Good, the Bad, the Weird, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 05/07/10 15:00:00
As I sit down to write these words, the summer movie derby is just about to kick off in earnest and after looking over the various competitors, I must admit that with a couple of conspicuous exceptions--mainly Christopher Nolan’s jumbo-sized question mark “Inception” and “Toy Story 3”--I can’t really work up much excitement for much of them. This is partly because this year’s lineup seems to consist, more so than usual, of little more than unnecessary sequels, cheesy knockoffs and adaptations of TV shows I never watched and video games that I never played, most of which are apparently being presented in the increasingly irritating miracle of 3-D. However, I think the real reason that I can disdainfully look down upon most of the cinematic thrill rides preparing to jam the multiplexes over the next few months is because I have already seen a film so exciting, so thrilling and so wildly energetic that I am fairly confident that it will put all potential competitors to shame. The film is the action-packed comedy-western “The Good, the Bad and the Weird” and while this South Korean import from Ji-woon Kim) may not be on your entertainment radar right now, it should because this is one of those rare films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that grabs viewers right from the start, carries them along at a breakneck pace for more than two hours and then sends them off into the lobby feeling dazed, dizzy and delighted over what they have just experienced.Set in Manchuria during the 1930’s, the plot, such as it is, kicks off as a Japanese official sends off an incredibly valuable map to be delivered to one of his agents in China. However, the treacherous official also hire the fearsome and cunning killer Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee) to steal back the map so that he can keep it for himself while still getting paid for retrieving it in the first place.(How fearsome is Chang-Yi? The official gives him a ticket for the train that the map will be traveling on and he refuses because he prefers the challenge of attacking the train and bringing it to a standstill.) The plan seems foolproof but it hits a bit or a snag when bungling thief Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song) decides to rob the same train and winds up making off with it himself. Under normal circumstances, a goof like Tae-goo would be no match for Chang-yi ruthlessness but he is aided immeasurably when he winds up joining forces with Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung), a heroic bounty hunter with a keen interest in both. From then on, the film follows Tae-goo pursuing the unknown treasure at the end of the map, Chang-yi pursuing him, Do-won keeping an eye on both of them and various factions of Chinese bandits and Japanese military troops joining in the fray as well.
Of course, the plot is generally the least essential element in a film like this and once everyone is introduced, it becomes one extended chase scene lasting nearly two hours, less maybe fifteen minutes of downtime in the middle to fill in some plot details and to allow everyone, both the on-screen characters and the off-screen audience members, a chance to catch their breath. Most action films these days struggle to come up with one Good Part--the kind of jaw-dropping sequence that inspires viewers to tell their friends “you gotta see this!”--but “The Good, the Bad and the Weird” boldly attempts to present itself as a film made up of nothing but Good Parts. As anyone who has seen “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” can attest, this is a task that is nearly impossible to pull off because the sheer effort required to sustain the frantic pacing while continually topping itself as it goes on tends to overwhelm the proceedings after a while. Somehow, Kim manages to avoid that particular pitfall and presents us with the most amazing example of sustained kinetic energy to hit the screen in a long time--while the title may obviously suggest the Sergio Leone spaghetti western classic “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” the real inspiration seems to come from the similarly breathless action extravaganza “The Road Warrior.” Whether working within the confined space of a train car or the vast expanse of the Manchurian desert, Kim knows how to stage and execute elaborate action scenes that manage to be both formally complex and incredibly exciting without ever devolving into mindless cacophonies of sound and fury and the fact that he clearly relies more on practical effects than CGI adds an extra edge to the proceedings that takes everything up a notch. Amazingly, Kim always manages to keep the momentum going throughout--so much so, in fact, that by the time it finally comes to its conclusion, most viewers may find themselves slightly exhausted by the entire experience, though definitely in a good way.At this point, many of you reading this may be thinking “Gee, thanks a lot, jackass--not everyone lives in a city that has theaters willing to book epic-sized comedy-western imports from South Korea! Why are you wasting my time raving about a movie that I can’t even see?” Obviously, “The Good, the Bad and the Weird” is a film that is meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible--especially during the explosion-filled desert race/chase that dominates the second half--but those of you lacking that option are in luck as it is currently being made available on numerous cable systems as a video-on-demand selection. Regardless of what venue you choose to see it in, you pretty much have to see it if you get the chance because this is one of the most compulsively exciting and entertaining films to come along in a while and if you don’t emerge from it feeling absolutely exhilarated, you probably deserve to be condemned to a lifetime of nothing but the likes of such gumdrops as “Kick-Ass” or “The Losers.”
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