The Good, The Bad And The Weird2010-05-11
The Good, The Bad and the Weird: the good, the bad and the overlong.
by Richard von Busack
There’s loads of undifferentiated action in Ji-Woon Kim’s The Good, The Bad and the Weird—a Sergio Leone pastiche with Max Max overtones, set in one of Earth’s gloomiest deserts. The alternate English title Nom Nom Nom—the sounds of devouring made by a Pac-Man machine?—suggests undirected appetite among a three way tag team. (“Life is all about chasing and being chased,” says a character.)
It’s set in the days before World War II, in the Japanese governed puppet state of Manchuria; everyone is contending for a treasure map located somewhere deep in the desert. By “everyone” we include a pack of post-apocalyptic Mongols, maybe the last descendants of Genghis Khan. Eventually, about a battalion of uniformed Japanese soldiers turn up for the climactic, 40 minute long chase.
A straight-shooting, courtly bounty hunter in a cowboy hat—something like the kindly movie rangers of the 1950s, played by Woo-Sung Jun—is on the lookout for a savage psycho with a peekaboo haircut and black leather gloves. This bad guy, helpfully named The Bad, is played by Byung-Hun Lee. From Byung-Hun’s frozen slightly open-mouthed smile and his trick of gazing out of focus at the horizon, we see that Brad Pitt is this actor’s main man. The Bad is worse than he looks at first: apparently, he has the nasty habit of collecting dead men’s fingers.
Between this obvious hero and more obvious villain is mortal flesh: “The Weird,” a sloppy good-for-nothing of a bandit, wearing that particular headgear guaranteed to make you look like a sub-normal: a leather cowl and motorcycle glasses. He’s played by one of the most recognizable and likable Korean movie stars: Song-Kang Ho, who was the tormented priest in Thirst, and the oddball, narcoleptic son in the monster movie The Host.
This Eastern adaptation of a sweeping western really changes Leone’s focus in one important respect: the original The Good, The Bad and The Ugly wasn’t so thoroughly about the Eli Wallach character; we follow this slightly fim Korean expatriate in the occupied Chinese desert with more interest than we do watching the other extremes of virtue. He just wants to cash out and be a farmer anyway.
Parody or pastiche that it is, The Good, The Bad and The Weird gets into slapstick—“The Weird” uses the two-fingered Moe Howard defense to escape captors, as well as an a ultra-low comedy knife attack on a villain’s butt. At one point he slaps on bullet-repelling deep-sea diving helmet to survive a gunfight. The stunt work is zippy in spots, but the lack of any serious female action, the overlong running time and the prettiness of the flying camera make one miss the golden age of Hong Kong cinema, when efficiency matched the exuberant violence.