A secret map that shows the location of the fabulous Qing Dynasty treasure falls into the hands (well, he shot all of the Japanese officers aboard an army troop train and took it) of Tae-goo, a bandit and thief who does not know the worth of what he has in his hands. He gets an inkling that there may be trouble when Chang-yi and his gang, Korean freedom fighters, the mysterious Ghost Market gang and the entire Imperial Army try to kill him to get the treasure map. Tae-goo gets help, though, from a mysterious stranger and they team up to get the loot for themselves in “The Good, the Bad and the Weird.”
Korean helmer Ji-woon Kim is best known, at least to us in the West, as the maker of the spooky supernatural horror film, “A Tale of Two Sisters.” I was intrigued, then, when I found he was making “The Good, the Bad and the Weird.” From horror flick to spaghetti western is an enormous leap and, I have to say, Kim lands firmly on his feet and runs with it. Sure, comparison to Sergio Leone’s 1966 classic, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” is obvious but TGTBATW assuredly marches to its own drummer.
Borrowing liberally from Leone, TGTBATW begins with a bang as Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song), The Weird, steals the treasure map from the hurtling troop train in a murderous frenzy of blazing gunfire. Also on board is Do-wan (Woo-sung Jung), a mysterious stranger (The Good) who is after Tae-goo for past misdeeds. The stranger ends up teaming with the jovial and portly thief in the quest to find the treasure. While the battle aboard the train ensues, it is attacked by Chang-yi (Byong-hun Lee), The Bad, and his horse-mounted gang. This is just the beginning of the roller coaster ride that is TGTBATW.
This is a kitchen sink, action-adventure flick that wastes no time getting down to tasks. The action is almost non-stop and on a scale that would make John Ford proud with its Mongolian backdrop – much akin to the use of Monument Valley in many of Ford’s classics. Chases across the Mongol steppes involves hundreds of non-CGI stunt people on horseback and in jeeps pursuing our heroes. You cannot second-guess any of the numerous story threads, the weakest of which is the failure to flesh out The Good. Do-wan is the strong, silent type, deadly with his trusted double-barrel shotgun and the bevy of other deadly weapons he has on hand. But, that is a minor complaint. Byong-hun Lee is first-rate as the rock star-looking The Bad. And, boy is he bad! Stealing the film, though, is Byung-hun Lee as the pudgy The Weird. He centers THGTBATW and its copious comedy that sparkles amidst the equally copious action and shoot ‘em ups.
Techs are incredible, too, with the brilliant choice of locale, the starkly beautiful Mongolian steppes, expertly shot by cinematographers Mo-gae Li and Seung-chul Oh. Costume is an amalgam of 1930’s dress (sort of), hip fashion (for Chang-yi) and Old West and the mishmash works. TGTBATW is made the old-fashioned way relying on skill, art and craftwork, using real stunt actors instead of Hollywood CGI-laden fabrications.
“The Good, the Bad and the Weird” is fast, fun and furious action entertainment. I give it a B+.
In the 1930's, Manchuria absorbed an influx of Russians, was being invaded by Japan and hosting the spread of Korea's liberation movement. Three Koreans, bounty hunter Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung), competitive thief Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee, "3 Extremes," "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra") and the train robber they both hope to intercept, Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song, "The Host," "Thirst"), all end up battling for the infamous treasure map Tae-goo escapes with as they crisscross the region pursued by The Ghost Market Gang, the Tri-Nation Gang and the Japanese Army as "The Good, The Bad, The Weird."
After the exquisitely designed and subtle horror film "A Tale of Two Sisters," cowriter (with Min-suk Kim)/director Ji-woon Kim ("A Tale of Two Sisters") proves his diversity with this hilarious melange of Spaghetti Western action comedy. It's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" by way of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "The Wild, Wild West" and "The In-Laws!"
The film begins at such a furious pace it takes a while to line up all the assorted characters in their separate camps, but the director's sheer exuberance wins over confusion. This is one of the most exciting train sequences in cinema. Yoon Tae-goo rides a motorcycle wearing a leather cap (when he's not utilizing a diving helmet) and he takes off chased by those on horseback (Park Chang-yi's gang and Park Do-won), leaving the map with his beloved Granny (Chang-sook Ryu), who promptly gives it to Yoon's right hand man Man-gil (Seung-soo Ryu) even though expressly told not to.
At the Ghost Market, a black market operation hilariously out in the open with painted elephants and thirty foot Buddha statues going by, the various thieves and gangs cross paths again and so it continues to go until a delirious desert chase scene unites everyone and leaves the titular three to duke it out where X marks the spot and where the identity of the mysterious 'Finger Chopper' is revealed.
Ji-woon Kim is a marvelous visual stylist and it is tremendous fun watching him throw various genres into his mix. No fight scenes cut to within an inch of their lives here - instead we see old-fashioned choreographed stunts all done by the stars themselves, unassisted by CGI. Kang-ho Song is too much fun as Tae-goo, the guy who values the treasure and his own life over glory while Byung-hun Lee has the look and swagger of a rock star who craves idolization for his badness. As The Good, Woo-sung Jung suffers from appropriate blandness. He's a man of few words like the Man with No Name. The cast is stuffed with evil rich men, a brothel keeper and the vamps he employees, Mongolian herdsmen and three kids who assist Tae-goo in some comedy stunts.
"The Good, the Bad, the Weird" is an exhilarating comedy action adventure that will endure as a cult item for years to come and which should elevate Korean star Kang-ho Song into global recognition.
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