Surely we should feel a little bit sorry for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il? The whole world is on his case over the small matter a few weapons of mass destruction, but all he really wants is to be loved for a glorious career in films.
Well into his Bond and Godzilla movies, his attempts to build a North Korean film industry have met with mass indifference from the outside world, no matter how many directors and actors he kidnaps and coerces into cooperation. So it must really stick in his craw to see his South Korean neighbours establish themselves as a potent cinematic force in recent years.
From the tough vengeance of Oldboy to the quirky monster movie The Host, South Korea is a fount of goodliness, a fact not overlooked by Hollywood, judging by the release of The Uninvited, a remake of Ji-Woon Kim’s A Tale Of Two Sisters.
Director Kim’s in charge of things here too, proving that The Host’s crossover success was no isolated incident. Equal parts Sergio Leone and Indiana Jones, The Good The Bad The Weird is quality action fodder that undermines Hollywood’s monopoly of the mainstream popcorn market.
Set in Chinese Manchuria in the 1940s, though at times it feels like it could have been set in some weird Mongolian medieval wild west, GBW is a gleeful blend of adventure, gunfights and double-crosses.
Petty criminal Yoon Tae-Goo happens upon a treasure map that promises unspeakable treasures from a long-forgotten dynasty, a booty that tickles the fancy of foppish gangster Park Chang-Yi, while bounty hunter Park Do-Wan is also on their trail, seeking to take down the infamous criminal the Finger Chopper.
As the trio chase and fight against the backdrop of a sprawling Manchurian wasteland, the Japanese army and assorted bad-ass nomads wade in to proceedings, ensuring a bloody, almighty ding-dong.
As South Korean cinema becomes increasingly attuned to the narrative trappings of the Western mainstream, the similarities and differences become more apparent, which is where GBW draws its charm. The narrative follows a fairly familiar arc, though without the depth or nuance that you’d expect from, say, an Indiana Jones flick. But that just makes it feel less formulaic, with a naïve appeal. Still, the story is a problem, sagging like a bastard in the middle and motoring towards a rudimentary finale.
But let never it be said that GBW doesn’t make up for those shortcoming in the most astounding manner. Directed with zeal and flair, it’s dynamic, exuberant and hugely fun to watch. The opening scenes blister along in a dazzling spectacle of action-adventure excess while Song Kong-Ho, veteran of many of the breakout films like The Host and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, is hugely likeable and charismatic.
But mostly it’s the high-end styling that sets it apart. Dripping with the opulence associated with such Asian fare as Hero and the Wong-Kar Wai films, it trowels on layers of richly coloured, stunningly framed visual, packed with imagination and the most jaw-dropping scenery – it’s the perfect blend of Hollywood entertainment and Eastern sophistication.
Dazzling, extravagant and wildly entertaining, any glaring flaws are swept under the carpet in a bewildering display of popcorn joyousness.
Starring: Kang-Ho Song, Byung-Hun Lee, Woo-Sung Jung.
Directed by: Ji-Woon Kim
Extras: featurettes, alternate endings, making of documentary, interviews.