DVD Review: The Good, The Bad, The Weird

Hi there,

It’s been a long time since I watched a movie where every time I thought the action had peaked, it managed to one-up itself again. How director Kim Ji-woon managed to hold The Good, The Bad, The Weird together is beyond me. Somehow he blended spaghetti Westerns, classic war movies, chase scenes, horses, explosions, and some Quentin Tarantino attitude into a story that survives mostly intact from beginning to end.

At its core, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is about three men and a map. 1930s Manchuria in Ji-woon’s view is quite reminiscent of the Wild West of the late 1800s. Outlaws, natives, and armies are all fighting for land and resources to call their own. A treasure map is being sold to the Japanese, only to be stolen back after the transaction takes place on a train… Unfortunately, the train is being robbed by “The Weird” – Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song, The Host, The Thirst).

When Tae-goo robs the train, he stumbles into the car with the Japanese banker and robs them at gunpoint. As this is happening, “The Bad” – Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and his gang are stopping the train and getting everyone off so they can get the map themselves. Unfortunately, the sudden stop causes Tae-goo to kill everyone he is robbing. While he’s trying to escape the train with his newfound wealth, “The Good” – bounty hunter Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung) and Chang-yi get into a gun battle.

The rest of the film is one long chase sequence. Tae-goo is chased and caught by Do-won and the two of them are chased by Chang-yi. Though Do-won initially only wants to bring in the other two criminals, eventually he starts to be enchanted by the idea of buried treasure. Ultimately it comes down to a showdown in the desert near the treasure. Who will win?

As I said in the beginning, the whole movie is a series of scenes “one-upping” each other. We go from trains and motorcycles to horses, Jeeps, and artillery. Near the finale, there is an amazing scene where you see an entire field of men on horseback chasing Tae-goo on a motorcycle. Of course, that’s right before the Japanese army starts launching explosives into the fray…

Is this a perfect movie? Not really. Was it fun? Heck yes!

Though I found at least one continuity issue where Tae-goo leaves a brothel in the desert with a group of rescued kids all together on his motorcycle in one scene and then a couple of scenes later the kids are gone and Tae-goo is alone… It didn’t really detract from the frenetic action of the 130 minute film.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird wants to be a Western, but its Asian roots are what makes this movie work. Sure there are horses, train robberies, and lots of gun battles – but the presentation, stunts, and wire work are definitely from the world of martial arts movies.

Beyond that, it’s non-stop action from the train robbery to the gunfight at the end and the subtitles never got in the way for me. I absolutely love Kang-ho Song. He has an amazing gift for portraying both the hapless hero and the knowing villain. Playing the simpleminded father in The Host trying to save his daughter, there was an “everyman” quality that really appealed to me. His portrayal of Tae-goo as a gleeful bandit seeking enough money to retire to a simple farmer’s life has that same quality.

There are several extras on the DVD, including some highlight reels, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage. Of all the extras, it’s the “Making Of” features #1 and #2 that were the most fun. The chaos involved with the production was absolutely massive. How they could keep on track, filming on location in a Chinese desert with all the horses, people, and explosions is beyond me.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird was quite popular at several of the major film festivals around the world. It debuted (partially unfinished) at Cannes, was an official selection at the Telluride Film Festival, an audience award winner at Fantastic Fest, and won Best Director and Best Visual Effects at the Sitges International Film Festival … It’s also managed to make more than $44 million worldwide since its release in April 2010. Not bad for one of the most expensive films (with a budget of about $10 million according to Box Office Mojo) ever made in South Korea.

If you don’t mind subtitles and you’re looking for something fun, Asian, and Western, I’d heartily recommend that you check out The Good, The Bad, The Weird. It’s a ton of fun!

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

DVD Review: Ninja (2010)

Hi all…

Do you remember the 1980s? It was an era of action movies from Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, and Steven Seagal. These were not the best actors, but they didn’t try to be. Their films were meant to entertain us with fight choreography, slow motion, and tough guy characters. Movies like Bloodsport and Hard Target, Above the Law and Marked for Death, Universal Soldier and Showdown in Little Tokyo – they all had a simple premise and you knew what you were in for going in.

Now we live in an age where Direct-to-DVD isn’t necessarily the kiss of death. Movies like Fight Night and Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassin’s Ball prove that you can produce great movies without having a huge budget and still get them out to an audience that will appreciate them. Unfortunately, not every movie can be a masterpiece. And the Direct-to-DVD market still has some stinkers.

Ninja stars Scott Adkins as Casey and Tsuyoshi Ihara as Masazuka – two martial arts students learning the ways of the ninja in a remote dojo in Japan. When Masazuka breaks the rules and attacks Casey with a real sword (not a wooden one) during a demonstration, he is kicked out of the school to find his own way. Like any bad seed, he finds his way back again to take his revenge and take the ancient ninja treasures locked in an ancient box. Casey must stop his old school mate from taking what isn’t his.

The plot isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, going back to the Ninja and American Ninja movies of the 1980s, which I have to admit I watched as I was growing up. Back then the good guys even wore white ninja apparel sometimes to set them apart from the bad ninjas, who always wore black. No such luck in this film.

I think that the lack of any originality was my biggest problem with this incarnation of Ninja. There just wasn’t much to hold on to. The plot could come from any bad martial arts movie of the 1980s. The fight choreography was ok, but not spectacular. The gratuitous blood spraying everywhere as limbs and heads were sliced off was pushing it a bit too far. One bright spot was the use of a crutch as a staff during a fight on a subway where Namiko (Mika Hijii) broke a guy’s arm. Pretty sad when that was the high point.

Adkins isn’t the best actor, but he was certainly in amazing physical shape for this movie. He did his level best during all the fight scenes to make them exciting. And it was difficult to fault all the Japanese-speaking characters for their performances as the typical staid, strong, silent warriors they portrayed. But as I sat through this movie, the lack of emotion from everyone involved almost put me to sleep.

There were no extras, just a few trailers for other First Look Studios films on DVD such as Lost City Raiders and Triangle.

If you’re in the market for a ninja movie, I’d look for 2009’s Ninja Assassin on DVD (March 16, 2010) from the Wachowski brothers and director James McTeigue. The fights were even more bloody, but much more original in their choreography.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other Ninja movies at Amazon below!

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The (New) Karate Kid Doesn’t Look Horrible?

The Karate Kid
Image via Wikipedia

Hey guys…

I thought this was interesting. Saw the new Karate Kid trailer from Sony Pictures starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. It doesn’t look as bad as I expected. As a child of the 80’s, I remember the first one and it’s tough to forget “wax on, wax off” even after all these years.

Have to admit I like the chopsticks, fly, flyswatter scene.

Maybe I can sit through it… What do you think?

–Fitz

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