The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2009) by Kim Jee-woon

S. Korea take on spaghetti westerns

By Randy McKenzie

This movie is the second of three collaborations between director Kim Jee-woon and actor\Korean popstar Lee Byung-hun. (“A Bitter Sweet Life” being the first and “I Saw The Devil” being the last.) It was the second highest grossing Korean film of 2008.  As the title suggests, this film draws from westerns in general, and Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, in particular. Indeed, director Kim calls it a “kimchee western”. If the mix of kimchee and spaghetti sounds crazy, well, it is. But in this case, crazy in a good way.

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The movie revolves around three Korean ex-patriots living in Japanese occupied Manchuria. Park Chang-yi, (the bad) played by Lee, is hired to recover a map from the Japanese. But while he and his men are boarding the train carrying the map, the train is robbed by Yoon Tae-goo, (the weird) played by Song Kang-ho. Jung Woo-sung plays a bounty hunter named Park Do-won (the good), who is after Chang-yi and attacks the bandits. In the resulting battle, Tae-goo escapes with the map, thinking that it must be of value. Chang-yi also manages to get away, but Do-won realizes that he will go after the map, and trails Tae-goo. All this is observed by a group of Manchurian bandits, who decide that they want the map to sell on the black market.
Tae-goo believes the map will lead to an imperial Chinese treasure and decides to follow the map, all the while being hounded by Do-won, Chang-yi, the Manchurian bandits and the Japanese army.

Kim keeps the movie at a fast pace and fills it full of tropes from Hollywood and Italian westerns The villain always wears black, the good guy wears a duster and sports a wide brimmed hat. He even manages to throw in a couple of twists into what little plot there is.


The Gobi desert, beautifully filmed by Lee Mo-gae, leads to the feeling that you are watching a western. The vast and desolate landscape is part of Kim’s depiction of Manchuria as a lawless and empty frontier. Populated by thieves, bandits and drug dealers, it is an environment where a person will either get rich or die in the attempt. Indeed, all three main characters are depicted as men without a country, either driven out of Korea by the Japanese or fleeing to Manchuria to escape their past.

The Japanese are rather generic bad guys, not fully fleshed out, and they are not given the usual level of depravity exhibited in many Korean and Chinese films. In this film, they are merely villains to chase after Tae-goo or dispatched by the heroic and brave Do-won.


Korean heartthrob Jung Woo-sung does a perfectly serviceable job as the courageous and tough Park Do- won. You will probably find yourself rooting for him, as he charges head on into a group of bandits or soldiers. Stoic and hard-bitten, he shows little sympathy for the men that he hunts down.  Lee byung-hun is cold hearted and ruthless as the main villain. Lee portrays him as nihilistic and vain, almost like a spoiled teenager. While he is generally dispassionate, the character appears to have an obsession with getting the map, but there are hidden motives revealed in the end. But the real standout is Song Kang-ho. While the character is often clownish, Song plays him straight and resists any temptation to overact. Song injects a certain charisma to the role and adds some complexity, especially during the films climax.

Don’t see this movie while expecting the typical art-house fair. While the production values are very good, the film is not especially deep. And that’s not what the director was going for, anyways. What he was attempting to do, was to make an action packed western, and he succeeded, very well.


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Asian Film Vault: The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2009) by Kim Jee-woon
The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2009) by Kim Jee-woon
S. Korea take on spaghetti westerns
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