Yet Another Film Review: The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Kim Jee-woon’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a charming, complex, flawed, and impeccably strange film. The plot twists and turns, sometimes predictably, sometimes as if it cannot control itself and is simply being tugged around by the characters and factions that it follows. In the film, a bounty hunter (the Good), a hired gun (the Bad), and an odd, yet dangerous fellow with no past (the Weird) fight to obtain a mysterious map.
At the beginning of the film, the Bad (Lee Byung-hun) is ordered to steal the map from a military transport train by his criminal boss. However, the Weird (Song Kang-ho) reaches the map before the Bad does, and escapes into the desert with the intent of selling it for profit. The Good, who seeks the map for unknown reasons, and the Bad pursue the Weird. The rest of the film details their struggle against interested factions and each other to obtain the map.
The Good, the Bad, the Weird possesses a connection to the famous 1966 film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The main connection is the presence of three main characters: one good, one bad, and one unusual. Several scenes from the South Korean film parallel those from the Sergio Leone film. Interactions and alliances between the Good, the Bad, and the Weird are very similar to those between the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The Weird, just like the Ugly, walks a fine line between protagonist and antagonist. Many of the desert landscapes could be interchanged between the films. And final showdown in the South Korean film acts as a final nod to the Sergio Leone film; in both movies, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly/the Weird find themselves in a three-way duel to the death.
The mystery of the map, and also of the origins of Yoon Tae-Goo “the Weird”, is unraveled as the film progresses. The plot twists are never — without exception — predictable or cheesy: every twist was shocking and made-sense in the context of the film.
The main characters are initially introduced not through their words, but through their actions. The ways that they try and steal the map are distinctly styled to each character, with the Weird utilizing unusual techniques, the Bad using brutality, and the Good taking a more reserved approach. But these differences do not cause the characters to ever abstain from violence. This is an action movie, and everyone in is a killer.
The three main characters are acted very well, although they are not especially complex roles to begin with. Song Kang-ho, who was a primary character is Snowpiercer (2013), does an especially fine job at creating the Weird — a relief from his darker role in Snowpiercer. His portrayal of this eccentric bounty hunter is flawless to the point where I, who am familiar with his face as an American would be familiar with Tom Cruise’s, stopped thinking of him as an actor and instead as the Weird.
Various other factions, such as the Japanese army and a gang of black-market dealers, add a necessary respite from the focus on the main characters. All these factions vie for the map for different reasons – most revolving around profit – that serve as intriguing side-stories to those of the main characters.
The surrounding society, which utilizes a mixture of modern and antiquated tools, creates a believable world in a barren landscape. The characters live in a period of time between two eras: as the wild, western era collapses and new technologies of the modern age make their first appearances. Characters use automatic weapons, let many still fight with swords. Trains and cars are utilized, but so are horses.
The setting, Manchuria, is creatively realized and fully utilized. The story moves through barren sand dunes, crowded shantytowns, lively opium dens, and grand palaces. The film progresses through most of these settings at a frequent enough pace that they do not become boring. The only notable exception to this is the open desert, which is overused and loses its appeal quickly.
In these playgrounds, The Good, the Bad, the Weird hosts its copious gunfights, which are an integral part of the film. While the props can create a fulfilling atmosphere to the film, and the scenes are always well edited, the gunfights can drag on much longer than they should. Some fights lasted over ten minutes: a sin in most action movies.
The Good, the Bad, the Weird is something unnatural, and thus beautiful. It is neither a parody of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, nor is it something that takes itself completely seriously. The characters drive the film completely, and they sometimes seem to be parodying their scripted roles more than they are the 1966 film. Yet the outcome is not a standard joke – it is something more complex. The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a film that must be taken seriously, or else the joke will be missed entirely.

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