Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½
The Wild West: An ancient locomotive speeds along a railroad track, as the passengers in the cars behind it chat, snooze, play cards, or nibble on food. Down the aisle comes the snack-seller hawk- ing treats, and we hear the dulcet call, "Candy! Rice cakes! Independence for Korea!" Yup: We're long past Kansas; in fact, so much farther west of California that we're east.
To be honest, we already know this, as The Good The Bad The Weird (yes, it is definitely meant to remind you of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) has already begun with a scene in which a sleek, handsome but slightly scary young Asian man has been given an assignment from an older, powerful and probably lethal fellow that involves the delivery of a valuable map. Then we see a scene of hawks and vultures nibbling carnage and suddenly all hell breaks loose, as bandits and bad guys of every sort seem intent on stealing that map, which you might immediately suspect to be a McGuffin.
Within minutes this bizarre and utterly captivating movie will have you in thrall. Robbery, gunfights, betrayals and counter-betrayals. Stylization that's swift, smart and gorgeous. Saturated colors so rich and deep, you'll swear they're about to drip off the screen. And three leading men every bit as charismatic as the Eastwood-Van Cleef-Wallach trio of Leone's film: Jung Woo-sung (from The Warrior, as the Good), Lee Byung-hun (from Joint Security Area and 3 Extremes, as the Bad) and Song Kang-ho (from Memories of Murder and The Host, as the Weird).
Kim Jee-Woon's movie is a one of those art-house/film-buff/crowd-pleasers that nearly everyone can enjoy. Kim, who has earlier given us the much-praised Tale of Two Sisters and A Bittersweet Life, is clearly intent on trying out all sorts of genres, and doing each to a fare-thee-well. As much as I love Korean films, I have noticed that they do tend to go on (and on). Koreans, I guess, expect their money's worth, and this movie, at a two-hour-and-ten-minute length, certainly gives it.
I suppose you could trim the film, but truthfully, every time it threatens to dissipate, something happens -- a chase, a killing, a surprise, a change of venue (underground brothel, anyone?) -- that places us back on track and moving like crazy. And did I mention that what looks like half the Japanese army also wants that map. (Yes, this film has a big budget.)
Kim's visual sense is so on-target and so much fun that you will probably sit there, as did I, happily gorging on the colors, costumes, the leading men, and one after another stunning visual set-up.
And isn't that diving bell a little out of its usual venue? Don't ask. Just enjoy.
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