May 16, 2010

The Good, the Bad, the Weird: Let's Assume You Can Drawl in Korean

The Ramen Western, like its forebear the Spaghetti Western, fetishizes the genre. All the period details -- the opium pipes, the sweeping leather coats, the aviator goggles, even the rotten teeth -- don't ground the action in reality. They tickle us with their particularity. That's especially true in Kim Ji-woon's vintage piece of filmmaking The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Here actors Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, and Jung Woo-sung seem to be playing cowboys in a tribute to a Sergio Leone homage more than performing in a movie indebted to John Ford or Sam Peckinpah. Consider this flick a hall of tarnished, sometimes cracked mirrors reflecting dusty cowboy hats, galloping horses and a big Montana sky. You'll be as pleased when you get the expected (like the climactic battle involving cannons, the Japanese militia, and scores of rebels on a desert landscape) as the unexpected (Song absurdly running around with a diving helmet straight out of Jules Verne). There's plenty of blood -- some of it splattering on the camera lens -- and more than a little sadism (one stabbing scene leading to the slicing off of a finger is particularly gruesome). Neither ever feels gratuitous. Much of it's pretty fun.

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