Film review – The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)

Park Do-won, the Good (Jung Woo-sung), Yoon Tae-goo, the Weird (Song Kang-ho) and Park Chang-yi, the Bad (Lee Byung-hun)
Park Do-won, the Good (Jung Woo-sung), Yoon Tae-goo, the Weird (Song Kang-ho) and Park Chang-yi, the Bad (Lee Byung-hun)

The Italian director Sergio Leone, best known for ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ such as A Fistful of Dollars and Once Upon a Time in the West, has inspired many directors to pay homage to his highly kinetic style of filmmaking. Some of these directors have included Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Sam Raimi, Shane Meadows and Tsui Hark. Now the South Korean director Kim Ji-woon (A Bittersweet Life, A Tale of Two Sisters) has paid tribute with The Good, the Bad, the Weird, a film that obviously derives it title from Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Kim’s film is one of the most successful films to capture the spirit of Leone’s cinema and it is also one of the most enjoyable.

As with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, in The Good, the Bad, the Weird there are three protagonists all after the same goal – buried treasure hidden in the Manchurian desert. Set in the 1930s shortly after Manchuria was occupied by Japan, the trio not only have to contend with each other and their respective cohorts but there are also a gang of bandits and the Imperial Japanese Army who are after the treasure too.

Key Image_Gunman shooting from train_300dpiFrom the exhilarating train hijacking at the start of the film right through to the all out horse/motorbike/car chase across the desert before the final showdown, The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a cinematic rush of adrenalin. Kim beautifully replicates Leone’s aesthetics of contrasting extreme close-ups with wide shots, depicting violence in a way that is both brutal and poetic, and establishing an overall tone that is frequently funny and self-conscious without ever being camp. As well as taking inspiration from various Leone films, Kim has also borrowed a few ideas here and there from Mad Max 2 and to a lesser degree Raiders of the Lost Arc. While contemporary action films are increasingly becoming a blur of quick edits, Kim has the confidence and logistical skills to set up complex action sequences and then film them in continuous shots. The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a very technical and modern film but it is also a return to the old-school discipline of simply presenting movement on screen in the most exciting way possible.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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  1. I think I’d give it around 4 stars too Thomas. He’s an amazing director. I’m going to watch A Tale of Two Sisters again soon, it’s one of the creepier horror films of recent years I think. He seems set to master nearly every genre he takes aim at. (I’ve successfully avoided the American remake of TOTS so far too, not wanting to spoil the great memories I have of the original!)

    I’ve never seen his first film A Quiet Family but I fell madly in love with Takashi Miike’s loose remake, The Happiness of the Katakuris. Now that was insane brilliance! :)

  2. I love The Happiness of the Katakuris! It’s one of my favourite Takashi films. I haven’t seen A Quiet Family either.

    You know what? I really didn’t think much of A Tale of Two Sisters, although it is better than the very limp Hollywood remake, The Uninvited. However, I’m willing to concede that my dislike of A Tale of Two Sisters has a lot to do with the circumstances under which I saw it – extremely tired, in a crap cinema and during a time when I was getting a bit sick of Japanese and Korean horror in general.

    I’ve actually got a list of films that I don’t like but am aware that everybody else likes and A Tale of Two Sisters is on it. All the films on that list are films where I suspect my disliking them is more due to my own inability to appreciate them at the time. One day I’ll work my way through the list in order to give them all a reappraisal.

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