REVIEW: The Good, the Bad, the Weird Lousy for Viewers, Worse For Horses

Movieline Score:
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What we commonly call genre films -- westerns, romantic comedies, horror and action films -- may have been born in Hollywood, but the great proof of their durability is that no one can claim ownership of them: They belong to everyone, to interpret and revitalize as they wish. That explains how a Korean filmmaker would be inspired to make his own version of an Italian western, which itself was inspired by Hollywood movies that mined America's "Westward, ho!" mythology, a case of the American experience being reflected back at us through double mirrors. But Kim Jee-Woon's The Good, the Bad, The Weird is no The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and it doesn't so much build upon its namesake as climb over its back on its way to somewhere else. There's no modesty in Kim's movie, not even the false kind. It's faux-Leone baloney.

We expect and want filmmakers to be audacious, either to bring us things we've never seen before or to show us old things in a new way. And Kim's boldness is entertaining, at least for short bursts. But too often he appears to be having fun at the audience's expense: He may have taken great delight and a lot of care in setting up intricate action sequences or broadly comic vignettes, but that doesn't necessarily make them good. The Good, the Bad, the Weird is far too pleased with itself; it spends more time calling attention to its cleverness than it does actually being clever.

That's true from the picture's first big action sequence, which is lively enough by itself, although it does nothing to tip us off to the great slog ahead. (The Good, the Bad, the Weird goes on, sometimes interminably, for more than two hours.) In that first sequence, a scruffy, pudgy bandit with an affable face, Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho, a veteran of several pictures made by that other well-known Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, including The Host and Memories of Murder), strides through a string of cars on a train speeding through the Manchurian desert, in search of a valuable something-or-other which may or may not be a treasure map. It turns out that Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun), a sullen club-kid criminal type with multiple ear piercings, is also after the same something-or-other. He makes a dramatic entrance on horseback, running alongside that train with Douglas Fairbanks-style aplomb. There's a third figure who cares less about the coveted something-or-other than about the two ne'er-do-wells chasing after it: Do-won (Jung Woo-sung) is a noble, unsmiling bounty hunter. If the other two guys are, respectively, the weird and the bad, Do-won is the boring -- but you wouldn't draw much of an audience if you advertised that in a movie's title.

Plenty of other folks come and go during the course of the picture, including the Japanese army and a bunch of ragtag robbers in furry headgear, all of them after the same mysterious treasure. The plot is convoluted and inconsequential, less spaghetti western than corkscrew noodle, but that isn't the problem here. It doesn't even matter that the story is sometimes heedlessly anachronistic. (It's supposedly set in 1930s Manchuria, though an early crowd scene includes some ladies wearing strictly contemporary frocks, and I also spotted a trucker hat or two.) It's simply that the long stretches of dullness between Kim's stylish curlicues make the picture as dry as the desert itself. Kim may borrow some of the visual flourishes of Sergio Leone, but he understands little about his role model's sense of pacing. Leone's pictures have an elegiac, graceful sense of movement; even his action sequences tend to speak more of seduction than outright aggression. Kim is too impatient for that approach. When his movie isn't manic, it's dreadfully snoozy. That's surprising, considering Kim has some experience building and sustaining moody suspense: His 2003 A Tale of Two Sisters is a dreamy, enigmatic horror fantasy, low on logic but certainly high on atmosphere.

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Comments

  • Morgo says:

    I don't respect reviews that say "it's not as good as they think it is" etc. Pre-suppositions like that diminish the review, because a reviewer has no idea what the film-maker thinks of their work (unless they've asked). It's unfair to the film, and unhelpful to people trying to decide whether to go or not. If you think it's dumb, say it's dumb (in a clever way of course), don't fancy it up with some false perspective.

  • jj says:

    Saw this film twice, two years ago. It's very fun, very watchable. I highly recommend it.

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  • Jane says:

    "I counted many instances — too many — in which horses stumbled and fell in ways that were clearly unrehearsed"
    There were exactly four horses that fell in the finale sequence and they were all standard stunts that have been practiced safely for ages. The explosions I can understand being iffy about, but I really don't think you watched this film with a careful eye.

  • Denise says:

    This review sucks! I love this movie!

  • Erick Ramirez says:

    I watched this movie last night and found it to be a great movie. I don't know how you can gripe about this film having a convoluted plot when the film's inspiration is just as muddled! Don't get me wrong, I love "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", but around the third time that they get caught up in something that they hard no part in, I began to get a little annoyed.
    In addition, though you mentioned "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", you failed to comment on the film's overall brilliant score. Sometimes I was confused by what time period the movie was meant to be set in, but that was actually highlighted by the score, which is a unique mix of Asian/Western themes, with some electronic music thrown in at times.
    Every action sequence was great and the Good's character is meant to be a foil to the Weird. Which is why you consider him to be "boring". He is not the main character in this film, though; it's clearly the Weird. I loved all the characters and their role in the crazy rat race. The characters are eccentric enough to keep you interested in their motives.
    Overall, a great film, and I believe that you made a quick-and-dirty judgment of the film and you let it glaze over the better parts of this movie.

  • Brendon Ressler says:

    Someone who really doesn't get it. This is one of the most enjoyable films I've seen in years (after three viewings) and Hollywood better watch out because Korea is figuring it out. I understand that opinions differ but I've recommended this movie to five friends of varying tastes and four of them have loved it. I'll admit that they could have probably edited 45 minutes out and not lost anything significant but the same could be said of Leone's movie as well.

  • RB says:

    I agree with this reviewer's comments about animal cruelty. After watching all of those horses fall during the desert chase scene, there's no way I could recommend the movie to someone now.

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