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THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD

Director: KIM JEE-WOON

SOUTH KOREA • 2008 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • ANAMORPHIC • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 35MM • 130 MIN


SOUTH KOREA’S BIGGEST HIT MOVIE OF LAST YEAR IS — WOULD YOU BELIEVE? — A FULL-ON WESTERN, WHICH PAYS EXPANSIVE TRIBUTE TO THE LIKES OF SERGIO LEONE, REPLETE WITH STEAM TRAINS, SHOOT-OUTS AND A TREASURE MAP.
Wildly energetic entertainment it is too, and since you’re about to ask, it all unfolds in the sun-baked hinterlands of Japanese-occupied Manchuria in the late 1930s, where the wide-open spaces double for the Old West. The title pretty much tells you the plot: there’s the cowboy-hatted good guy (Jung Woo-sung), the strutting baddie (Lee Byung-heon, who’ll co-star in next summer’s Hollywood blockbuster GI Joe) and the crazy maverick (Song Kang-ho, burly star of the ace Korean creature feature The Host) who has beaten both of his rivals to get his hands on the sought-after parchment detailing the location of a lost Qing-dynasty treasure buried deep in the middle of nowhere.
Subtle character shading isn’t really on the agenda here; instead, director Kim Jee-woon (who made A Bittersweet Life and whose spooky A Tale of Two Sisters has just been remade in the U.S.) strings together a series of breathtakingly mounted chases and fight scenes, combining physical agility, destruction on a spectacular scale, and that essential Korean ingredient — wickedly black humour. There’s certainly more than a nod to Leone’s classic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in the double-crossing plot and three-handed climactic confrontation, but the irresistibly rascally presence of Song Kang-ho, surely one of world cinema’s greatest comic talents, somehow means that it never lapses into empty pastiche. What’s Korean for ‘rootin’ tootin’? — Trevor Johnston.

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