From sports comedy (THE FOUL KING) to horror (A TALE OF TWO SISTERS) and gangster (A BITTERSWEET LIFE), director Kim Ji-Woon is certainly the particular rare breed who has easily slipped from different genre after genre with relative ease and of course with equal success. His fourth effort, in which he dubs as "kimchi western", is certainly his most ambitious project he ever tackled. The result is THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD, in which of course, a Korean makeover of Sergio Leone's classic western, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. It's certainly fresh and innovative to see something out of ordinary that you won't normally expect in a Korean film. At the bright side, the film is hugely enjoyable and spectacular enough to warrant this a must-see in theaters for ultimate cinematic experience. On the other side, it's hardly the best thing Kim Ji-Woon manages to craft out in the overall cohesive whole -- the film tends to be sloppy, lackluster and sometimes empty-headed on the narrative front.
As for the story, the film takes place in 1930s Manchuria where we are treated against three different gunmen: Cold-blooded killer Park Chang-Yi (Lee Byung-Hun), which naturally being "The Bad" of the title, hijacks a train in order to steal a treasure map from a Japanese official onboard. However, "The Weird" - Yoon Tae-Gu (Song Kang-Ho), has already got his hand on the map right before him. Yoon manages to escape with the map away, prompting a series of long pursuit ahead. Rounding up the pursuit is of course, "The Good" - in the form of shotgun-baring bounty hunter, Park Do-Won (Jung Woo-Sung) who is on the hunt to take down both Park Chang-Yi and Yoon Tae-Gu. Nevertheless, three of them naturally cross paths and later finding themselves on the run from the Imperial Japanese Army, Manchurian bandits and Korean resistance fighters as they each try to outwit each other on a quest for the buried treasure.
Following close templates of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY with a quirky Korean twist, the story isn't particularly special by any means. Despite obvious attempts to amp up narrative tension by providing each of the main characters' dark past and hidden agendas, the film remains a good exercise when comes to its all-hell-breaks-loose nostalgic fun. Suffice to say, this one qualifies more as "style-over-substance" than anything else matters. For that department alone, it's a true cinematic blast as mentioned earlier: the action scenes are well-staged -- from the opening train sequence to the three-on-three showdown finale with each delivered in such stylistic gunplay that evokes the best of John Woo.
The three casts are fun to watch for, though their characters are sadly neglected into strict caricatures. And likewise, Kim Ji-Woon proves to be a masterful visual stylist when comes to technical values -- everything from panoramic widescreen compositions to its heart-pounding music score -- are equally top-notch. Not a great masterpiece as one might hoped for, the film remains a rollicking good time of a crowd-pleasing entertainment.