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Movie Review: The Good, The Bad, The Weird

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The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a celebration of Western and Eastern film genres. We have Asian men robbing a train with six shooters and bolt-action rifles, all the while wearing cowboy hats and boots. But before we know it we're whisked off into an Asian market for criminals known as the "Ghost Market" and find ourselves surrounded by all sorts of treasures from Asian culture.

Similar to Takashi Miike's recent collision of two massively different cultures, Sukiyaki Western Django, director Ji-Woo Kim's brilliantly fun action/adventure is worth checking out just to see the strange mixture of the two. But where Miike's film was slightly more showy with its combination of the two culture's genres (although that was admittedly part of its charm), this plays it far more straight and feels a lot more like a seamlessly merged combination, sometimes so much so you forget you're watching such a mixture, instead of a jarring mash-up.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird is the story of three outlaws in 1930s Manchuria (an historical name given to a vast region in Northeast Asia) who are all after a map which is said to lead to a hidden treasure. However these three aren't the only ones after the map, and soon they find they not only have to beat each other to the chase, but also various other parties including the Japanese army.

Clearly influenced by The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, this is indeed a strange film to be made in Korea. Primarily because the style of the '60s Western classic is very much not of Eastern style, the very sight of seeing the two cultures clash is startling at first. But because of how straight the film plays it, focusing more on the story and ensuing action at hand, you soon get used to the combination. From the opening action scene this promises to be a rip-roaring action/adventure ride and it delivers tremendously. From a gleefully long train robbery with everyone with a working trigger finger shooting at each other to the start of the search for this mysterious treasure and beyond, this is wholly entertaining, wildly fun stuff that packs so many punches it's almost exhausting.

Despite keeping focused on moving forward, director Ji-woon Kim chooses to never take anything too seriously, allowing for a great number of segments featuring terrifically staged gun-play and expertly choreographed chase sequences. There's more of both in here to keep track of while watching which would seem overindulgent if it weren't all so much damn fun. Focusing on shoot-outs, there are at least six which are just about as good as they get — people being shot and falling off of high places left and right, any type of gun you could think of (that were around in the '30s, of course) being used as if bullets were going out of fashion and we are allowed the full privilege of viewing it all in its full, seamlessly put together glory.

The film is flawed in that it's at least half an hour too long and well before the end it runs out of steam. The story itself is also not the most comprehensive in the world, resulting in the viewer not really being entirely sure what's going on, who's who, and what the importance of anything is. If this were a more serious minded picture that might be an issue, but luckily this is a frolicking, often slapstick affair that allows us to leave our brain at the door and just enjoy the magnificently shot and abundant eye-widening action sequences.

With all the bullet spraying, knife throwing, and running around it's easy to forget the gorgeous way the film is shot. Photographed by first-timer Seung-Chul Oh and Mo-gae Lee, the latter being responsible for the beautifully shot A Tale of Two Sisters, the film is at times vibrant and stylized but at others shot with a contrasting elegance; this is, perhaps, mirroring the contrasting nature of the Western and the Eastern. As an example, during the opening train robbery sequence, inside the carriages it is colourful and vibrant (down to the design of the train and the passengers' belongings and such) while outside we have these magnificent wide-open plains of desert and blue skies. Surrounding the carnage is, indeed, a beautiful array of wonderful backdrops for us to feast our eyes on.

All three of the title characters — The Good (played by Woo-sung Jung), The Bad (Byung-hun Lee, who starred in director Ji-woon Kim's excellent A Bittersweet Life), and The Weird (The Host's Kang-ho Song) — are seen aplenty in the film but attention is focused mainly on The Weird. Kang-ho Song is always a likable actor, even when he is exacting horrific revenge on someone in Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, and he brings a playful, bouncy, almost boyish charm to his character here. Despite his greed, he is nevertheless someone we can root for out of the three, even if The Good is who would naturally be the most appealing to stand by.

Strangely The Good is given least importance of the three, just playing a part which The Weird and The Bad can effectively play off of. He's often the catalyst for others' actions, but nevertheless he seems to drift in and out of importance throughout and only at the end does he become crucial to the outcome. The Bad is probably the most iconic of the three characters, played wittily and charismatically by Byung-hun Lee. All three of these guys are interesting to watch and apart from the fun nature of the film leaning you towards The Weird in terms of who to root for, by the end of it all it's really anyone's game.

Peppered by almost relentless action sequences, containing interesting characters and a wild, vivacious nature, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is just about as much fun as a film of this type gets. Almost always with its tongue firmly lodged in cheek, including moments of genuine humour, both subtle and broad, it always keeps its eyes on the action. Although an overly long runtime and an unsatisfying ending hamper the picture as a whole, it's nevertheless a vehemently fun slice of culture-clashing entertainment.

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