Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung
SUMMARY: In Manchuria in 1939, a mysterious treasure map is on board a Japanese-operated train traveling through the country. Famed assassin Park Chang-yi (Lee Byung-hun) — the Bad — is hired to retrieve the map. Chang-yi makes plans with his men to force the train to a halt, then board it and take the map. Unfortunately, he is unaware that there is a thief on the train. Yoon Tae-goo (Song Kang-ho) — the Weird — holds up the train, and steals the map without knowing what it is. When Chang-yi’s train stoppage occurs, a shootout ensues between the Japanese passengers, their Manchurian guards, Tae-goo and Chang-yi’s men. They are soon joined by Park Do-won (Jung Woo-sung) — the Good — who is a bounty hunter tracking Chang-yi. Somehow, Tae-goo manages to get away unharmed (Chang-yi and Do-won are busy shooting at each other through the windows of the train), and reunites with his criminal partner, Man-gil. Observing the entire melee is a group of Manchurian bandits/freedom fighters, one of whom is acquainted with Tae-goo’s accomplice. When Tae-goo and Man-gil realize what they have gotten their hands on, they try to figure out its worth without jeopardizing their safety. The Manchurian bandits offer to buy it, but Man-gil sells them a fake map instead. The men hole up in the Ghost Market, where thieves fence their goods, but are soon accosted again by Chang-yi. Tae-goo is assisted by Do-won, and the two form an uneasy partnership, agreeing to split the loot 60-40 (in Tae-goo’s favor) once they find it.
As they continue towards their destination, they have frequent clashes with Chang-yi and his gang. By now, they are also in danger from the Japanese army, who have learned the identity of the map thieves. The Japanese are desperate to get the map back and find the treasure for themselves, so that it can finance their war efforts. The Manchurian bandits, having realized Man-gil’s deception, have also started to pursue Tae-goo and Do-won. This all culminates in an open desert plain, which Tae-goo is attempting to drive a motorcycle across to get to the nearby treasure. He is quickly set upon by the Manchurian gang and Chang-yi’s men, most of whom are on horseback. However, the Japanese army have also caught up, and throw in their own cavalry, as well as trucks with mounted machine guns. While Tae-goo makes a wild flight, the two gangs trade shots and pick each other off; a large number of them are also killed by the Japanese machine guns. Having gotten separated from Tae-goo earlier, Do-won reappears on horseback, and begins to single-handedly decimate the Japanese men. With Tae-goo, he causes an explosion that kills several and blocks the road, which deters many others. Most of the Manchurians and Chang-yi’s men are killed by the machine guns or each other; Chang-yi kills those of his men who try to leave the pursuit. At the end, only the three men are left: Chang-yi, Tae-goo and Do-won. Tae-goo is out in front of the other two and gets to the treasure location first. He finds an abandoned shack, but instead of treasure finds only a wood-reinforced hole in the ground. He is then confronted by Do-won, who announces that the bounty on Tae-goo has shot sky-high. Before anything can happen Chang-yi arrives and confronts each of them. Having heard rumors about each of the others’ prowess with a gun, he proposes a competition. They will stand as if in a duel, but will instead form a triangle; whoever lives gets to keep the loot Chang-yi brings with him. It is ultimately Tae-goo who draws first, and although each of the men is able to withstand several shots to the body, all three end up collapsing on the ground. Chang-yi dies, but Do-won and Tae-goo are still alive as an oil geyser suddenly erupts from the treasure hole.
MY TAKE: This is obviously a play on the famous Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but it’s Korean, more recent, and a whole lot more fun in my mind (kind of backwards, though, isn’t it? A Korean remake of an American/Italian movie). There were some funny moments in the original movie, but the Weird, played by Song Kang-ho, is a hoot (he was also really funny in The Host, which I recently reviewed). He seems like a totally inept petty criminal, but as time passes you start to realize that he’s a lot more skilled than he appears to be. There’s also a twist at the end that reveals he can be pretty ruthless. I sympathized with Clint Eastwood’s character — the Good — in the original, but I rooted for the Weird in this one. The Good was probably the smallest of these characters, as he doesn’t have many lines and isn’t as entertaining as Tae-goo or Chang-yi. He is a hell of a shot though, and the chase scene where he’s riding with no hands through the pursuers, shooting the whole time, is awesome. Tae-goo tries to take his hands off the motorcycle to shoot, but nearly wipes out. To top things off, Chang-yi is just hot. I’m not sure they actually used that hairstyle or clothing style in 1930s Manchuria, but it really worked for him. He was a lot more attractive than the original Bad. There’s also a lot more action in this film than in the original, which was nice. The original lasts like three and a half hours, and there’s huge stretches of very little action. It has its merits, but I enjoyed the shootouts and chases of this movie. Lots of room for comedy, too. I did think it was pretty funny at the end, when the treasure turns out to be oil. It’s not what anyone — including me — expected, but it’s obviously very valuable. Made me want to sing the Beverly Hillbillies theme song.
RATING: Way more fun than the original.