Comics

Mr. Beaks Demands The Immediate, Wide Release Of Ji-Woon Kim's Triumphant THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD!

Published at: Nov. 7, 2008, 12:56 a.m. CST by mrbeaks

No offense to the fine folks at IFC Films, but why in the hell is Ji-woon Kim's THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD not getting a 2,000-screen, major studio release in the U.S.? Since the "Americans can't read subtitles!" caveat was retired eight years ago with Ang Lee CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, I can't think of a single excuse for this rollicking hybrid of Spaghetti westerns and vintage Hollywood spectacles getting relegated to big city art houses. Except for this possibility: the studios are ashamed. If they aren't, they damn well should be. Aside from non-English speaking leads (again, not a big deal), there's little in Kim's film that could be deemed inaccessible for a mainstream American audience. Unlike Jackie Chan's movies, which employed a Keaton-cum-Lewis style of humor that was somewhat out-of-step with U.S. sensibilities during the '80s and '90s, THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD is almost 100% Western. The only difference? The sheer physical scale. And that's where the shame sets in: Kim's made a movie that emulates/homages/outright-rips-off some of the best films to ever come out of the studio system. It's the kind of movie that used to be Hollywood's proudest export. And it's now the kind of movie Hollywood just can't make anymore. If you want to be cynical about it, you could say this is because Sergio Leone already made it in 1966. Narratively speaking, this is not inaccurate; if there's one movie TGTBTW lifts from more than any other, it's THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY. The three main characters are clearly patterned after Leone's archetypes: Woo-seong Jeong's bounty hunter, Do-weon Park (aka "The Good"), is a more principled version of Clint Eastwood's Blondie; Byeong-heon Park's self-proclaimed "bandit", Chang-yi Park (aka "The Bad"), is a sleeker take on Lee Van Cleef's Angel Eyes; and Kang-ho Song's petty thief, Tae-gu Yun (aka "The Weird"), is a pudgy cousin to Eli Wallach's Tuco. The plot, meanwhile, very often dovetails with the basic structure of the Leone film. But Kim's picture strikes a completely different tone at its outset. After a subdued opening credits sequence, during which Chang-yi is contracted by a Korean mobster to steal a coveted treasure map from a train traveling through the Manchurian desert, we're thrust into a hectic set piece that more closely resembles an Indiana Jones movie than a Leone western. Before Chang-yi can hijack the train, Tae-gu storms into the railcar of some wealthy travelers for a quick-and-indiscriminate robbery. All does not go according to plan, especially when Do-weon blasts his way into the clusterfuck hoping to nab Chang-yi (who's protected by a phalanx of thugs). The ensuing gunfight is brisk, bloody and beautifully choreographed. And, at its conclusion, the map is inadvertently in the possession of Tae-gu. It doesn't take long for Chang-yi to track down the careless Tae-gu in his rundown village (where he shares a flat with his barely-there grandmother), but, lucky for the latter, he's apprehended by Do-weon. These two form an uneasy alliance as they try to dodge/kill the ruthless Chang-yi; though they never fully trust each other, they can at least rely on one another's respective greed and decency. Chang-yi, on the other hand, is a cold-blooded killer - which becomes wincingly evident when he tortures Tae-gu's hapless coconspirator in broad daylight on a crowded city street. This unspeakable act leads to the film's second protracted set piece: a shootout in the slums that finds Do-weon soaring above the rooftops and Tae-gu cleverly donning an old-school diving helmet (the less explanation, the better). It's an exhilarating sequence; please forgive the hyperbole, but it may be the most invigoratingly protracted gun battle I've seen since the hospital showdown in HARD BOILED. Once Kim's done borrowing from John Woo, he turns his attention to Steven Spielberg with a climactic desert chase that gets giddily out of control in a hurry. Essentially, it's one man (Tae-gu) on a motorcycle being chased by two groups of bandits and the Japanese military. Actually, this final blowout resembles IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD as much as it does RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (though Spielberg's masterpiece required a considerable suspension of disbelief, he never asked you to buy a solitary figure outrunning a heavy barrage of ammunition). Remember the scene in RAMBO III when Rambo and Col. Trautman slug it out with half the Russian military? That's a docudrama compared to this. For all its technical proficiency, it's hard to imagine THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD working without Kang-ho Song filling out the Tuco role. Though Tae-gu's introduction isn't quite as memorable as Tuco's (sorry, but it doesn't get any better than Eli Wallach crashing through a window clutching a chicken leg), he still does a brilliant job of conveying the character's oddness through his graceless body language (with the camera at his back, no less). Not that this is a surprise: from J.S.A. and THE FOUL KING to THE HOST and SECRET SUNSHINE, Song's quietly established himself as one of the most resourceful performers working today. It's too bad the Academy Awards are so xenophobic when it comes to Asian actors; if there were any justice, he would've been nominated once or twice by now. It's hard to gauge THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD's place in the pantheon. Though every great filmmaker borrows from their favorite films, I don't know that I've ever seen a movie comprised of nothing but derivative pieces: GUNGA DIN, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, MIDNIGHT RUN, KILL BILL, everything by Leone (save for ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA)... they're all directly referenced in Kim's melange. Perhaps I'd cry foul if I weren't so sure I just watched the most entertaining movie of 2008. It's all craft and love. It's what we hope for every time the lights dim in the theater. It's what everyone will be praying for next February. Give this movie its due, Hollywood. Faithfully submitted, Mr. Beaks

