The Good, the Bad, the Weird: A Korean Travesty of Sergio Leone

The latest from popular Korean director Kim Ji-woon lands with a splat in the camp of decadent American blockbusters. Dubbed an "oriental Western" but really a travesty of Sergio Leone's control of space, pacing, and storytelling, GBW is a sloppy scramble for treasure in 1930s wartime Manchuria, by a ducktailed assassin in a suit (Lee Byung-hun), a rustic goofball (Song Kang-ho), and an exquisitely complexioned dude (Jung Woo-sung), along with Japanese occupiers and pimped-out nomads. White plains, opium dens, and assorted collapsible sets play host to overpopulated chases and wildly variable face-offs delivered with unjustified brio, though a final cavalry stampede pummels one into some kind of satisfied submission. Song (best known in the States for his Bong Joon-ho roles) is vital, taking the boisterous chaos in stride with a winning sense of humor and striking up an engaging rapport with Jung (who ultimately plays his captor). And the historical hodgepodge of the setting (less Raiders than Cannonball Run) lends a welcome underlying nuttiness. But Kim's filmmaking is generally cartoonish in a bad sense, as he squanders his set pieces, flashbacks, and other attention-getting with sometimes downright wretched staging. The expected climactic shootout is drained of suspense by isolating the gunslingers in poorly timed shots, for one final frustration too many.

 
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