‘The Good, the Bad, the Weird’ – When Tarantino met Leone

‘The Good, the Bad, the Weird’ – When Tarantino met Leone

The Good the Bad the weird

The Korean import “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” may sound like a long-lost spaghetti western, but it’s actually a melange of movie tributes.

Blink and you’ll miss a Quentin Tarantino shout out, a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” reference, a blast of a Sergio Leone-style sound nugget.

But the film doesn’t give you the chance to blink – even at its two-plus hour running time.

It’s fast, furious and infuriatingly complex at times, but movie fans willing to shuffle through their own movie memories will be dizzy with delight.

“Weird” begins with what should be a simple train heist. But the train in question, carrying a precious treasure map pointing to untold riches, is the target of several thieves.

The weird part of the film title – Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho) – gets there first.

Bounty hunter Do-won (Jung Woo-sung) arrives too late to beat Yoon Tae-goo to the prize.

And then there’s the oh, so bad Park Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun), a poseur of the first order who can back up his taunts with deadly gunplay.

It’s a vigorously fun trio to watch, especially when Do-won and Yoon Tae-goo team up mid film.

But those aren’t the only forces trying to wrest the map from the Yoon Tae-goo’s hands. The Japanese army is also in play, which brings in some basic political elements that threaten to overwhelm an already top-heavy storyline.

The film’s high point comes when Do-won swings through air blasting the bad guys while Yoon Tae-goo scampers to safety while wearing an old school diver’s helmet. It’s a stupefying sequence, and all the proof you need “Weird” director Kim Ji-woon an American franchise – stat.

He’s clearly a visionary, a man whose wild set pieces are perfectly in sync with stateside tastes. And unlike director Michael Bay you can actually follow his pastiche of imagery from A to B to C.

You won’t find a cooler pair of characters than Park Chang-yi and Do-won, two sides of a starkly different coin. Do-won is so laid back he makes Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name look like a teenager buying liquor with a fake ID.

“The Good, the Bad and the Weird” mashes genres, story lines and even characters until the blissfully simple finale. By then, you’ll either be too exhausted to care or curious how such a wild and woolly tale will finally come to an end.

(Photo: Park Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun) squeezes off a round in the kinetic action film “The Good, the Bad, the Weird.”/IFC Films)

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SynnermanNo Gravatar May 19, 2010 at 4:17 am

Kim Ji-woon is the most interesting director working in Korea today. Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Thirst) and Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Memories of Murder, Mother) get all of the international press, but Kim’s work stands out because of its diversity.

His first film, The Quiet Family, is a pitch black comedy about a family who purchases a hotel in the middle of nowhere because they receive inside info that a new highway would be built nearby and make them a ton of money. Instead, the few guests that do show up at this remote location end up accidentally dying. Rather than risk the bad press that would be associated with the hotel, they decide to hide the bodies and chaos ensues. It was later remade by insane Japanese director Takashi Miike as The Happiness of the Katakuris (to which he added musical numbers, zombies and claymation!)

His next film was The Foul King, where a meek bank worker (played by Song Kang-ho) finally finds his manhood when he undergoes training as a masked wrestler, taught by a former star whose specialty was playing dirty.

He followed up with A Tale of Two Sisters, a ghost story about two sisters who return home from an institution to live with their father and stepmother after their mother’s death. It was (badly) remade in the U.S. recently as The Uninvited. As far as I am aware, this is the only title available on Region 1 DVD.

And his last film before The Good, The Bad, The Weird is my personal favorite: A Bittersweet Life. Lee Byung-hun plays the right-hand man to a powerful gangster who asks him to look after his young mistress, who he believes his cheating on him. She is, and in a moment of unusual compassion, Lee’s character decides to let it remain a secret. Unfortunately, the gangster is pissed that he didn’t kill her and has him taken out and tortured. Realizing that he wasted his life serving such a man, he snaps and unleashes his violent skills on everyone who stands in his way. It is an amazing movie that deserves some attention here in the U.S., but apparently the rights have been bouncing around for years. Worth seeking out (it is available on Korean DVD with English subtitles).

A black comedy to an oddball dramedy to a ghost story to an action-film noir to a Kimchi western. His range is amazing. The last news on him was that he was working on an English language remake of the French heist film Max et les Ferrailleurs with Clive Owen, Sienna Miller and Lee Byung-hun.

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