Monday, October 13, 2008

Fantastic Fest: Kim Ji-woon's THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD

There's no other way of saying this: THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD is a big ball of fun.

Ever since STAR WARS, many have tried to make films that are simply nothing more than giant bunches of entertainment - the perfect blockbuster, if you will, that throw everything at you in an effort to bring a smile to your face - but so few have succeeded that it's almost become futile to even expect anyone to reach the glorious heights of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK or THE ROAD WARRIOR. While not quite in that same classic league, THE, GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD (which won the audience award for best film at Fantastic Fest) comes about as close as any movie I can remember in many years and I can't help but tip my hat to it. It's maybe not a perfect mixture of action and comedy, but it's a god damn great one while you're watching it, no question. People will ask me what I liked so much about it, and all I'll be able to say is, "Everything". And yet, that's the right answer.

I do wants to take a moment to focus on the "but..." part of this review, and get it all out of the way so that I can go back to the praise. THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD (there's no "and" in there) is pretty much all about fun. It's not an allegory for anything. There's no hidden meaning, no subtext, no deep thought to engage in afterwords, it's just a good time, a real good time. Director Kim does try to sneak something in at the end of the movie, but when you go back and think about it afterwords, you realize that even though there's an attempt at a statement, it's actually kind of hollow because it isn't what the film is really about. Also, the film is a very obvious tribute to Sergio Leone and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY specifically, but what separates Kim from Leone is that Leone always had a point, he always had something to say, and I don't think Kim does. Leone's films are certainly fun, but you think about them afterwords and say to yourself, "OK, I can see how it's a Vietnam allegory" and stuff like that, and you don't here. This doesn't exactly kill THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD as an entertainment, but I feel it's what stops it just short of being a true classic. It will become a classic, no doubt, but a lower-ranked one, I think. But that's pretty much it.

Having said all that, this is such a beautifully realized and executed film that it's going to take someone - anyone - years to catch up to it for sheer entertainment value. The action scenes here are like Spielberg and George Miller at their peak, just incredible stuff, and there's a 15 minute chase scene towards the film's end that is unbelievably outstanding in every way, and it got applause at the Fantastic Fest screening I attended. It looks beautiful, features superb use of the Manchurian desert locations and incredible sets (many of which become spectacularly destroyed) and it moves like an S.O.B., even though it runs over two hours (I gotta say that this one must be seen on the big screen). Kim is also helped immeasurably by the great Song Kang-ho (the "Weird" of the title), one of the great movie stars of our time (he also starred in THE HOST and Park Chan Wook's JOINT SECURITY AREA and SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE) and the glue who really holds it all together. There's a hell of a lot of action and eye candy, but you can't take your eyes off Song, and he's a big part of what makes it all fun. It's funny, I didn't care much for Kim's last two films (the dull A TALE OF TWO SISTERS and the vastly overrated A BITTERSWEET LIFE), but he's knocked it out of the park here. I don't know how that happened, but I'm glad it did.

Other than that, I don't really have much more to say, except that you gotta check it out. IFC Films has it, but they haven't announced a date, though more than likely it'll be early 2009. See it.

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