I am definitely behind on my westerns. I need to catch up if I don’t want to subject myself to another horrifying experience like Battlefield Earth. Which I don’t. I really, really don’t.
So Mek and I watched The Good, the Bad, the Weird.
I’ve been a little disappointed with the last few westerns on my list. Thankfully, that wasn’t my experience with this one at all.
Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song), a petty thief in Manchuria, steals a treasure map and hopes to strike gold. Unfortunately for him, an assassin, a bounty hunter, a whole score of bandits, and the Japanese army are also looking to get their hands on the same map.
1. Now, I’m not saying the above summary is the best plot description ever written. I’m generalizing — after all, the bounty hunter, Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung), is less interested in the map than he is in capturing Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee). And strike gold? Kind of a cliche; I know it. I’m prepared to accept that I may not win the Oscar for Best Movie Summary this year.
But my summary still kicks Netflix’s summary’s ASS.
On a train crossing the Manchurian desert in the 1930s, a bounty hunter, a gangster and a train robber unite to find a treasure map’s promised loot. Racing through the unforgiving landscape, they stay one step ahead of rivals and the Japanese army.
You know what doesn’t happen in this movie? The bounty hunter, the gangster, and the train robber uniting. Like, EVER. I mean, two of the guys strike an uneasy alliance for a while — not surprising, if you’ve seen The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly — but there is certainly no point in time where all three are working together as a team. The Three Musketeers, these guys are not, so stop lying to me, Netflix. You’re only embarrassing yourself.
2. All right, now that I’ve got that settled — this is a fun movie. Like, really fun. There are a few things I might have changed, and I haven’t totally made up my mind about the ending yet, but I definitely had a good time watching The Good, The Bad, the Weird. In fact — and here comes the blasphemy — I actually enjoyed it more than its predecessor, although obviously this movie could not have come into being without that one, blah blah blah. (There is absolutely merit in recognizing the influences that classic movies have on modern cinema, but that certainly doesn’t mean you’re obligated to like those classic movies. Although I did like The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. I just thought it was forty-five minutes too long, that’s all.)
This movie clocks in at two hours and ten minutes and, for my money, goes twice as fast. It is silly and awesome and exuberantly embraces the western genre while incorporating a lot of quirky humor and ridiculous props — like brass diving helmets, for instance.
After all, you never know when you might need a diving helmet in a gunfight.
3. Let’s look at our Good, our Bad, and our Weird, shall we?
Yoon Tae-goo — The Weird
We’re looking at the Weird first because this is absolutely his movie. Not just because he’s the best character — although he kind of is — but because the film centers around his story instead of, say, following the Good. It’s not a bad call — part of what makes this movie so enjoyable is watching Tae-goo’s antics as he scurries around, trying to stay one step ahead of everyone who’s chasing him. Kang-ho Song is pretty awesome in the role, and I’d like to see him in more movies. (Which I will. I still need to watch The Host and Priest, not to mention Snowpiercer, when it eventually comes out.)
Park Chang-yi — The Bad
I totally get a kick out of Chang-yi, with his emo bang and his crazy eye and his completely obvious insecurity issues. Honestly, he kills pretty much anyone who insults him — which, admittedly, is the kind of overreaction you expect from a bad guy, but is sort of a repeated thing with Chang-yi during this film. I kind of have a mad crush on him right now. (What can I say? I have a thing for manic grins.)
I did briefly consider doing a five-minute Chang-yi cosplay, but lacking a cool black suit or thin mustache, I was pretty sure I’d just look like I was dressing up as Lisbeth Salander again.
Park Do-won – The Good
Of the three leads, Park Do-won surprisingly has the least to do. He’s the straight man of the bunch, certainly in comparison with Tae-goo’s wackiness and Chang-yi’s psychopathy, which sort of automatically makes him the least interesting character. He’s still enjoyable, though, because really — who doesn’t like a taciturn bounty hunter? Not this girl, I can tell you that. (Although I generally like manic grins more.)
