Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Good, The Bad, The Weird

While technically an Italian film with the exception of the trio of stars Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach, The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly is also the archetypal US film. This is mostly due to the fact that there was nary a word of Italian uttered in the final dialog and because Westerns just have to be set in the Old West, correct?

Well, this is where things get fun. The Good, The Bad, The Weird is an unapologetic Oriental Western set in 1930's Manchuria and not a single word of English can be heard here. This 2008 Korean film clearly takes its inspiration from Sergio Leone's final entry in his Man with No Name films, but that is not to say that this film is a note for note remake. For one thing, The Good, The Bad, The Weird stands on its own and is a lot of fun. Yeah, we have the three central characters and a hunt for treasure, but The Good, The Bad, The Weird contains some seriously fantastic action scenes and an even more "Bad" character than Lee Van Cleef's character was. This film is also not a strict Western since there are things like motorcycles, big-ass guns being shot off by the Japanese Imperial Army, and an especially cringe-worthy scene involving a guy getting his finger cut off. I mean, this is Korean movie, after all. 

The best way to describe this movie is by calling it an amalgam of Western and Eastern influences and it is marvelously handled by director Kim Jee-woon (who also directed two other films Lee Byung-hun films, I Saw the Devil and A Bittersweet Life). 

Lee Byung-hun had never portrayed a villain before this film and he fit the mold perfectly. You could tell he was the bad guy because he was wearing all black, but it was his presence more than anything else that kind of gave it away. Although I am pretty sure that Korean audiences at the time fully expected him to play The Good. 

Jung Woo-sung is The Good, though. You could also tell because of how he was dressed and how quiet he was compared to the other two primary characters in this movie, but that's about where the resemblances end when compared to Eastwood. In the International version of this film, The Good doesn't really get a lot of screen time and I began to wonder if that was intentional or not. Since, you know, Woo-sung isn't quite the same as Eastwood. It turns out the Korean version features The Good just a bit more and how he managed to get roped into everything. 

I found this cool website that compared the two versions here, too. Even the endings between the two versions are vastly different. Although, based on what I've read, I think might prefer the International version just a bit, but I really want to watch the Korean version now. 

Regardless of which version you might have seen or want to see, I don't think anyone can debate that The Weird, portrayed by Song Kang-ho, is the main character of the film. He's the goofy guy who somehow manages to find himself in one bad situation after another. After stealing an important map (without knowing of its true importance) before The Bad could steal it, The Bad and his gang begin an epic chase to get the map back. Of course, The Good will soon be along for the ride to not only bring The Bad to justice, but The Weird as well. 

Depending on which version you see, this film is about 130 minutes. So it is nowhere near as long as Sergio Leone's defining masterpiece. And no, it's not as good, but I don't think a lot of comparisons should be made, though. Even Leone drew his influences from elsewhere (specifically the Japanese film Yojimbo) so I don't think it would be proper to sell The Good, The Bad, The Weird short by calling it yet another knockoff of the Man with No Name. For one thing, all of the characters in this movie have real names. I just haven't called them by their names because "The Good" is easier for me to type. 

This is the first film in a while that made me get in a Western mood again and it is one of the few Westerns made recently (if six years ago can be considered recent) that I would consider worth watching again. So that would bring me to three if I include the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma and Tarantino's Django Unchained

I think that should put this film in fairly "Good" company. 

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