The Good, The Bad, The Weird just goes. It opens and we learn of a map. There is no indication of what the map may lead to, but we know people want it. Cue a nearly 15-minute sprawling, spinning, kinetic action sequence of unbelievable proportions on a speeding train.
It’s an incredible start, the camera work here utilizing a mixture of quick edits and simply fantastic master shots (combined with CG). The quick edits are not just people firing guns and taking cover either. They have rolling shots, wide angle shots, and some that go inside and outside of the train cars.
Staggeringly, this Korean spin on the Western actually goes a step further during the finale in an action sequence that is nearly as long, but far more complex. Three key characters compete to find the location on the map, but they are chased by entire armies across the desert, shot at with cannons, tripped up by jeeps, sniped, and bombed. It’s insane, the work involved on all levels something to be proud of, and the end result is a blast for the audience.
Good, Bad, Weird is peppered with additional action, although not quite on the scale of the book-end set pieces. Some are played for laughs, including a hilarious market encounter in which Yoon-Tae Goo (Kang-ho Song) dons a diving helmet to protect him from the onslaught of ammunition being sprayed everywhere.
Yoon-Tae is “The Weird,” a charismatic goofball with apparently incredible luck, escaping each of these scenarios unscathed, although as we learn there is more to it than that. Unfortunately, he’s the only one that really becomes memorable, “The Good” (Woo-sung Jung) being a generic bounty hunter, and “The Bad” (Byung-hun Lee) a rather stereotypical villain of few words.
Characterization suffers due to the action, but it’s refreshing stuff. The style at work here is far too much fun to ignore, and with few exceptions, it’s consistently the focus of the film. What it may lack in development and plotting, it makes up for in sheer scale and inventiveness, and there is not enough of the latter anymore.
MPI produces this Region A release with an (unfortunately) 1080i AVC encode. Why this is the case is anyone’s guess, and it’s a real shame too. Whereas the close-ups always remain superb (more on that later), everything else suffers. The opening credits, a single shot mingled with CG elements and train, suffers from extensive motion artifacts. Rocks on the ground break down entirely into blurry messes, and the effect is headache inducing. The amount of aliasing here is staggering, the straight lines on that train completely breaking up as the camera moves.
Inside, any long or mid-range shot appears soft and unconvincing. Faces are flat, and the definition remains generally poor. Flicker occurs on any complex pattern, and some edge enhancement becomes visible on a shot of a horse at 6:37. This continues for much of the film, some more terrible aliasing noticeable on the doors, the table, and money at 30:50. Even on some of the close-ups, the actor’s facial lines break down into blocks, such as 52:47.
Black levels are fairly meager, and the coarse grain structure struggles for the first half of the film. It causes many shots to appear slightly sharpened and noisy. The color palette can vary, from a yellowish tint at the start to cooler hues during the finale chase.
Something happens to this one though, and slowly but surely, it overcomes its handicaps and becomes something truly spectacular. The second hour is an improvement for sure, aside from some hiccups (the “hotel” owner at 1:21:00 exhibits many of the same flicker problems), but the staggering level of definition in the close-ups is nothing short of reference, botched resolution or not. Look at some of the Japanese military deciding on their plans at 1:27:44, or the mid-range shot of Tae-goo at 1:49:03. The ending sequence is almost nothing but close-ups, so unbelievably rich, detailed, and clear, you’ll likely not see anything better the rest of the year in terms of facial detail.
For all of the intensity of the zooms, the long shots continually suffer the same fate. Pebbles on the desert ground are poorly defined, and any fast motion during that finale not covered in kicked up sand obviously fall victim to motion problems. The sharpening and edge enhancement as the result are issues that tend to spring up right when it seems to be entering perfection too. It’s SO close.
A Korean DTS-HD 5.1 track is provided, along with a stereo mix. The surround effort is one of overzealous surround use, but unquestionably one of precision. In fact, you’ll hardly find a mix that puts more stuff in the surrounds just because than this one. Listen as a woman fumbles with a suitcase at 7:50. All of the effects are placed in the surround right when needed. When something that minor is tracked, you can be rest assured everything else is as well.
It’s overdone, the surrounds a bit more forceful than the equally well-used stereos, but most home theater fans should be happy. Action scenes are loaded with gunfire, shots coming from every angle and direction. Shotguns are greeted by a heavy low-end thump, while smaller pistols carry a crisp high pop. Missed shots hitting objects not only ping in the appropriate channel, but typically carry splintering wood or shattering glass with them.
When the cannons start popping off for the finale, the subwoofer goes into overdrive, with tightly wound bass producing a fine jolt. It’s heavy stuff, and there is a lot of it. Horses pounding the ground as they gallop likewise shake the room, and they track side to side beautifully. The mix excels at the subtle stuff too, like rain falling or crowded market chatter. Music reproduction is excellent, and the balance perfect, particularly during the final action sequence. Great stuff that needs toned down ever so slightly.
A behind the scenes montage is a roll of footage shot on the set that shows many of the inventive techniques used to get some of the more difficult angles. A short selection of footage from the Cannes premiere is included, followed by two brief supposed making-of featurettes that are more or less interviews for four minutes (both combined). Four interview segments, each with a different actor, remain.