Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Film Review - 'The Good, The Bad, The Weird'

With a title like The Good, The Bad, The Weird it seems fairly obvious that this Korean take on the Western genre is intended to bring to mind Sergio Leone's classic Spaghetti Western, The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly. The two films do seem to share some basic plot elements, at least - though, while the typical Spaghetti Western will often play out as a grim and serious affair, Kim Jee-woon's film takes a different approach. There is a more light-hearted focus here, with a clear emphasis on action and comedy, that occasionally plays out as more of a good-natured parody.

Manchuria of the 1930s is the setting. A land of lots of wide open space – portrayed as all but entirely lawless, with whatever law there is cruelly imposed by Japanese occupying forces. It is a place where bandits can ply their trade, before easily vanishing, and where bounty hunters can make a good living going where the law can't to round them up. Overall, it is a setting that seems well suited for an Asian take on the Western genre – a genre traditionally defined by outlaws and bounty hunters, and where a gun is a simple tool of survival. And, it is here that three Korean exiles find their fates intertwined.

During what was intended as a routine train robbery, an eccentric bandit (Yoon Tae-goo, 'The Weird') finds himself in possession of a mysterious map that seems to point toward some form of buried treasure. However, his robbery interrupts the plans of a dangerous hit-man (Park Chang-yi, 'The Bad'), who was hired to steal that very map from the Japanese official currently carrying it. The inevitable shoot-out also attracts the attention of a bounty hunter (Park Do-won, 'The Good'), who just so happens to be another passenger on the train, and who recognises Chang-yi. The three are separated, though, with Do-won capturing Tae-goo, and Chang-yi escaping. The bandit and the bounty hunter are ultimately convinced to put aside their differences and work together, though – reasoning that an equal share of the buried treasure will still be much more than either can expect to make in their respective careers. However, their plans are complicated by Chang-yi and his gang, who aren't quite so ready to give up. Then, by another Manchurian gang who learn about the existence of the map, and want it for themselves. And, latter, by the Japanese army, who consider the map to be their property and want it back. And finally, of course, by the ever present question of whether Do-won and Tae-goo can actually even trust each other.

While the film does seek to mimic something of the style and substance of a spaghetti western it does so, as I've already mentioned, in a way that often feels closer to parody than straight adaptation. The straight-laced bounty hunter, the ruthless hit-man and, especially, the occasionally bumbling, though still dangerous, bandit are all presented more as caricatures of the type of characters you would often see in a more traditional western.This isn't a film intended to provide deep character development, or a complex plot. The three leads are developed enough to hold the viewer's interested, and played by actors talented enough to make them worth watching, but the true star of this film is the action scenes. And, it is here that The Good, the Bad, the Weird truly excels. These scenes manage to strike a balance between being tense and compelling, at times, wildly entertaining, at others, and even occasionally genuinely hilarious. The opening train robbery is what truly sets the tone for the film, and from then on, it seeks to continuously one-up itself, through a series of exciting, and deliberately outlandish, actions set pieces. All culminating in the finale, where all of the various players manage to converge on the location of the buried treasure at the same time. 

The Good, the Bad, the Weird is fun, quite simply. It's entertaining, exciting and occasionally genuinely funny. There's nothing deep or profound here – but, then, why should there need to be? It's an action film, with some comedy mixed in, that borrows from the style and substance of the western genre to tell its story. If you like the sound of that, then you'll probably enjoy it.

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