Sunday, May 22, 2011

Parting shot: The Good, the Bad, the Weird

As per usual, go read Bill's review in order to have a better appreciation of the article below.

So you just had to bring Tarantino into this, didn’t you? Still feeling the sting of the previous week’s rebuttal when I loosely pointed out your disdain for the writer-director’s work? Yeah, I can see how that might have hurt. I’m not apologizing though.

Kim Jee-woon surpassed my expectations when it came to the sprawling action sequences, which, as I alluded to last week, were the film’s strongest elements. Rather than go for anything dour and dramatic, Kim opted for a thrilling adventure, pretty much in the same as the film it is based on even though this one’s action is more elaborate and frantic at times. The Good, the Bad, the Weird features some of the best action sequences put to screen in some time, with the grandiose chase sequence near the end probably taking the cake. We pretty much agree on the nature of the violence in the film as well. You called in slick while I referred to a ‘middle ground’ where the violence could be shown to a PG13 audience but still had some discomforting deaths. Unless one is really faint of heart, the violence in the film is relatively easy to take and, as we’ve both discussed, handled very well.

As of now, things get a bit tricky. Not because I entirely disagree with you on certain important points, but because the nuances between your thoughts and mine could, in the eyes of someone who was ‘quick to pull the trigger’, lead them believe I really didn’t like certain aspects of the film, especially given the universal praise Kim’s film has been awarded. As for the film’s unpredictability and genre bending, I can’t say I was sold on those fronts as much as you were. You mentioned briefly in your article about not knowing what would happen next. Eh, I wouldn’t go that far. Obviously last week being the second time I watched the film, that isn’t the viewing I’m basing myself on. But even the first time I watched the movie, I figured that the film would adhere, to a certain extent, to the formula originally concocted by the Leone picture which inspired it. It has small moments of pleasure where one wonders how the characters are going to get out of a mess, and on that point I’ll agree with you about unpredictability, but as far as the general story goes, it felt a bit predictable. Predictability is not in if itself a bad thing when the movie is well made, The Good, the Bad, the Weird being a case in point, but I wasn’t questioning which path characters would take very much.

Genre bending and mish-mashing is what Korean directors do best. I think that is the first class they take in film school, genre mashing 101. The western being taken as a genre itself, it sort of engulfs whatever else a team of filmmakers will try to inject. I still understand what you mean by Kim meshing numerous genres together into one soup, more specifically with regards to action and comedy, the two genres easiest to pinpoint in this movie. You mention drama however, and that is where your argument loses me somewhat. I take it you refer to the backstory linking the Lee and Song characters? Or is it the presence of the Jung character that added dramatic weight? If the film was aiming for dramatic credentials, then I don’t think it succeeded. It does a lot of other things brilliantly, truly brilliantly, but not drama. I appreciated the movie willingness to add some new backstory to a couple of the characters in an attempt to keep things fresh, but it didn’t result in any high quality drama.

We arrive now to the main point of contention: the titular ‘Good’ character, Park Do-won, played by Jung Woo-sung. As stated last week, it is not the actor with whom I take issue because he does a good enough job with what the script asks. It is the use of the bounty hunter character that left me wanting for more, but not in the good sense. It left me wanting for more because we got so little. The manner in which the overall plot is structured puts a lot more focus on The Bad and the Weird. They get the most screen time (and I don’t think it’s really close) in addition to the fact that their pasts are intertwined, resulting in a payoff that works rather well even though it wasn’t the film’s strongest aspect. Their reasons for going after the map and after each other are far more compelling than the Good’s ‘raison d’ĂȘtre’. Without saying that the Good is totally uninteresting, which is not true anyhow, he was the weak link among the trio. He even stands idly aside before the final standoff as the Bad and the Weird reminisce about their storied past. If the Good had been given more time to breath, I might have written something differently last week, but that wasn’t the case. I didn’t not want to get bogged down in comparisons between Kim’s film and that made by Leone some decades ago, and while pleased with the way  I avoided the subject in the review proper, I guess for the purpose of the rebuttal article a comparison is useful. So, in Leone’s movie, it is the Bad (Lee Van Cleef) who receives the least amount of screen time, but his character is so well defined and played (because he is one note, but still…). Every time he is on screen we know Satan’s pawn is going to do something badass. The Good (Clint Eastwood) is the least well defined character of the three, but we spend tons of time with him and he gets to play off of Eli Wallach a lot, so by the film’s climax, we like him a lot, or at least think he’s pretty cool. In Kim’s film, the Good, unlike with the Bad and Weird, seems to be a direct copy of the Good from Leone’s picture, only with less screen time and not part of a link with increases the importance of the Bad and the Weird to the overall story.

I hope to have cleared up any confusion some people felt upon reading my review last week, especially for you Bill. I really like the movie, and in some respect I dearly love it. The Blu-ray is incredible and I’ll be watching the movie again in the future, there isn’t the shadow of a doubt regarding that. It is not a perfect movie however and, like those referees in the NHL, I had to blow my whistle and call out some penalties not everyone would want to hear about.

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