Kim Ji-woon's "The Good, The Bad, The Weird" is a curious film that will make viewers wonder if the normally accomplished director was replaced early on by a teenager obsessed with the visual appeal of Spaghetti Westerns, but lacking any form of understanding of how a master like Sergio Leone made his films bon a fide masterpieces. Ji-woon's painful film borrows numerous elements from Leone, most specifically trademark scenes, shots, and a penchant for lengthy runtimes. However, Ji-woon has zero idea what to do with the raw materials and crafts a 130-minute exercise in pointlessness and excess that will either drive viewers into complacent submission or make them long for the somewhat understandable excess of "Bad Boys II."
The film opens with the classic Western set piece of a train heist and very quickly we meet our titular trio, The Good, Park Do-won (Jung Woo-sung), a bounty hunter with amazing rifle skills, The Bad, Park Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun), a murderous crook in a black suit, and The Weird, Yoon-Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho), a slightly off-kilter thief, packing two-automatic pistols. The heist instills confidence in the viewer as Ji-woon chooses to film the interior train scenes in a manner that highlights the claustrophobia of the tight quarters and the mayhem that ensues from a gun battle between The Weird and The Bad's gang of scoundrels. However, once The Good shows up, the camera struggles to make good sense of what's going on and a pattern of action in excess spills out onto the screen, exponentially increasing until the final showdown.
Amidst the gunfights and horse chases, there are some feeble attempts at humor that largely fall flat. No one here seems very committed to their roles, often looking exceptionally bored on screen, a stark contrast to the over-the-top action they are thrown in the middle of. The one exception is Song Kang-ho, when he decides to put some effort into his role, but often ends up saddled with eye-rolling lame attempts at humor. The action set pieces, which are technically brilliant become the frame the film must rely on to carry viewers, since the thin, stock plot, just doesn't cut it. Following the train heist, Ji-woon brings the story to a grinding halt for a good 30-minutes or more, haphazardly dragging out the mystery of the MacGuffin, er, I mean, map, that our trio all seeks; even an eleventh hour plot twist that is portrayed as shocking was telegraphed early on in the film. I don't entirely fault a film of this nature for relying on such a generic driving force, but, I do fault, the editor, for appearing to do nothing aside from shooting the action scenes in the foot.
Ji-woon does give Michael Bay a run for his money in the action department, appearing to go old school, with physical stunts, and it's worth a little applause, but as the film progresses and the sequences grow in length and grandeur, the editing leaves them an indecipherable mess. The messier things get, the more you hate the movie, but still hold out hope the final, all-out battle of rival factions and our trio we'll save the film. It doesn't and only goes to further illustrate Ji-woon really likes certain films, but has no idea why some of these films are good. He draws not only from Leone, but Spielberg, with a blatant lifting of the famous truck stunt, where one of our heroes is drug being a jeep through the desert. Yes, the stunt is technically impressive, but it lacks the excitement and purpose of the original. The same could be said for The Good gunning Japanese soldiers off horses and from vehicles; it's cool to look at, but impossible to understand where the scene is heading or where this piece of battle is in relation to The Bad and The Weird. All it did was make me wish I were watching "The Road Warrior."
When the final showdown limps onto the screen and Ji-woon lifts right and left from Leone, one can't help but cringe. He borrows elements from the initial meeting of Manco and Col. Mortimer in "For a Few Dollars More" because it looks cool, completely ignoring the purpose of the scene in the original film. He clumsily uses close-ups for his final standoff with none of the skill or sense that Leone had when he crafted cinema's finest standoff in "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." The sequence is a perfect encapsulation of everything that is wrong with this movie: poor plotting, dialogue that is a step above what one would expect from a 9-year old playing with action figures, sloppy action, and lazy homage's to much better films. "The Good, The Bad, The Weird" is an embarrassing waste of time that will leave viewers wanting their time and money back, provided they weren't mentally beat into mouth agape submission at the spectacle on the screen. If you're looking for a good Leone inspired film, stick with Leone. If you're looking for an over-the-top action film, "Hard Boiled" is still king, and if you want some humor with your action, "Hot Fuzz" or a Stephen Chow film is your ticket. Don't waste your time and money here. If you really need an Eastern Western, Takashi Miike's inconistent, but still fun, "Sukiyaki Western Django" is money better spent. In the meantime, Kim Ji-woon owes Sergio Leone an apology. Skip It.