(In Korean with French Subtitles, On TV, December 2017) I’m writing this review some time after seeing The Good, the Bad, the Weird, having had the time to catch up on its inspiration The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in the meantime. Spaghetti Western here leads to Kimchi Western (director Kim Jee-woon’s own expression) as we get a horse,-trains-and-motorcycles 1930s adventure across the Manchurian Steppe during the Japanese occupation. If that sounds like an unusual blend of intriguing elements, then sit down and appreciate the show—The Good, the Bad, the Weird is deliberately unlike anything else, and the trip is worth the time. Jee-woon is a hyperactive kind of director, and so his take on western movies jumps and shoots and races furiously across the desert, set-pieces following each other in a madcap race that will make viewers as exhausted at the title characters. Much of it works well, but not all. I’m not much of a fan of “the weird” (much as I wasn’t a fan of “the ugly”), although Lee Byung-hun is great as “The Bad” and Jung Woo-Sung is also quite likable as “The Good.” The kinetic action set-pieces are exceptionally well-made, and updating the western setting to the 1930s allows for the use of motorcycles alongside more traditional western elements. As a curiosity, The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a fine discovery. I’m not entirely convinced that the film is as good when stripped of its novelty element—the dramatic beats are familiar, the lulls in-between the set-pieces are considerable and I’m not sure that the film best maximizes the elements at its disposal. Still, it is fun to watch and unusual to contemplate. If this is what we’re going to get in an increasingly globalized entertainment marketplace, then I’m all for it.
(On Cable TV, December 2013) Fast cars and big guns are near-essential ingredients of B-grade action films, and if nothing else, The Last Stand doesn’t try to camouflage its high-concept plot devices. There’s a crazed Mexican druglord high-tailing it to Mexico with a fast car, and there are plucky heroes who literally stand in his way. The entire film leads to its final confrontation, and it’s the kind of structure that’s ideally suited to a low-budget action film. The Last Stand is most notable for being Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring role in a decade (you may recall him as acting as California’s governor during that time), and it’s an adequate return to form for him: his role is generally (despite the usual action-hero heroics) age-appropriate, and while he stars, he doesn’t hog all of the spotlight. Much of the film is forgettable, though: the night-time action scenes blur together, while the engaging cornfield climax leads to an overlong bridge fistfight. While The Last Stand remains well-directed enough (by acclaimed South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon in his American debut) to hover comfortably above most direct-to-video titles, it’s not special enough to warrant more than an evening’s easy entertainment. It would have been nice to see something a bit more ambitious.