The Good, the Bad, the Weird announces its intentions in the final third of its title, preparing audiences for a bizarre reworking of Sergio Leone’s iconic masterpiece. Ji-Woon Kim cooks up a genre soup, blending everything from yakuza and western to broad physical comedy and melodrama, yet the resulting dish is less spicy and enthralling than bland and uninspired. For characters who are meant to carry the weight of legends, the trio falls disappointingly short of the mark, never taking on the epic proportions their nicknames imply. Even the typically magnificent Kang-ho Song (star of Secret Sunshine, The Host, and several other highlights from last-decades output of Korean cinema) could only inject so much life into the film with his occasionally amusing but too often one-note performance of The Weird.
The film is packed to the brim with anachronisms — a once original flourish in postmodern genre reconstructions that seems to be increasingly used as a crutch when true imagination is lacking. The modern costumes, props, and vehicles serve little purpose in a film set during Korea’s independence movement of the early 20th Century, yet this is perfectly in line with its modus operandi of hyper-stylization for the sake of itself. Ironically, even the plot is centered on a red herring — a map that various powerful men seek for mostly unknown reasons — which functions only to distract us from the fact that this film is ultimately about nothing at all.
It isn’t the film’s style-over-substance approach that prevents it from being as engaging and entertaining as it desires; it’s the lack of cohesiveness and discernible rhythm. Even the action sequences feel like a variety of disparate shots choppily pieced together, although these few set pieces do at least provide a much lacking scope to a film meant to be larger than life. Otherwise, long stretches of the film drag as characters futilely attempt to learn more about the very same map that we’re clearly not supposed to give a rat’s ass about.
I hate to fall back on the “it’s too long” complaint — a remark that often speaks more to our collectively shortening attention spans than a film unnecessarily dragging things out — but here is a legitimate case of a movie that simply can’t sustain itself for 2+ hours. Kim puts so much effort into trying to be unique that the film ends up being a scattershot mess with an array of visual ticks and quirks that reeks of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. Such an undertaking could be applauded for its audacity, but its sheer recklessness leads it down the path of incoherency and shameless exhibitionism. There’s no substance, no heart behind the flash, and like a house of cards, the hollowness within inevitably reveals itself.