I do feel like Do-won might get a little short-changed on screen time, though. The balance between his character and the other two feels a little off to me, and if he just had one or two more scenes to establish backstory, I think the movie would have been stronger for it.
4. There are virtually no female characters anywhere in this film. I think one woman might have a line or two — that’s about it. That doesn’t make this a bad movie, of course, but I am starting to tag movies that fail the Bechdel Test because, wow, are there a lot of them. Also, I kind of want to do my own tribute version of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly with women as the main characters, although I’m torn on keeping it an actual western versus translating the basic setup into a modern day story with western elements. (Not that I’ll actually do either in the near future, but I like to pretend that someday I’ll be famous and well-respected enough that someone will actually pay me to write a modern feminist update of a Clint Eastwood movie. Because how fun would that be?)
5. I mostly enjoyed the dialogue in this film, but there are a few moments that need work, I think. Not many, but I could definitely feel the writer’s not-so-subtle hand a couple of times, and it bothered me a little. Specifically one moment where a minor character was ridiculously, suicidally stupid, just so we could have a moment of exposition. I didn’t buy it, not for one second. There are better ways to work in your exposition, people.
6. The Good, the Bad, the Weird has a pretty amazing soundtrack. It would be hard to imagine the film without it — the music is integral to the movie’s quick pace and joyfully outlandish tone, and I had “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (also featured in Kill Bill, Vol. 1) stuck in my head for the rest of night. Of course this is, like so many things I want, a nearly impossible soundtrack to buy without spending at least fifty dollars. It’s like desperately searching for music from Cowboy Bebop all over again.
7. Finally, I just want to nominate Byung-choon (Je-mun Yoon) as a possible contender for Worst Fashion of 2013. He’s wearing, like, a purple velvet coat or something with a fur-lined hood? I don’t know; it’s terrible. For shame, Byung-choon. For shame.
So, Tae-goo and Park Do-wan briefly team up, and we learn that Park Do-wan is after Park Chang-yi because he believes Chang-yi is this super baddie known as the Finger Chopper. (Guess what he does?) After all, Chang-yi was so enraged when some other loser called himself the Finger Chopper that Chang-yi butchered the hell out of him, and we all know about Chang-yi’s massive insecurity issues. Tae-goo says, “You say he’s the Finger Chopper, but that’s not what I know. So you’re after him cause he’s the Finger Chopper?” And this is when Mek and I looked at each other and realized that, against all odds, our scrappy, not-so-terribly clever thief is totally, secretly the Finger Chopper.
This might be obvious — sometimes, it’s hard to know what’s obvious without talking to a lot of other people and seeing what they thought about a particular plot twist — but I actually don’t mind it. Cause, one, who doesn’t like feeling smart? I sure do. But more importantly, knowing Tae-goo’s secret identity weirdly allowed me to feel a little more tense going into the film’s conclusion.
Because in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly — and brief SPOILERS for that film — I never felt particularly worried that Clint Eastwood wasn’t going to make it, you know? But in The Good, the Bad, the Weird, I was considerably less sure of the outcome. Tae-goo is clearly the lead, but he’s implied to have a bloodier history than even our bad, Chang-yi. Meanwhile, Chang-yi is clearly a psycho, but he’s also a victim of Tae-goo (more on that in a minute), which makes him a little more sympathetic, if not exactly a Good. And our actual Good, well, he’s not entirely a saint himself, and he’s the most minor of all the three leads. So, the whole Mexican stand-off actually seemed like edge-of-your-seat stuff, and that was pretty awesome.
Less awesome: the scene where Ridiculously, Suicidally Stupid Henchman asks Chang-yi to tell him all about that time Tae-goo kicked his ass. Literally, this is what he says: “There’s something I’ve been dying to know, sir. I heard you once had a duel with Yoon Tae-goo. Is it true? Then who won, sir? I heard many different versions. Some say Tae-goo is the best.” Shockingly, Chang-yi doesn’t take this very well and our Ridiculously, Suicidally Stupid Henchmen quickly ends up dead.
