The Good, The Bad, The Weird has two strikes against it almost immediately - its story and characters are paper thin, and it's clearly borrowing heavily from cinematic history, most obviously from Sergio Leone's absolutely brilliant The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, from which it takes its plot and three main characters (though without most of the specifics Leone's actors brought to theirs).
This all ceases to be a problem fairly quickly.
This is the most balls-out, absolutely reckless, totally irresponsible, madcap action movie I've seen...quite possibly ever. To put it in perspective, if you were to reign this in a little and refine it, you'd have Kill Bill, Vol. 1. So if you thought that was a wild ride, you don't know the half of it.
Sometime in the 1930s Manchuria, a treasure map is discovered, and naturally, everyone wants to get their mitts on it. That's it. That's the whole story. We mainly follow three men in their quest. The Good can be summed up as the Clint Eastwood substitute. The Bad isn't even worthy of comparison Lee Van Cleef, but is working in the similar sort of mold - the best at what he does, and he knows it. The Weird is the closest the film comes to having a real character, due in large part to Kang-ho Song's performance. The nerd contingent will know him from his work in The Host, which gave us a very similar character.
The movies couldn't be more different. While The Host balanced its monster mayhem by scratching the surface of political commentary and family drama, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is all insanity, all the time. Even when the film isn't in balls-out action mode, which I'd say accounts for at least half the running time, the character banter is lively (when told the price on his head is 300 won, The Weird replies, "I'm only worth a piano?") and the tone remains light.
But make no mistake, everyone in attendance was there because they heard something about the action, and though the cast is more sprawling than I made it sound at first, you needn't bother keeping track of everyone's motivations. If you find yourself wondering who a character is and what his motivation is in the battle, just placate yourself by saying "oh, he's the guy shooting that guy." Who's that guy? Oh, he's the one who just got shot off his motorcycle, which went tumbling over him, all in a single shot. The idea that no one died during the production of this film - at least, I assume that's the case - is astounding, as the reality of these fights is rarely in question.
With a reported budget of between $10 and $17 million USD (tracking down a definite figure is a little tough), co-writer/director Kim Ji-woon has completely blown the doors off anything I've seen from Hollywood in...well, Kill Bill comes close, but only in tone. In terms of action accomplishment, this, to my eyes, is unmatched - I cannot think of another action movie that has thrilled me so thoroughly, and pleased me so deeply. And while I'm normally not a proponent of pure spectacle, one has to make exceptions when the spectacle is this, well...spectacular. Consistently inventive and thoroughly in love with cinema in every frame, this is the kind of movie worth going to the movies for.
Portland residents have two more opportunities to catch this at the Portland International Film Festival - Monday, February 15th at 4:00 at the Whitsell Theater, and Wednesday, February 17th at 9:15 at the Broadway (and if it's anything like the screening I saw there, they crank the volume WAY up). Everyone else will have an opportunity to catch it when IFC Films releases it On Demand on March 31st, and in theaters beginning April 9th. It's also currently available on DVD in non-Region 1 if you're so inclined.