The Good, The Bad, The Weird (IFC Films, NR)

Nom Nom Nom is a Korean throwback to an Italian style of a predominantly American genre.

If you hang out with or frequent forums of import DVD wieners, you’ve been hearing about Kim Jee-won’s The Good, The Bad, The Weird for a while now (or perhaps as its affectionate diminutive, Nom Nom Nom, an abbreviation of the Romanization of the film’s original Korean title, Joheunnom, nabbeunnom, isanghannom). It premiered at Cannes in 2008, opened in its native Korea just after its premiere, and has been circulating in film festivals, import DVDs, and what have you ever since. As is pretty standard for Asian movies, it is only now receiving its official U.S. release two years after its premiere, and if you held off on importing the DVD consider yourself lucky—it’s a film that needs to be seen on the big screen.
As you can probably guess by the title, Nom Nom Nom is a Korean throwback to an Italian style of a predominantly American genre; in more lucid terms, it’s an homage to spaghetti Westerns, particularly those of Sergio Leone. Here we have three strapping young men, Do-won (Jung Woo-sung), aka The Good, who makes a living tracking down criminals with a bounty on their head; Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun, whom you might recognize from director Jee-won’s prior film, A Bittersweet Life), aka The Bad, who is a particularly dark and nasty criminal of the sort Do-won usually tries to track down; and Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho, who has popped up in nearly every brilliant Korean film of the past ten years, including The Host and Secret Sunshine, here playing a role of the sort Peter Lorre might have had this film been made in America in the 1940s), aka The Weird, a train robber who, at the beginning of the film, manages to swipe a much-desired treasure map, circa 1930s Manchuria. Soon after he and Do-won form a shaky alliance, and try to evade Chang-yi and his men (not to mention a series of other gangs, and the entire Japanese Army) long enough to find out what exactly the treasure map leads to.
While the film’s running time seems a bit long going in (130 minutes), it goes by fast, with pretty much the duration being fun and exciting, with more good action set pieces crammed into one feature film than any American movie has managed in recent memory. (The opening train heist is a particular showstopper.) Keeping the film plugging along is its funky Korean spaghetti Western music, which is really pretty awesome. The Good, The Bad, The Weird is reportedly the most expensive Korean movie to date—costing about $17 million or so—and it shows in the star power and production values. I wouldn’t have thought Jee-won could have pulled it off, to be honest—while A Bittersweet Life looked nice it was sort of lacking overall, and the film that got him noticed in the West, A Tale of Two Sisters, was good but showed no inkling of what he’s able to pull off here. | Pete Timmermann

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