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Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Good, The Bad, The Weird

This seems to be continuing in the vein of Transsiberian, in that I am reviewing some films here which may pass through the gaze of more mainstream critics bar the ike of Dr Kermode and what have you. The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a South Korean film by Kim Jee-woon, director of A Tale Of Two Sisters, who was inspired by The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and his love of westerns to create and scribe this project of his alongside writing and producing partners Kim Min-suk and Choi Jae-won. At its basest simplicity, you could say that the film is a remake of the Sergio Leone classic, which it clearly is not, but instead takes the bare bones i.e. three different men on the chase for treasure at a certain location. Bar these details and little things which make nods towards the spaghetti western genre, the film is more or less a completely original piece. In this film, set in 1930s Manchuria, The Bad, a hitman, is hired to steal a map off a Japanese official, which leads to treasure. Unfortunately, The Weird, a thief, gets there before him and intends to claim the treasure for himself. Also on the chase is The Good, a bounty hunter, who is on the hunt for The Bad and becomes aware of the map and becomes involved in the chase for the treasure. Also in the chase for the treasure are the Japanese Army and a Manchurian bandit gang. As one can imagine with this many strands involved, all hell and anarchy ensues throughout the film. However, despite the fact that there are so many strands, the film is very skilfully handled in this respect, more in due time. To start with The Good (clearly no pun intended, seeing as how this my general routine, to all the nitpicking Einsteins of the film community), technically the film is amazing. Maybe its a western thing for me, I don't know, but the cinematography in this film by either Oh Seung-chul or Lee Mogae is excellent (I have searched on IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes and Wikipedia to find out the name of the mystery cinematographer and have been unable to find his or her name, so if anyone who reads this happens to know, please tell me). The lush landscapes and horizons in the film are caught beautifully throughout the film. Also, there is quite clearly some experimentalisation with different types of shots in different portions of the film, creating some shots which are genuinely unique and have a personality of their own, making the film stand out. Finally, unlike the majority of action scenes in films today, especially in American cinema, the cinematographer has directed the cameramen in a way so that you are actually able to see all of the action. For example, in America they have had an awful tendency to shake the camera really fast ever since the Jason Bourne series, so as to create a sense of frantic reality to the situation. However, as is often the case, the "frantic sense of reality" is not actually an ample sense of reality, simultaneously disabling us from being able to distinguish whether or not it is real because we cannot see it, therefore defaulting their claims and reality, while adding to cinema caretakers workload at cleaning up sick in the bathroom. In The Good, The Bad, The Weird, this does not happen. Even while using the digital handheld camera, you are able to see the action onscreen with great clarity, while also creating a great sense of frenetic reality, particularly in the second Ghost Market action sequence with the rain pouring down, echoing Seven Samurai. Also, there are some brilliant helicopter and vehicle shots in the climactic chase, which really capture the expansive scope of the film. Another quality of the film is the excellent score by Chan Young-gyu and Dalparan. This is a really cool score that hooks you into the movie and gives you a real sense of elation any time you here a piece play. The image I get in my head when the music plays is a large mariachi-esque band, with guitars, borons and trumpets in big sombreros playing some really cool numbers to have a samba to. Excuse the stereotypes, but it is really in truth one of the coolest score I have heard in ages. The Latin flavour to the score is a real breath of fresh air when watching this film and is a great contrast to that type of incidental music I have become so sick of in films of late. You know, the ones I am always talking about, with the likes of big orchestral string instruments playing, more or less saying what the film can't: "this is where you are meant to cry." I would couple this score with my favourites of last year, The Wrestler, The Dark Knight and Waltz With Bashir. With regards to the acting, Song Kang-ho is really good as The Weird. One of my favourite Asian actors of today, Kang-ho has a great charisma to him and obviously is a great comedic actor, as seen in The Host, but also is a great dramatic actor, as seen in Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. Here, his Weird dominates the film, a wise move considering the stripped down, bare bones characters of The Good and The Bad. With a brilliant sense of comic timing and charisma which makes you really feel for the character, regardless of his corrupt and devious nature, and there are many comparisons to be made to Eli Wallach’s role as Tuco/The Ugly in the original source that inspired the film. Finally, the direction from Kim Jee-woon is really dynamic, creating a spectacle that is a real joy to watch. However, despite the fact that I am clearly glowing over it, there are a number of problems with the film. For starters, the film is too long, and does seem to drag on at points in the process of the story. Also, after the climactic chase, the actual ending and wrapping up the film is disappointing. It’s not a case of expectations being defied, it’s more a case of the fact that you feel you have been on a journey with these characters and that a really good climax would only do the film justice. I was contemplating which ending I would include as the version I would review, for the UK/Europe release has a different ending as opposed to the Korean version originale, but both are rather unsatisfactory for different reasons. Jee-woon and Min-suk really should have put more thought into this climax. Which brings me to my final point. If you are going to have three main characters dominate the film, each with their own distinct personalities, never make any of the characters look inferior to the other. To compare this to its source, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ three main characters are each distinct and different, but nonetheless have interesting niches to their personalities. In this, it is like there is a hierarchical ranking in order of character development. Here, The Good is just made to look like a two-dimensional bore with the odd quip (and don’t dare say that about Clint Eastwood), The Bad is merely the Korean, evil equivalent to the kids from Twilight: make a man look unbelievably ripped and give him some eye-liner and a hairstyle, and look pretty for the camera, and huzzah! We have a brilliant subversion of the typical villain. Not! Then The Weird, who is played well by Kang-ho, is pretty two-dimensional in his own way. So in all, the main characters driving the film are not fleshed out well at all. This would more than likely constitute for the film’s odd occasion of jet lag. Finally, plot and dialogue are fairly simplistic. However, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is by no means a bad film. The film gave me an idea to create a new award, Rollercoaster Film of the Year: the film is nothing special, but has a definitive fun factor throughout. With Drag Me To Hell in good company with this, this could be a new category for Year-End Awards. In conclusion, The Good, The Bad, The Weird boasts superb cinematography and sounds, alongside good direction from Kim Jee-woon and a charismatic performance from Song Kang-ho. However, its simplicity, lack of real characterisation and plot deny the film from being anything great, though it is certainly a really fun, rollercoaster of an action film above the level of much of them this year.

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 7.7/10

The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis - Jolly

Note to blogger, sort out you cutting and pasting, it took me over two hours to do this post because I could paste the text when my connection failed.

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