The Good The Bad The Weird
Good? Bad? Weird? … He’s the one with the gun.

Theatrical Release Date: 05/14/2010
Director: Kim Ji-woon
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung, Oh Dal-su, Kim Kwang-il, Ma Dong-seok, Lee Cheong-a

The gold standard in westerns is Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” – starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach as the titular characters. Well, Korean director Kim Ji-woon has taken a stab at reinterpreting that classic film with “The Good The Bad The Weird” – using Jung Woo-sung, Lee Byung-hun and Song Kang-ho filling in for the respective roles.

This isn’t a remake, so purists can rest a little easier there, not having to fight back the initial resentment of another great film being used for a quick and dirty buck. Aside from the basic archetypes, triangular dynamic and their search for a stash of riches, the story deviates and is its own film. Obviously, that’s still a lot to ‘borrow’ but Ji-woon isn’t trying to hide the similarities, rather he’s using that framework to create a Korean western (set in China) that’s more of a hyperactive homage to its forefather.

Unfortunately, the strength of both films should be the presence created by each of the lead actors. While Byung-hun makes for a remarkably stylish ‘Bad’, dispatching his enemies with a flourish and a grin, and Kang-ho has a welcome comedic presence as the ‘Weird’, it’s in the ‘Good’ that Woo-sung drops the ball. He simply has no impact on-screen and comes across as a blank slate, devoid of any layers that his cinematic counterpart infused into the character 40 plus years ago. One of the great elements of Eastwood’s version was that ‘Good’ was more of a relative term assigned to possibly the most iconic anti-hero in cinema, as he was far from a saint but had a moral center that separated him from becoming like Van Cleef’s ‘Bad’.

As I’ve mentioned, this isn’t a straight remake so I don’t expect, or necessarily want, copycat characters. Byung-hun and Kang-ho definitely take their characters into different territory … and that’s fantastic, making for the best parts of the film (and in this reinterpretation, Kang-ho’s character is the central of the trio). But Woo-sung’s lackluster performance sucks all the energy out of the room as his apparent attempt at being stoic fails time and time again.

And although Woo-sung’s turn is the major disappointment, there are also pacing problems within the 131 minute runtime – due to longer than necessary expository scenes in between the action. This is counterbalanced somewhat by the epic feel of the project, shot in widescreen 2:35:1 format, which makes viewing it on the big screen a far more preferable option should you be interested as one would need a HDTV north of 60″ to really get any sense of the scale on display.

In addition, much of the action is fun and inventive. This is especially true of a marketplace fight where Woo-sung is propelled through the air on a system of pulleys and ropes, firing his shotgun all the while, and Kang-ho discovers the defensive properties of a sturdy diving helmet. Touches like this make Ji-woon’s film fresh and help allow it to create its own vision.

So it’s a mixed bag. Fans of the director surely will be drawn to seeing this and I can’t fault them. However, thanks to a breakdown within the main cast and too many valleys within the up and down flow of the film, I can only give “The Good The Bad The Weird” a 3 out of 5. The Bad is cool, The Weird is fun but The Good is bland.