Who's In It: Kang-ho Song, Byung-hun Lee, Woo-sung Jung, Kyeong-hun Jo, Dal-su Oh, Seung-su Ryu
The Basics: In 1930s Manchuria, the tumultuous atmosphere is akin to the Wild West -- bandits and thieves roam the land as Koreans, Chinese and Japanese cross paths and cross bullets with one another and nobody trusts anyone else. In this environment of tenuous political alliances and double-dealing, with the specter of the Japanese and Russian imperialists hanging over the place, a sociopathic killer in a three-piece suit, guyliner, and hair befitting a boy bander (Byung-hun Lee as "The Bad") is hired to steal a map from Japanese officials on a train. The only problem is, a Korean bandit (Kang-ho Song as "The Weird") has already beaten him to the punch, accidentally happening upon the map. Meanwhile, a straight-shooting bounty hunter (Woo-sung Jung as "The Good") comes after both of them with a mysterious agenda, and the three gunmen -- along with a Manchurian gang, a band of thieves, and the Japanese army -- run headlong into a reckoning that could have major implications for Manchuria and the fate of the continent.
What's The Deal: Director Ji-woon Kim (3 Extremes, A Tale of Two Sisters) proudly displays his love for the spaghetti Western genre with this genre mash-up that blends WWII-era Asian historical fiction with Sergio Leone's classic The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The stories fit pretty well if only on superficial terms, making for an Asian Western that feels at once familiar and new, from the introduction of the trio of adversaries to the three-way Mexican standoff that famously concludes the original film. Vibrant period and ethnic details flesh out a colorful frontier of clashing Korean, Japanese and Manchurian forces from the start; Kim opens his film with a gloriously fun, stylish and violent train heist and never lets up as the secret of the stolen map propels each and every character further along their fateful path. Deeper historical and political meaning may be a tad lost in the rip-roaring fun, but all in all it's an impressive epic-scale effort from Kim -- a raucous shoot 'em up adventure for fans of Korean cinema, Westerns and good old fashioned entertainment.
Where You've Seen "The Weird" Before: Korean actor Song Kang-ho has gotten exposure from roles in Korean hits like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and The Host. As Yun Tae-Goo (aka "The Weird"), Song gives one surprising spin after another to his slovenly buffoonish bandit, as adept at giving the film its funniest moments as when he's running around shooting bad guys. A scene involving him and a deep sea diving helmet is pure comedy gold.
Awesome Action In The Good, The Bad, The Weird (aka Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom): The aforementioned train heist is great, and there's tons of finger-slicing knife action if you like that sort of thing. Also inventive: a sequence featuring The Good maneuvering his way through a market shootout by swinging through the air on pulleys, shooting enemies with his free hand. But one of the biggest, longest thrills comes in a chase in which The Weird is pursued across the desert on a World War II-era motorcycle while two gangs on horseback and the Japanese army follow in hot pursuit -- and then, when it can't get any more thrilling, The Good jumps in to help, galloping against the current and shooting assailants left and right. All of that is set to the throbbing sounds of Santa Esmerelda's Latin disco classic, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," which was previously used by everyone's favorite genre nerd, Quentin Tarantino, in Kill Bill Vol. 1.
If You Like This, Also Check Out: Sukiyaki Western Django, Takashi Miike's samurai-vs.-six shooter flick that takes inspiration from another spaghetti Western classic, the gunslinger pic Django.