There is a little ominous talk of a map, cutting to a bird of prey hovering, then swooping down to snatch carrion from the tracks of an oncoming train, which the camera flies through in a dazzling tracking shot as the Spanish guitars kick in on the soundtrack, following a bustling figure closely through the busy carriages until he suddenly pulls out a gun and you realise you haven’t breathed for two minutes. Welcome to Kim Jee-woon‘s insanely enjoyable ‘oriental Western’ The Good, The Bad, The Weird, in which three great Korean actors (Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung and the godlike Song Kang-ho) chase each other, fight each other, then chase and fight some more as they scramble after some kind of treasure map in 1930s Manchuria.
I suspect that if you know your oriental history there will be a little more going on; Korea is referred to throughout as a stolen country, the Japanese are clearly the bastards du jour, and there is a running theme that if you don’t have a country any more then money will have to do. But this is first and foremost a film about sound and vision, of body language and colour. It’s just about puddle deep, has no female characters worth a damn, and is blatantly cobbled together from other sources, but who cares? It grabs the audience from the start with the dizzying train robbery/ bandit attack / bounty hunter shootout sequence and then doesn’t really let go for another couple of hours, culminating in a jaw-dropping motorbike vs cavalry vs entire Japanese army at 80 miles an hour sequence that had my inner 12-year-old grinning like a crazy bastard. It’s got a wonderful percussive score, it looks fantastic, the three leads are great and it keeps the CGI to a minimum. I have a problem with the ending, but you don’t need to know that.
‘Life is about chasing and being chased’, Song Kang-ho states in one of the few placid moments, well… no, but this film is. It’s a blast. Go see.