A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 386 – The Good, The Bad and The Weird

The Good, The Bad and The Weird – March 21st, 2011

After so many movies, we’ve found that this project makes for good conversation fodder. After all, we’ve usually seen something weird no one’s heard of, and we’ve also seen things everyone knows. If movies come up in conversation we are well equipped. And since we tend to hang out with people who like movies, it’s a common conversation topic. So the week before last, when we had a guest before PAX East, the conversation did indeed turn to movies. We explained the project and we talked movies and we exchanged suggestions. We suggested Volcano High to her and she suggested this to us.

I admit, it sounded familiar, vaguely, but I couldn’t dredge up the specifics. Turns out I’m pretty sure another friend had mentioned it, but before this project, and I’d never gotten around to buying it. But we have it now! Truth be told, had I remembered specifics, I might have been a little more skeptical. Because see, this is a Western. It’s just a Western set in Manchuria in the 1940s. And okay, I feel a little underinformed about the time period and location, but I know enough to get the basics. And there’s a mini history lesson in the middle of the movie, so that helps (not much, since the person giving the lecture is also trying to drug the person he’s giving it to, but still). I wouldn’t be much concerned with it, except that there is fair deal of talk about the three main characters being in Manchuria because they’ve had to leave Korea behind. They talk about not having a country anymore and being on their own and if I were to take this movie seriously, I’d have to give it a little more attention.

As it stands, it’s hard to take this movie too seriously because it doesn’t take itself completely seriously. There’s a wink to the audience going on throughout this entire movie. Every scene has something in it that’s only half serious at most. The focal character of the three leads is definitely a comedic performance much of the time. Things are played for laughs all over the place even in the middle of fight scenes, but it doesn’t come off as farce. I’m not sure how it quite manages that, but it toes the line and never really crosses it. It’s still a fun action shoot-em-up, it’s just got the perfect amount of tongue-in-cheek to keep things fun.

The plot revolves around a stolen treasure map and three men who want to get the map and to take each other down. Yoon Tae-goo is a thief who’s gotten onto a Japanese train crossing Manchuria. He breaks into a private car, takes out the guards and officials carrying the map and steals it along with a good deal of cash and jewelry. But at the same time bounty hunter Park Do-won is searching for a bounty to collect on and the sinister Park Chang-yi had plans to stop the train and steal the map himself. Since Tae-goo got there first, Chang-yi goes after him. Do-won goes after them too, wanting to collect on a bounty (and they’re both listed). Oh, and the map? Is immensely important to a lot more people. It supposedly shows the location of a treasure that could mean Korea’s freedom or riches for either Japan or China. The Japanese army and a bunch of Manchurian bandits end up on Tae-goo’s trail as well.

As the movie goes on, Tae-goo tries to sell the map, then decides not to, then loses it, then gets caught by Do-won and then he gets drugged and soon we’re riding across the desert with horses and jeeps and motorcycles and mortar blasts and guns. While I would say that 90% of the movie is shoot outs and fights and action, half the bits that aren’t (and most of the bits that are) have to do with him trying to get away from someone who wants him dead or wants the map or both. The parts that aren’t to do with all of that are about Chang-yi and his vendetta against Tae-goo and how he is a total fucking bad ass. And let me say, the bit of fan service where he’s all shirtless? Byung-hun Lee, who plays him, is easy on the eyes and I did not mind one bit.

But all this is ignoring the badassery of Do-won. Now, as the bounty hunter, tracking down a notorious criminal known as the Finger Chopper, Do-won is unmistakably the “Good” of the title. He is also incredible. And I knew this while watching him. He’s got an effortless sort of competence about him. Like looking at him you know damn well he’s good at what he does and he doesn’t have to demonstrate. But after the movie was over and we watched some of the behind the scenes footage, I got a true appreciation for just how fantastic the actor playing him, Woo-sung Jung, is. Because a ton of the effects and action and stunts here aren’t really effects, and the stunts seem to largely be performed by the actors. At least, that’s the impression I got. And there’s this scene where Do-won is racing along on horseback, almost but not quite standing in his saddle, firing off his rifle and swinging it around and flipping it and reloading and firing again. In the footage we watched? There is no effect there. That is a truly impressive actor on a scarily fast horse with no apparent safety rig whatsoever, handling that rifle as if he knows exactly what he’s doing. Is that sort of stuff in classic Westerns? Because if so, I might be persuaded to take a look.

What I’m trying to say here is that this movie is full of people doing awesome stuff. It’s got some great comedic and serious acting from all three of the leads and more fantastic action and fight scenes than I can recount. It’s fun and it’s silly and it’s also set during a serious time but it never gets bogged down. It’s got a fascinating tone I can’t quite name but which I greatly enjoyed. And so I want to thank our houseguest for the suggestion. I hope she likes Volcano High and the other movies we suggested and I’m truly looking forward to watching her other suggestions. They won’t be exactly this (what could be?) but I’m hoping they will be just as awesome.

March 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Good The Bad The Weird

March 21, 2011

The Good The Bad The Weird

Yoon Tae-goo just chose the wrong train to hold up. He’s a small time Korean thief with a past in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation. Unfortunately for him the train he is robbing has on board a Japanese envoy who has in his possession a certain map. A map that everybody seems to want. A Korean businessman has hired a notorious and heartless killer to get the map back. The entire Japanese army is after it. A group of Manchurian marauders are after it. A gang of thieves call the Ghost Market Gang want it as well. On top of it all there’s a bounty hunter who doesn’t care about the map but is after Tae-goo and the assassin Park Chang-yi.

Back before Pax East started we had a friend over to spend the night and we got to talking about our project. She recommended a few movies we didn’t have in our collection and this was one of them. It has been described (by its director) as a “kimchee western” (as opposed to a spaghetti western.) If Sergio Leone had filmed an Indiana Jones movie set in Manchuria this might have been what would have resulted. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

Well it is!! There’s a quirkiness to the Korean films we have in our collection that sets them apart. Volcano High, this movie, even the monster/horror movie The Host all have a strong comedic thread that runs through them. Tae-goo could have been a serious adventurer. He has a mysterious past with Chang-yi and a preternatural ability to survive the unsurvivable. Kang-ho Song, who plays Tae-goo, absolutely steals the movie though with his inescapable charm. Woo-Sung Jung, as the steadfast bounty hunter Park Do-won gets all the coolest stunts and gunfighting. Byung-hun Lee is wonderfully sinister and badass as Park Chang-yi. At one point early in the film I commented to Amanda that he was the Korean Johnny Depp. He has an effortless smoothness that completely sells the character.

So you have these three great actors and these three great roles, and the rest of the movie is them just playing. There’s battles on a moving train. There’s daring shootouts in a marketplace. There’s an absolute whopper of a chase scene with jeeps, horses and motorcycles as all the various parties come together in a race to reach the mysterious destination the map leads to. The action is simply unbelievable, even more so if you watch the making of features on the DVD and see just how many of the stunts were simply superhuman feats of daring-do. Particularly the astonishing Woo-Sung, who absolutely floored both me and Amanda with his ability to cock a lever action rifle on a horse at full gallop. Holy shit. Furthermore, it seems that the cameramen themselves were stuntmen of a kind with some of the amazing rigs that they had to work in.

This movie is everything a thrilling western should be. It’s got operatic meditations of good and evil. It’s got men in dusters with rifles. It’s got horses, dynamite, shootouts, trains… and it infuses the whole thing with a distinctly Korean vibe that makes it even more fun. Now if you’ll excuse me I want to watch that climactic chase scene again. Wow.

March 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments