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.

The Remake Train: Oldboy

Cover of "Oldboy"
Cover of Oldboy

I have just read that Spike Lee is re-making Oldboy. To say I’m angy and dismayed is the understatement of the century. I am not too surprised as there is apparently some sort of loophole in the Korean film system where the owners/creators of a Korean film have no rights. Anyone can take their film lock, stock and barrel and remake it.  This is the second time (that I’m aware of) where Hollywood has decided to take advantage of this copyright loophole.

 

 

 

English: Spike Lee at the Vanity Fair kickoff ...

 

 

The first time was with the brilliant Tale Of Two Sisters, Jee-woon Kim’s masterpiece. This film was a skilful blend of supernatural horror and psychological thriller. It was butchered beyond all recognition by Hollywood in the re-make titled The Uninvited. It beggars belief that Hollywood can see the merit of the original film and then re-make it so badly that it is nigh-on unrecognisable upon completion.

 

DVD cover of the Vengeance Trilogy
DVD cover of the Vengeance Trilogy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now Hollywood has it’s sights firmly set on Oldboy.  Oldboy was part of Chan-wook Park’s ”vengeance” trilogy. The first of which was Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. The last of the trilogy was Lady Vengeance. Oldboy was sandwiched firmly in the middle. That Park is a master craftsman is undeniable. When you watch these films you feel overwhelmed by the imagery and the intricacy of the plots. Of course Min-sik Choi features in two of the films.  He is the star of Oldboy, the villain in Lady Vengeance and is suitably different in each role.

 

English: Korean actor Choi Min-sik presents th...
English: Korean actor Choi Min-sik presents the film Himalaya, Where the Wind Dwells at 44th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I dearly love all three films, although Sympathy for Mr Vengeance always depresses me no end when I watch it. The point is all three films have so much in common. I’m not talking about plot here. I’m talking about the amount of care that Park takes in the crafting of each film.  In Oldboy for example, look at the clothes the three main protagonists wear. Each of the characters wear certain colours and patterns that tell you, who they are and how they fit into the film. The set designs have been developed the same way. I could go on for hours about the amount of effort that Asian film makers put into their films, but I think it would start to sound a bit like ranting.

 

I think that Asian cinema has some of the most talented directors in the world  at the moment. Asian directors usually write the screen plays of the films they direct and in some cases produce them as well. If ever the phrase of  ”director as auteur” applied to anyone, it applies to Asian directors. For Hollywood to re-make the work of these masters without asking permission, or (most disturbingly) without conferring with them on the process of the re-make itself is criminal. At the very least it is a little nuts. The very fact that the original films were so successful almost mandates an invitation for original creators to be involved.

 

There is no denying that Hollywood is on the “Remake Train.”  They aren’t just remaking World Cinema’s great films, they’re remaking much loved Hollywood films as well. True Grit was released earlier this year. And a list of further re-makes that are upcoming is long and upsetting.  One of the latest is The Wild Bunch which is under going talks to be directed by Tony Scott. It is disturbing to think that the well of talent is so dry in Hollywood that they’ve had to resort to remaking other peoples classic/iconic films to turn a profit.

 

The Wild Bunch
The Wild Bunch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I think it’s safe to say that Hollywood is no longer the “Dream Factory,” they are now the“Remake Factory.”