Readers Talkback

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  • Nov. 7, 2008, 1:02 a.m. CST

    testing 1 2 3

    by xega

    test

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 1:03 a.m. CST

    Avon?

    by deanbarry

    I was so hoping it would be yours :(

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 1:25 a.m. CST

    My Guess....about Hollyweird in general

    by Doc_Hudson

    Is that they have discovered that people wont bet 10 bucks on an unknown horse.....not for blockbusters anyway. If one of the plots,cast,director,character(s)is not known ahead of time(b4 trailers),then it will be fail in their eyes and grant no budget. Look at this year's line up,....Batman,Hulk,Irondude,Indy,.....shit even Wall*E was a run of the mill love story with nothing new. Tested,tried and true is Hollywood mantra these days. BTW Beaks,....hope your pal in the pic over at Hunt's site gets better soon....:)

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 1:38 a.m. CST

    Are you kidding me?

    by mavsman15

    http://mikemcstay.blogspot.com/2008/07/movie-review.html I saw the film opening weekend here in Korea and it was so-so at best. I still have no idea what they were aiming for, but it did not work. I saw it one time and that is enough.

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 2:29 a.m. CST

    This sounds amazing!

    by IAmMrMonkey!

    If only there was a cameo appearance by Obama, it would be the best thing ever!

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 4:17 a.m. CST

    saw Jackie Chan film in chinese theatre...

    by CENOBITE

    ...and I was the only one laughing! Everyone else weren't phased by his humor and they were all CHINESE! So I'm not too sure about 'western tastes' being so alien. Or maybe I'm just different.

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 6:03 a.m. CST

    Same goes for MONGOL

    by mygirleatsbannanas

    One of my favourite ovies of 2008 yet it bombed in the states.At least pick it up on dvd.Cant wait for the next 2 installments..Passion of christ did well subtitles and all.Nice review Mr Beaks , youve got me hooked

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 6:37 a.m. CST

    Without a doubt...

    by John-Locke

    the most entertaining Movie of 2008 so far. Too many cool, BADASS and hilarious moments to recollect, can't wait to see this in a cinema again. The film isn't perfect though, I found that some of the slower stuff between action scenes dragged a touch here and there.

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 10:16 a.m. CST

    I think this has been strangely over-rated.

    by The Reluctant Austinite

    The hype at Fantastic Fest was gigantic, and indeed most seemed to think it was one of the best films playing at the fest. I LOVE spaghetti westerns so I was very excited to see it. Now, it isn't a bad film. It is entertaining and action packed to the gills with John Woo meets Sergio Leone setpieces, but it just seemed familiar and not particularly memorable to me. My two Autin friends that saw it with me felt exactly the same way. Now, I certainly don't want to steer anybody away from seeing it, because most people seemed to have loved it, and maybe it just fell victim to it's own hype for us, but I was a little let down.

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 11:18 a.m. CST

    Could've caught this at the Toronto FIlm Fest...

    by Johnno

    But for $40??? Nah, I passed...

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 11:20 a.m. CST

    You forgot Memeries of Murder on

    by comedian_x

    your definitive list Song performances.

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 12:06 p.m. CST

    Not Really A Definitive List, comedian_x

    by mrbeaks

    Just making a point about his range. But you're right: he's phenomenal in MEMORIES OF MURDER.

  • Nov. 7, 2008, 5:09 p.m. CST

    It's all in the marketing

    by Gwai Lo

    They just need to cut a trailer that's appealing to the barely literate. There are plenty of insane set-pieces to fill a minute and a half with. Mongol looked like a history lesson. This movie is probably more accessible and fun than Crouching Tiger, the trick is convincing America of that.

  • Nov. 8, 2008, 6 a.m. CST

    Seeing it on Friday at the Leeds Film Festival. Can't wait!

    by Mr Nicholas