The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008): A Kimchi Western

The Good, the Bad, the Weird
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written and directed by Jee-woon Kim (I Saw The Devil, A Tale of Two Sisters) and starring Kang-ho Song (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, The Quiet Family), Byung-hun Lee (I Saw the DevilG.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and Woo-sung Jung (Demon Empire, Daisy) The Good, The Bad, The Weird is Jee-woon Kim’s loving homage to the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone.

Winning four awards and receiving nine nominations, TGTBTW is the second highest grossing film from South Korea only being beaten by Speedy Scandlal.

Set in 1930’s Manchuria, the film begins with The Bad(Byung-hu Lee) being paid to get hold of a Japanese treasure map being transported by train. Unfortunately for The Bad, someone else has just beat him to it. The Weird (Kang-ho Song) is already on the train and disguised as a snack vendor makes his way into the guarded rail car that has the map.

The train is stopped by The Bad and his cronies who have blocked the track. The Weird uses this opportunity to escape from the train, with the map, on his side car motorcycle. The Good, a bounty hunter (Woo-sung Jung) attempts to shoot both The Bad and The Weird.

The Good finally decides to chase after The Weird. They all wind up in a village where the Ghost Market operates from. The Ghost Market is a black market meeting place and since everyone seems to know about the treasure map, a gang of Manchurian bandits also want it.

Cue a brilliantly choreographed shoot out between all of the warring factions.

This film does mimic the Sergio Leone classic The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly to a degree, but only in rough terms of characters and the overall plot. Byung-hun Lee is the Lee Van Cleef of the picture, Kang-ho Song is the Eli Wallach, and Woo-sung Jung is the Clint Eastwood.

Jee-woon Kim adds just the right amount of pathos and humour to the film. It is paced perfectly and does not waste a single frame of film. The only complaint that I might possibly have about the film is the casting of Byung-hu lee as The Bad. He was so charismatic and charmingly bad that I actually liked him.

..at the opening night gala for the 2005 Hawai...

Kang-ho Song as The Weird, almost steals the film. He is both comic relief and deadly enemy. He is also the slowest of the three mentally, but what he lacks in brain power he makes up in sheer enthusiasm. He is a bumbling bad man and only chances upon the Japanese treasure map by accident.

Woo-sung Jung is very, very good…as The Good. He lacks the stoic ability of Clint Eastwood’s Character but he makes up for it in his taciturn attitude about bringing the bad guys in for the bounty.

The group of bandits also provided a lot of comic relief, but they also were very deadly if somewhat dense foes.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird is Jee-woon Kim at his finest. He has so far done a couple of horror films, a gangster film, a psychological thriller and an epic western. I cannot wait to see his next venture. What ever it is, I sincerely hope that is has room for Byung-hun Lee,  Kang-ho Song, Woo-sung Jung and maybe Min-sik Choi.

I really feel that South Korean Cinema is leading the rest of the world in producing brilliant films. I also think that they are one of the few countries that still see the director as Auteur. That French invention that likens the director to a sort of demi-god status.

Asian Cinema seems to have more than its fair share of writer/directors and for the most part what ever accolades that they’ve received for their works is well deserved. I think that Jee-woon Kim has earned the title Auteur and may he continue to make films to prove it.

I Saw the Devil (2010): A Clash of Wills

Starring Byung-hun Lee  ( A Bittersweet Life, The Good, the Bad, the Weird,   G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and   Min-sik Choi (The Quiet Family, Oldboy, Crying Fist, Lady Vengeance) and directed by  Jee-woon Kim (The Quiet Family, A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, The Good, the Bad, the Weird), I Saw the Devil is devilishly hard to watch.

The film opens with a young girl,  Joo-yeon, who is travelling by car through a snow covered countryside. Her car tyre goes flat  and while she is waiting for the breakdown service to arrive, she calls her fiance Kim Soo-hyeon  (Byung-hun Lee), who works for the Korean Secret Service. While she is talking to Kim a man comes up, Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) and offers to change her tyre for her.

Joo-yeon  refuses and the man leaves only to return with a hammer to smash her window in with. He strikes her with the hammer and takes her unconscious body away. Kim is understandably upset that his fiancée is in danger. Kyung-chul in the meantime has raped and murdered Joo-yeon. Afterwards he cuts her body up and scatters the pieces around the countryside.

Joo-yeon’s father is a policeman, a squad leader and he is present when the police find Joo-yeon’s head. Kim Soo-yeon uses a suspect list that Joo-yeon’s father has to find the murderer. He vows to get revenge for his fiancée’s death.

Jee-woon Kim, has made a powerful and disturbing film. I Saw the Devil could be described as a modern morality tale. Kim Soo-hyeon’s cold determination to catch his fiancée’s killer, has him brutally questioning the suspects to narrow down his search for the killer. When he finally discovers that it is Kyung-chul, he begins a series of violent and gory retribution against him.

Kyung-chul though is a different animal from the usual sexual predator. He is actually a predator, full stop. Kim’s brutal torturing of Kyung-chul just makes things worse. Kim finds out, to his horror, that Kyung-chul is a twisted type A personality, a ‘right-man’ who will not stop until he has either won or died.

When Kyung-chul finds out who has been tracking him and injuring him repeatedly, he vows his own revenge on Kim Soo-yeon. A deadly cat and mouse game between the two ensues, with Kim having to sink to the same level of evil as Kyung-chul.

The film was excruciating to watch. The rape scenes were uncomfortable and horrible. The scenes of retribution against Min-sik’s character, although satisfying, were equally horrible to watch. Although we feel the rage that Kim feels and that the actions he takes are justified. We cannot help but be saddened by the toll it takes him and on everyone involved.

The police are frustrated and angry, Kim begins to lose his grip on normalcy and everyone peripherally involved gets caught up in the action.

This is the latest offering from Jee-woon Kim, one of the best directors in South Korea. If you are a Jee-woon fan you will not want to miss this film. If you are not aware of Jee-woon Kim’s work, it is a good introduction to his prowess as a director.