April 12, 2023

Director Kim Jee-woon makes a Korean western based on real world setting of 1930s Manchuria, which became the biggest-scaled production to date in Korean film with a budget of over $17 million. Three of Korea’s top male actors are cast together in one film as a train robber, a bounty hunter, and a bandit leader, in the “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” (IFC Films), which makes its local debut May 14th at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis for one-week only.

Song Kang-Ho is “Tae-Goo” – a “weed” like character who will act fair or foul in order to survive. He robs trains on a scooter and somehow survives one disaster after another.

Lee Byung-Hun is “Chang-yi”, is a cold-blooded bandit leader who is driven to be the best gunfighter, with such strong pride that he would rather die than lose.

Jung Woo-Sung is “Do-won”, who has set standards and the excellent rider and shooter as a relentless bounty hunter.

These three displaced Korean characters have in common a strong will and vitality to overcome hardships and obstacles including lawless bandits and swordsmen and then into the recognizable western genre conventions of guns and WWII.

Set in the 1930s Manchurian desert, where lawlessness rules and ethnic groups clash, three Korean men fatefully meet each other on a train. The Good, Do-won is a bounty hunter who tracks down criminals with rewards on their heads. Chang-yi is the leader of a group of bandits and can’t stand to be second best. Tae-goo is a train robber with nine lives.

The three strangers engage in a chase across Manchuria to take possession of a map Tae-goo discovers while robbing the train. Also on the hunt for the mysterious map, are the Japanese army and Asian bandits. In this unpredictable, escalating battle for the map, who will stand in the end as the winner?

Never be sure who’s good, bad or weird.

With rich, colorful images, a train full of people of different races and classes; alluring beauties in blood-red Chinese dresses in a densely fogged opium house; north winds blowing over the great plains; illegal weapon makers; outlaws; and slaves and merchants in the black market. The film takes moviegoers to a unique time and place that is the work of a great cinematic imagination that strives for and achieves in full its lofty, uncompromising vision.

In his Director’s statement, Kim Jee-Woon said that he likes want to watch and make films that start with an exciting movie moment – “A lone gunman walking the vast desert, cold winds blowing through the empty plains, a sudden fire flaring out from the end of a muzzle, etc. These scenes are all familiar clichés from the western, but they never cease to captivate me.”

After finishing A Bittersweet Life, Kim said that he traveled to the vast lands of the Manchurian region of the past. He stood watching the endless horizon, which made him think about the Korean people who made their way there before Korea was divided and cut off from the inland.

“To the people who went to Manchuria during the Japanese occupation period, this was a land of opportunity and hope,” he said.

The world in the film is Manchuria of the 1930s, when it was an arena of conflicting factions of displaced peoples in anarchy and chaos. Russians, Chinese, Manchurians, and Koreans clashed, making the land fraught with danger and tension, a veritable active volcano about to explode at any moment.

“It was a lawless world where strength and power ruled,” he added. “Through the main characters’ stories and their pursuit of their dreams as promised by a mysterious map, I wanted to bring to the audiences all over the world the fun and enjoyment of watching a new kind of western.”

Three men who are forced out of the country they love must take refuge in the vast deserts and plains of Manchuria. They chase new, wild dreams of riches and to be the fastest gun. No one character embodies the traits of the film’s title, and Kim said the three characters change according to the situation.

“Enemies and friends constantly change,” he added. “The three characters all have the elements of the good, the bad, and the weird.”

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