So, first . . . who actually says Tae-goo’s the best? If they know who he was back in Korea, maybe, but I was under the impression that wasn’t common knowledge. (In fact, I’m pretty sure Tae-goo himself says that no one’s ever seen the Finger Chopper’s face, or something in that regard.) So who exactly is looking at this funny little dude and his silly hat and thinking, “Man, what a badass.”
Also, we’re getting this scene purely to establish that Chang-yi, one, takes being the Best very seriously and, two, has some past business with Tae-goo, like, Tae-goo chopped one of his fingers off. (Which, ha. Totally called.)
And I know it’s a tiny thing to niptick at, but I simply can’t believe anyone who’s worked for Chang-yi for more than five seconds would ever actually say something like this to him. If the dude had been asking one of his henchmen buddies and Chang-yi overheard him, that would be fine. But this . . . this is just lazy and dumb and probably annoys me more than it should.
Anyway, lots of stuff happens that I’m going to ignore because I need to work on my review for Thor 2 as well. Let’s just go back to that Mexican Standoff, shall we?
While I love the tension going into this scene, I have mixed feelings about how it actually plays out.
In the version I watched — the international version — the three guys shoot the shit out of each other and all lie there dying as oil erupts from the ground. (Cause Tae-goo’s map isn’t actually a treasure map, or at least not that kind of treasure map. I do like this part, actually — it’s obvious that Tae-goo has misinterpreted the map’s purpose from nearly the moment he gets it, so this reveal works well for me.)
The thing is, I did feel a little like, well, why did I even watch this thing, if the guys all just die at the end? Especially since I never really got a great handle on Do-won’s motivations, and he comes off as a tiny bit inconsequential next to the other two characters, making the arc of the story and its conclusion feel a little unbalanced to me. (Although I should say that Do-won’s lack of character depth and screen time bothers me considerably less than Angel Eyes’s lack of characterization in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.) I also haven’t decided if everyone dying really matches up well with the tone of the movie, although I do think it’s possible I’ll come around on this ending after repeat viewings. I’m just not sure yet.
The other ending (the one for Korean audiences) had Chang-yi dying and Do-wan chasing after Tae-goo. I kind of like that, but only kind of because out of all the possible outcomes, it seems like the most predictable since — AGAIN, BRIEF SPOILERS FOR THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY — the Good and the Weird are the ones who make it out alive there too. So again, I’m torn.
I still enjoyed the hell out of this movie, though. It is easily one of my favorite westerns to date, and I wouldn’t mind getting a copy of it for my ever-growing DVD collection.
Man-gil: “The bounty on your head is 300 won.”
Tae-goo: “What? I’m only worth a piano?”
Man-gil: “And a used one at that.”
Tae-goo: “Why the hell did you chase me out here?”
Chang-yi: “To find out who’s the best.”
Tae-goo: “You be the best! I don’t care! Tell people I lost. I don’t give a damn.”
Do-wan: “You. Run to the other side so I can see where they’re shooting from.”
Tae-goo: “Why should I be the one?”
Do-wan: “Then who else?”
Tae-goo: “Should I run straight on or zigzag around and make ’em confused?”
(Do-wan stares impassively)
Tae-goo: “. . . fine, I’ll decide.”
Do-wan: “Life is about chasing and being chased. There is no escape.”
Tae-goo: “Let me sleep, man. Stop making me think!”
A few trip-ups for me, here and there, but ultimately I had a really good time watching this.
Find a proper interpreter for your treasure maps before you risk your life for them, especially when you know everyone under the bloody sun is going to come looking for you because of it.
Also, if you’re going to be a henchman for a Big Bad — well, congratulations, you’re bold, but you don’t have to be an asshole about it. Don’t insult your boss to his face unless you’re actually looking to die, okay?