Korean director Kim Ji-woon is nothing if not eclectic. The director of A Tale of Two Sisters and hitman shoot-‘em-up A Bittersweet Life “re-imagines" Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad & The Ugly for this kimchi western. Three ne'er do wells of varying dastardliness race across Japanese occupied Manchuria on the eve of World War 2 in a hunt for hidden treasure. But, the real gems are the explosive, stunt-heavy action scenes that pepper the movie, reminiscent of Spielberg at his Raiders of the Lost Ark best.
The Quiet Family, Kim Ji-woon's first movie, remains his most satisfying. A Tale of Two Sisters is more polished but overreaches, and A Bittersweet Life is a sub-Scarface patience marathon.
The Good The Bad The Weird is as scattershot as his second and third movies, but is well-staged, handsomely designed fun that never threatens to take itself seriously.
Korea's 2008 box office champ, it packs invention, nerve, and spectacle not seen in its Hollywood counterparts.
As with Sergio Leone's classic oater, three outlaws attempt to out-sly each other during a cross-country pursuit for fabled booty.
First coming together in an audacious opening train robbery turned full-on gang war, the bandits' paths intertwine throughout the event-filled two plus hour running time.
The Good (Jung) is a straitlaced bounty hunter, The Bad (Lee) a venal psycho with pin-up good looks, and The Weird (The Host's Song) an opportunistic thief.
When not attempting to prevent each other reaching the loot first, they also have to contend with a bandit coalition and the occupying Japanese forces.
Although wry barbs are made about Japan's inglorious past, director and co-writer Kim plays the film light and closer in tone to Kung-Fu Hustle than The Bridge on the River Kwai.
A wirework heavy shoot-out through the scaffolding of a shanty town would be a contender for Best Action Scene of the Year, if it was not trumped by a climactic race across the desert plains involving what appears to be every Asian stuntman working today.
Bottling the spirit and excitement of Indiana Jones in a way The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull couldn't, this full-throttle sequence is heart-stopping enough to make you forgive the ever-so-slightly unsatisfying Mexican stand-off finale.
And audiences bemoaning the brazen stealing from Leone, don't forget that Sergio owes his career to Eastern cinema: Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo was lifted virtually scene-for-scene in A Fistful of Dollars.