'Good, Bad, Weird' hits two out of three

Posted: Thursday, July 15, 2010

I n the middle of the blockbuster season, it might be easy to forget about movies like "The Good, the Bad, the Weird." After all, it was made in 2008; it was made in South Korea; it has subtitles! Still, there are worse ways to spend a rainy Juneau afternoon than watching an Asian filmmaker's (Ji-woon Kim) take on the spaghetti western. Look at it as a way to expand your horizons beyond Hollywood's big budget. Or, look at it as a way to increase your reading speed.

No matter how you choose to decide on whether or not a South Korean western is intriguing enough to see on the big screen, a couple of things are irrefutable: First, if crowded opening weekend auditoriums (i.e. "Inception," "The Sorcerer's Apprentice") rub you the wrong way, "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" should rub you the right way. That sounded less dirty in my head. Second, if you enjoy having popcorn, candy and a soda at the movies but get depressed when you spend $20 making that happen, "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" should be positively uplifting. These things are irrefutable because "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" is playing at the Gold Town Nickelodeon. The movie might not (ever) start quite on time, but where else can you go see a movie in Juneau and have fresh popcorn delivered to you in your seat?

The movie itself is a pretty good ride, too. While it is set in 1940s Manchuria and flirts here and there with historical context, what Ji-woon Kim is clearly interested in is the action. Gun battles pop up every few minutes, and chase sequences usually fill in the blanks. There are essentially three characters that matter, and if you expect that going in you might avoid the confusion my parental units and I waded through during the opening half-hour or so.

At various points throughout the 130-minute western, Kim brings in the Japanese army, shady Korean nationalists that aren't really nationalists at all, gangs from various parts of Manchuria, and other assorted greedy people. They all want what may or may not be a treasure map; one of the characters who matters has that map.

Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song) - the Weird - is kind of a goof. We meet him robbing a train, and he certainly kills his share of bad guys over the course of the movie. The story's light, funny moments usually come from Tae-goo, though. He stumbles upon the map by accident on that train and immediately becomes the target of Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee), the Bad. As my mother pointed out more than once, Lee is dressed as if he is attending an A-list event in Hollywood... in 2010. "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" is much more concerned with fun than it is with historical accuracy, though, and that works for Lee. He is impossible not to admire onscreen. Not only is he the most convincing of the cast in action scenes, his face is remarkably expressive. He will be a Hollywood mainstay before too long. Finally, the Good is Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung). Do-won is a bounty hunter who happens to be tracking Chang-yi when Chang-yi runs across Tae-goo during the train robbery. "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" has a lot going on, but for the most part it is about those three men and their intersecting paths.

It is a spaghetti western in 1940s Manchuria (where there are apparently deserts that go for miles and miles and miles, based on the length of some of the chase scenes), and it is not a bad fit at all into the blockbuster season. So what if it was made in 2008?

• Check out Carson's movie blog at www.juneaublogger.com/movies

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