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Kim Jee-woon on a Loving Homage to the Masters

2008/08/01 Source

"The Good, the Bad, the Weird" by director Kim Jee-woon has drawn more than 4.5 million viewers in just two weeks after it hit local theaters on July 17. The Chosun Ilbo spoke to the director of this most talked-about Korean film of the year.

Rave reviews at the Cannes Film Festival in May will have boosted his confidence. Appearing in sunglasses against the strong sunshine, Kim stressed the aesthetics of "handmade" filmmaking. He said sincerity is needed not only in the film's theme or attitude. "I work as though making the movie by hand. I give all I have in filming". He offers the example of a bowl. "Some potters exert the utmost effort not only in the function but also in color and pattern. I'd be happy if viewers question how the film was made rather than why, and if it's dubbed 'the Korean film with the best action sequence' rather than a perfect entertainment".

The unlikely combination of entertainment and dedicated craftsmanship makes sense after watching the film. "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" follows three men (played by Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jeong Woo-sung) who hound each other across lawless Manchuria in the 1930s in pursuit of a treasure map. It features a speed, scale and rhythm never before seen in a Korean film, especially in the opening scene of a train ambush, a market sequence in the middle, and the final chase and battle on the plains.

The version released at home is 10 minutes longer than the one showcased in Cannes, with different editing. Some praise the home version as "friendlier", while critics say it's less speedy and rhythmic. Kim said the criticism would come only from film buffs who have watched the film more than once. But he is confident that ordinary Korean audiences watching the film for the first time will enjoy it from start to finish.

The movie is commercially entertaining, but it is more than that in that it serves to link the nearly severed past and present of Korea's tinseltown, Chungmuro. Of course the title borrows from the iconic 1966 Spaghetti western "The Good, the Bad, the Ugly" by Sergio Leone, but less well known is that it pays homage to the 1971 Korean-style western "Break up the Chain" by Lee Man-hee-I.

Kim shares a story from when he was first planning the film a few years ago. A couple of young directors and producers agreed to remake masterpieces by filmmakers from the previous generation. "At the time I was arrogant to believe that I would be the first Korean director to produce a western, but later I discovered that directors Shin Sang-ok and Lee Man-hee-I had already mastered the genre".

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