Good, the Bad, the Weird, The (2008)

An outrageously fun kimchi western for the ages, this is one of the most accomplished action films from South Korea.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,497

Dir. Kim Jee-woon
2008 | South Korea | Action/Comedy/Western | 135 min | 2.35:1 | Korean, Mandarin & Japanese
NC16 (passed clean) for nonstop violence and some drug use

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung
The story of two outlaws and a bounty hunter in 1940s Manchuria and their rivalry to possess a treasure map while being pursued by the Japanese army and Chinese bandits.
Official Selection (Cannes)
Distributor: CJ Entertainment

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Greed, Rivalry
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

Whether you call it a spaghetti eastern or kimchi western, it is hard to deny that The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a fantastic movie.  I would even go to the extent to say that it is one of the most accomplished action films to have emerged from South Korea in the last 20 years. 

Directed by the underrated Kim Jee-woon, who was responsible for films like the K-horror classic A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and the ultraviolent I Saw the Devil (2010), The Good, the Bad, the Weird, of course, pays homage to Sergio Leone’s 1966 work by having three main characters who are at odds with each other. 

The ever so versatile Song Kang-ho plays ‘The Weird’, a bumbling but strategically sharp bandit who chances upon a map that might lead to hidden treasure. 

‘The Good’ (a rather conventional Jung Woo-sung) and ‘The Bad’ (a deliciously sadistic performance by Lee Byung-hun) give chase, and so are several Chinese bandits and the Japanese army hoping for a slice of the pie. 

“Every Korean has a sad story.”

This idea of ‘chasing’ and ‘being chased’ explodes in full force in one of the most audacious sequences in Kim’s entire filmography—a 15-minute chase over the desert with horses, jeeps and motorcycles that is as relentless as the best moments of, say, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), and in an instance of pure cinematic brilliance, the use of an instrumental version of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. 

We are deep in Manchuria in the 1940s though there is little in the way of traditional warfare in Kim’s film; instead, the narrative feels like an offbeat diversion, drawing us back to old-school duels and cat-and-mouse games. 

The result is a very entertaining piece that not just challenges our assumptions on how a Western ought to look and feel like, but also how it speaks to genre revisionism as a method to approach cultural crossovers. 

Grade: A-



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