When is a western not a western? When it’s an “eastern”. Take all the standard western story points, and even horses, guns, and wide open spaces, and transplant them to Manchuria (northeastern
in the late 1930s. For those who don’t
know their world history the Japanese had invaded the region in 1931 and set up
a collaborationist government there. The
result is that many people operated outside the law, including the Koreans
whose country was to the southeast of Manchuria. This means that the wide open spaces of Manchuria were literally the “wild west” for Koreans in
the late 1930s.
With a title like The Good, the Bad, the Weird (TGTBTW), and a setting and story that are clearly intended to be a western, the obvious comparison is to the classic western film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. While TGTBTW is surely inspired by the earlier film, and uses some similar plot points, it is not a remake. It is its own story. And what an insane movie it is. (Insane in a good way.)
What better way to open a western than with a train job? We see a train traveling across a wide open desert. It’s carrying Japanese officers and their collaborationist Manchurian officials. The Bad (Byung-hun Lee), a hitman and all around badass, has been hired to steal a map the Japanese officers are transporting. Before he can get to it, though, another bandit – The Weird (Kang-ho Song) – steals it. Complicating matters, a bounty hunter – The Good (Woo-sung Jung) – arrives in pursuit of The Bad to collect the bounty on his head. There is a three way battle and the train derails, killing most of the people on it.
In the chaos The Weird tries to escape, but is tracked down. The map, which appears to show the location of treasure – possibly that of the last Chinese dynasty – changes hands multiple times, and alliances form, break up, and re-form as the three all try to get to the location first.
The Japanese are not just going to let the massacre of their officers and the theft of the map go unpunished. And they also want whatever is at the map’s location in order to fund their war effort. Tossed into the mix is that The Bad has his own gang, and they operate within the larger black market that has sprung up in the chaos of war. The entire town where the black market is located is essentially populated with nothing but bandits and criminals. Remember that The Bad was hired to steal the map? Well, it was one of the bandit leaders who did that. This means all the bandits also know about, and want, the map.
There is a lot of over the top action in this film. At one point there is an absolutely crazy scene where The Weird is on a motorcycle in the wide open desert being hotly pursued simultaneously by: The Good, The Bad, The Bad’s gang, black market bandits, Manchurian collaborators, and the Japanese Imperial Army – all on combinations of horses and motorized vehicles, and with plenty of guns and dynamite. Man’s in deep, deep shit. But, to say that there is some attrition in the ranks chasing him as they all turn on each other would be an understatement.
|This doesn't really convey the size of the scene. This is only the very leading edge.
|Some of the attrition starting to happen.
You can’t have an homage to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly without a spin on the most famous scene of the three men all facing off against each other in the Mexican desert. In the case of TGTBTW you could call it a “Manchurian standoff”.
As you can tell I liked the action and humor in this film, as well as the nods to many American westerns. The reason I don’t have it rated higher is that it is filmed in heavy shakycam, especially during the action scenes. I hate shakycam (and anything else that makes it hard/impossible to actually see what is happening in a movie), so the fact that I am still recommending this film lets you know that it is entertaining. If it sounds interesting then I recommend you give it a try.
Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars