Action and anti-heroes propel ‘Good Bad Weird'


POSTED: Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This self-described “;Oriental Western,”; while a far cry from its inspiration—Sergio Leone's now-classic Spaghetti Western of similar title and theme—has enough production and action value going for it that it exemplifies South Korea's continuing box-office impact on international cinema.

Director Kim Jee-woon pays direct homage to Leone's 1966 Italian epic more with music cues earlier in his film: bits of fuzzed-out electric guitar and whistling reminiscent of Ennio Morricone's original memorable score. But when “;Good Bad Weird's”; final action spectacle rolls around, the audience hears an unusual throbbing, a Spanish “;rumba flamenca”; music akin to the Gypsy Kings.

And why not? The Korean movie is already a pastiche of every major action-adventure genre flick of the past few decades, never mind the Western.

The Asian country's mythical West, for this movie, is in the hinterlands of Manchuria in the 1930s, when many Koreans fled to China's untamed wilderness to escape Japanese colonial rule. All parties involved—including Korean independence fighters and opportunists, the Japanese army and Chinese bandits—are in pursuit of a mysterious treasure map.

A vicious killer and gang leader, Park Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun), tries to steal the map during a train heist, only to be thwarted by a common robber, Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho), who escapes with the map while Park is distracted by a gunfight with bounty hunter Park Do-wu (Jung Woo-sung).

The occasional historical exposition and the map itself are McGuffins in Kim's movie, as it's the journey of these three anti-heroes—or rather, their constant chases and fights—that propels the film.

While Jung, a good-looking lead and major star back home, competently plays his good guy with the requisite amount of world-weary stoicism (minus the Clint Eastwood eye squint), it's Song and Lee who make this movie that much more entertaining.

Song's comic, scheming presence is very much a throwback to Eli Wallach's Mexican bandit, and “;The Weird”; describes to a T Lee's character, whose looks and attitude are more akin to contemporary anime. He wears a black waistcoat with a white open-neck shirt, his face framed by a jagged hairstyle that covers one eye, his left ear adorned with multiple piercings.

Kim's movie is a handsome, big-budget production filled with vibrant settings and skilled camera work.

The opening-set piece on the train and the chaotic gunfight in the open-air Ghost Market, in particular, are well-paced. It's bravado filmmaking that is definitely crowd-pleasing.


”;The Good The Bad The Weird”;

South Korea, in Korean with subtitles

Directed by Kim Jee-woon

Screens at 7 p.m. Saturday at Dole Cannery theater as HIFF's closing-night film.

Tickets are $10.




» Actor Jung Woo-sung will receive an Achievement in Acting award from the festival at 10 a.m. Saturday during a press conference the Halekulani's Garden Terrace.

» A party celebrating Jung's award and marking the closing of the festival will be held from 9:30 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday at Harbor Court Bistro. Tickets are $20. Call 550-8457 or visit