With a title like The Good, the Bad, the Weird, the Sergio Leone influence is blatant, but don’t let that blind you. Director Ji-woon Kim’s self-proclaimed “Oriental Western” obviously pays a debt to Leone’s spaghetti Westerns, but its influences and touchstones are much wider than just one director or genre could handle. There’s a little bit of Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle (2004) here, a bit of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, a dab of Indiana Jones and a heaping helping of Robert Rodriguez—namely in his own Leone-inspired Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003). But don’t mistake The Good, the Bad, the Weird as just another indulgent example of purely referential movie-geekery. No, Kim’s film is his own, and what a fun, purely entertaining film it is.
The movie is built upon a basic premise. During a train robbery, common thief and general goof Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song, Thirst)—the “Weird” of the title—comes upon a treasure map that points out the location of a mysterious prize. The possession of this map draws the attention of a whole slew of types, including a group of bandits, the Japanese army, the violent leader of a gang of cutthroats (Byung-hun Lee, G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra)—the titular “Bad”—and “the Good,” a soft-spoken bounty hunter (Woo-sung Jung).
As far as plot goes, that’s about it. But plot isn’t what’s important, since the crux of the film is the action pieces that are built upon this rudimentary foundation. This is action filmmaking that flies strictly within the realm of the ridiculous. Believability is the exact last thing the movie is concerned with. This is, after all, a film that claims it takes place in 1930s Manchuria, but in actuality seems to exist more in some imaginary type of limbo, a world where horseback-riding cowboys still roam.
The story line is simply an excuse to push the film from set piece to set piece. The action is of the over-the-top variety, always frantic, never boring and often clever—and all shot coherently, something that seems in short supply in Hollywood’s modern action product. Even when the film borders on the uncomfortably graphic, it has enough sense to undercut this with a sense of humor and retain its light-hearted tone. The flippant, comical nature the film carries throughout may be its greatest asset, only because there’s never an ulterior motive to what Kim’s doing beyond simple entertainment—and what stylish entertainment he puts up on the screen.
Is it deep filmmaking? Of course not. Beyond a third act that goes on too long and drags the rest of the film down with it, it is disposable action at its simple best. The first and only concern of The Good, the Bad, the Weird is amusement. So, action fans, don’t let the threat of subtitles sway you. There isn’t a finer action movie out there right now. Rated R for nonstop violence and some drug use.