The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2010)
If Sergio Leone and Indiana Jones went to Asia, overdosed on speed, and made a movie…
The Good, The Bad, The Weird is about a notorious killer who gets hired by a mob boss to hijack a train and steal a map from a government official on board. As fate would have it, a small-time crook shows up on the train first, mugs the said government official blind, and takes the map with him, clueless as to its value. And wouldn’t you know it, a bounty hunter shows up on the scene with guns blazing and a mind to collect the big fat reward on both of their heads. Before long, the lowly crook wises up to the importance of his “treasure map” when everyone in Manchuria starts chasing him down, and so begins a mad chase across the country to see who can reach the mother lode first.
As you’ve probably guessed, it’s very much an homage to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, but by the same token, this is something else and then some.
So my history with writer/director Kim Jee-woon started ages ago when my friend Paul told me to watch A Bittersweet Life. Godknowshowlong later, I still haven’t given it a shot, but the moment I started realizing what an ass I’d been for dropping the ball was when I saw Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil a few months back. Since I’m still thinking about how good that movie was and how something so straight-up evil could be so brilliant, I put this movie on my Netflix Instant queue and let it collect dust for another few months. Then, in a moment of clarity, I finally decided to give it a shot, and once again, I realized what an ass I’d been.
Folks, I really freaking liked this movie.
I remember going to see Casino Royale with my uncle when it was still in theaters way back when, and while I still think that’s arguably the best Bond movie of all-time, my uncle upped the stakes and immediately gave it a spot on his All-Time Top Ten without thinking twice. His reasoning? It had action, humor, and wow factor to spare, it was over before you knew it, and all he wanted was to see it again. In essence, it had everything you could ask for when you go to see a movie. I didn’t argue the point, but I never quite got that same sensation until now. It’s not in my Top Ten or anything, but sitting through The Good, The Bad, The Weird‘s non-stop, hi-octane, good-old-fashioned-but-brand-spankin’-new whirlwind of a rodeo for two hours and change might have been the best time I’ve had with a movie since Scott Pilgrim vs. the World entered into my life.
The story is simple. A badass cowboy, a crazy bandit, and a ruthless assassin hunt each other down and occasionally work together to settle old scores and shoot their way to the finish line with an unlimited supply of ammo and a serious lucky streak when it comes to dodging bullets. No, the premise isn’t the only thing this movie has in common with Leone, but by the same token, this is something all its own.
The first thing that really sets it apart is Jee-woon as both writer and director. Right from the opening train heist that barrels along at maximum velocity and wraps up 15 minutes later with your face glued to the screen and your grin stretched to your ear drums, you’ll know that this baby’s cooking with gas and fumes ain’t runnin’ dry. It’s stunning from a technical standpoint as Jee-woon keeps throwing in the craziest of shots in the craziest of scenes, it’s stunning from a visual standpoint even when it’s just watching a guy ride his horse across the Manchurian desert at sunset, and it’s insane how it never, ever lets up and continually manages to put a fresh spin on each new scene that you think you’ve seen before. I’m usually not a big fan of movies that try to keep things interesting by one-upping itself from one scene to the next because those movies tend to crash and burn, but this is very much an exception to the rule. By the time the Japanese army starts hunting these guys down and the body count reaches the triple digits in the blink of an eye, you’ll know what I mean.
And then there’s the script, and the script is as totally hilarious as it is flat-out enthralling. Well, it’s probably more fair to say that the script is really funny and it’s Song Kang-ho who makes it hilarious. Ever since I realized the greatness that is The Host, Song Kang-ho has generally established himself as the man in everything I’ve see him in. Now, with his turn as “The Weird,” he’s bumped his way into the elite shortlist of The Best Working Actors Out There Today. When you watch Kang-ho, you can’t take your eyes off him, and if he’s ever in a movie, I’ll be there watching it (which is nice because it seems like there’s a law where he has to be in 30 South Korean movies a year). He’s got more natural charisma than most actors can dream of, you can tell he’s having twice as much fun being in a movie than you are watching him in one, and he can play it serious just as well as he can play it dopey, which is saying a lot. The tragedy is that a lot of us Yanks probably haven’t heard of him unless I’m wildly underestimating how many people have their Netflix queues jammed up with the contemporary classics of South Korea, but if there’s an actor out there who can make you forget about the subtitles, Kang-ho’s your man.
Jee-woon regular Lee Byung-hun is also awesome as “The Bad,” Jung Woo-sung is an effortless badass as “The Good,” and even though I’m partial to Kang-ho, they all more than hold their own and bring three outstanding characters to life who more than live up to the Western icons they’re paying tribute to. In short, it’s ridiculous how many fronts this thing destroys on.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird is one of those rare movies that’s just so effing good it makes me borderline angry. Angry that it took me so long to give it a chance ’cause I thought it would be way weirder than it actually was, angry that so few people have seen it, angry that I have to convince people to look past the subtitles in order to get them to see it, and angry that Americans just don’t make movies like this. Maybe Tarantino, but that’s it. The ending leaves something to be desired, but aside from that, I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun with a movie. I know it might not look like much from the outset, but don’t make the same mistake I did, this one’s too damn good to pass up.
Wild soundtrack, too