Friday, January 7, 2011
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)
dir: Ji-woon Kim
I dated a Korean girl for roughly 2 years. It was during a particularly shameful period of my recent life, not because I'm prejudiced against lusty interracial couplings or because i'm some stereotypical young male who thinks long term relationships are like, the end of your life maaaaan, but rather because I had reached the inverted zenith of my 6-year foray into uselessness, albeit a uselessness that more than occasionally paid off with impressive bouts of world travel and more than a handful of night-time experiences that would most likely awe and inspire if they could ever actually be remembered clearly. At this particular point in my personal timeline, however, I was up to no good. I was up to no bad, either. I was up to nothing at all aside from working too way too hard pressing out top-rate (if i say so myself [and i do]) pizzas for bottom-grade pay, drinking too much even by the forgiving standards of a punk rock holdover in the city of richmond va and wasting the peak years of my sexual virility (probably) and aptitude for emotional barter/terrorism on someone whom i gradually realized i didn't really have any genuine feelings for. And also, she was crazy. Not because she was Korean, but because she was adopted. I know it's an ugly stereotype and there's always that nagging (because i have always been impressed by its succinct effectiveness despite having absolutely no basis for personal relation) lyric by the probably completely forgotten band Off Minor: "you can't compare a moment's conception to a lifetime of devotion." So yes, I do realize that by implying that all children of adoption will inevitably devolve into psychological trainwrecks with an incessant need for validation and complete inability to trust in anything resembling a close bond probably makes me seem fairly ignorant. I'm just saying that in this particular case, many of said Korean girlfriend's problems most likely took root within the catalyst of parental abandonment and subsequent replacement of said parents by two suburban white folks with problems of their own who most likely had no business taking on the massive amount of responsibility that such a charitable act entails. So what i'm basically saying is: girlfriend was crazy, but it wasn't her fault.
You could kind of say the same thing about this film. By all standards of zany cinematic entertainment, it's admittedly pretty great. Many (perhaps too many?) of the shots are extremely impressive, every single action setpiece--of which there are fuckloads; the entire film is basically a chase scene--is both technically awesome and as viscerally thrilling as anything in the first Kill Bill, and as an attractive slab of escapist foreign cinema it certainly shines. But the inescapable problem with adopting a genre as inherently American as the Western and throwing it into the undeniably singular prism of Korean cinema is that much of the original pathos, based upon a highly specific cultural barometer, is lost. Add to that the fact that this is in particular an homage to the spaghetti Western, itself a mutation of the genre, though certainly a far cry from abomination, that depends upon the stylistic particulars of what was happening in Italian film at an equally specific moment in artistic history. To disregard all of these factors and clumsily transport the idea and experience, brick-by-brick, into a new setting regardless of that setting's own particular strengths and limitations makes for some truly odd moments. Most notably being the film's final 20 minutes: excessively drawn-out and ostensibly awkward to Western viewers (as I find much of even the best Korean cinema to be at times, especially in relation to comedic moments), the finale unfortunately works to drain the film of its beneficial whip-crack pacing and non-stop slew of gunfire. The final showdown, as it exists, comes off as little more than a desperate yet unsuccessful attempt to emulate similar moments within Sergio Leone's own masterpieces. Still, you can't blame Kim for trying. He's a good director, he obviously has a great deal of love and respect for the films he has been inspired by, and a good 90% of this film is nothing short of pure, guilt-free entertainment. Also, his A Tale of Two Sisters is still probably the 2nd most terrifying movie that I've ever seen and not really understood at all, second to David Lynch's Lost Highway.
I guess in order to wrap up that admittedly awkward and probably unnecessary ex-girlfriend analogy: check out this film for the crazy hate-fueled sex appeal, but make sure you get the hell out of there before the impending, constantly-germinating downfall. Or not. That girl and I did have a whole lot of fun.