The lesser-spotted 'kimchi cowboy' is a serious cinematic oddity, an unusual anatopism that causes one's head to cock uncontrollably and the eyes to somehow sharpened in disbelief. Kim Ji-woon, to his credit, is a genre gypsy, a marauding mixologist who, in "The Good, the Bad, the Weird", blends and bends the spaghetti western into a fermenting pastiche of a picture. The film's bold fusion of Wild West tropes and K-comedy antics made it a local favourite (6.8 million admissions-second that year only to Kang Hyeong-cheol's "Speedy Scandal"), and once it made the festival rounds its cult status was safely secured. The film itself is narratively numbing, frustratingly fused, and a prude with its post-climax cuddling, a real scratchy quilt of a film. But when we reach for skies and surrender to the chaos of it all, life under the Manchurian sun is actually blisteringly brilliant.
The Good (Jung Woo-sung as Park Do-won), The Bad (Lee Byung-hun as Park Chang-yi) and the Weird Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho) are all after a treasure map: a precious parchment that, until now, was a well-kept secret of the political powers as they jostle for leverage within the Manchurian badlands. The Good is the slick and iconic bounty hunter, The Bad the relentless and deviant gunslinger, and The Weird (besides the obvious) is a fumbling thief who heists his way to the map first; a rather unplanned procurement that causes this zigzagging swindler to dodge, duck, dip and dive from the bullet storm that now trails him and his golden compass.
The film can effectively be divided into three epic moments: the initial heist on the train, the close-quarters showdown in a merchant ghost town, and a final shoot-out/chase involving all parties and players. All are camerabatically crisp, over-the-top, and contain enough comedic spice to weather any intrusive thoughts that generic modesty or realism was ever an objective. These lengthy set pieces are flashy and full of holes, but great filmic fodder that allowed Kim to trope through the genre with a wry smile and an excuse to let loose. "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" sets its sights on silliness and shoots its three K-fish in a Manchurian barrel with drunken determination; and when the dust settles on this alien Eastern, one cannot help but conclude that Kim hit his manic mark more often than his own boots.
It's entertaining eye-candy, beer-goggling gorgeousness that some may regret in the morning, but most will walk away saddle soar and smiling. The story is spaghetti simple, its character's flatter than Samsung's latest, and the final frames may frustrate (there are two versions circulating-the Korean and the international editions-with each cut concluding differently, so stay sharp), but the journey is pacey, quirky, and drags an unbridled audacity along as it staggers backwards into the sunrise-Haw Yee!
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