fighters to assist them in the retrieval of the map, which also gives him an opportunity to apprehend The Bad. His character doesn't say much or do much other than to dispatch the bad guys, and frankly speaking, he falls squarely into the strong and silent mold for the movie.

Lee Byung-hun on the other hand, in reuniting with the director since their A Bittersweet Life days, brings forth quite convincingly his role as the chief baddie. Ruthless and highly skilled, he doesn't flinch an eyelid when dishing out punishment, and has through this role, told the world that he can be equally adept at being the bad guy. Kudos go to the makeup artist in trying to make him look really nasty, with plenty of facial scars that try to disguise his naturally good looks. Female fans in the audience looking for eye candy would be gleefully happy to note that he was sans shirt in one scene, and I thought it'd put to shame plenty of guys out there when they see Lee's rock-hard six-pack (time to hit the gym, guys!)

But in all honesty, this film firmly belongs to pudgy looking Song Kang-ho for his charismatic role as The Weird. The first Korean film that I ever watched in the cinemas was Shiri, and Song had a memorable supporting role to play there. From then on I've become a fan of his, and followed Song through his roles in Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area, Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder and The Host, and Lee Chang-dong's Secret Sunshine. Having seen him backstage last year when he won Best Actor for his role in The Host at the inaugural Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong, was nothing but a thrill. Here, he single-handedly stole the show from the other two pretty boys with his sheer presence, and I felt that he'd probably had a field day with this free spirited role.

With well designed action designed to exhilarate, and being cheeky without qualms, The Good The Bad The Wierd deserves to be highly recommended with its fusion of gun play, knife play and comedy in large doses, despite some forgivable inconsistencies. The last act did seem quite indulgent in trying to achieve spectacle that it might have become a little repetitive, but the finale face off more than makes up for this minor disturbance to a very enjoyable movie.

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