Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Manchurian Westerns"???

I'd never heard the term before, but according to the Hollywood Reporter, there's a film category or genre called "Manchurian Westerns".

I found it in a review of the latest such "epic", based on Sergio Leone's famous film, and called "The Good, The Bad, The Weird".

The first half hour whizzes by like a stray bullet, taking in a railroad explosion, a train robbery, an ambush in the marketplace, followed by many forms of chases in exotic locations and costumes. A subplot about the legend of "The Finger Chopper" introduces fusion elements of stylishly shot martial arts stunts.

After about an hour of digressive comic relief, the film hurtles toward a grand finale at the pace of a galloping stagecoach. Lone riders, cavalry and jeeps rush against each other across a boundless arid plain in sweeping panoramic shots that proudly show off where the money went.

The film retains the outline of the original characters: a feral gangster, a wacko train robber and a bounty hunter. All are after a map of buried Manchurian dynastic treasure. Song does a cocky, charismatic turn as the Weird on autopilot, making his role less of a weasely buffoon as Leone's Tuco than a resourceful man of mystery. But he lacks the "loser" qualities that made him so human and sympathetic in comic roles for Kim Jee-woon's earlier "The Quiet Family" and "The Foul King."

Cast against type but coming up tops is housewife heartthrob Lee Byung-hyun ("A Bitter Sweet Life"). As the Bad, he exudes villainy with a maniacal relish, like Jack Nicholson's Joker, and better suits the energetic mood of this film than Lee Van Cleef's inscrutable Angel Eyes. Leading romance actor Jung Woo-sung ("Daisy", "A Moment to Remember") holds his own as the Good, having grasped that his role is about poise rather than performance.

"The Good, The Bad, The Weird" fondly revisits a popular Korean subgenre in the '60s known as "Manchurian Western," set along the Chinese-Korean border in the '30s, when Japanese colonialism made China's Northeast a frontier land for resistance fighters, outlaws and carpetbaggers.

The meticulous recreation of this period backdrop is one of the film's most fascinating elements. It gives a cultural-historical dimension to the archetypal Western plot of a treasure hunt, tracing the bounty hunters' mercenary behavior to the psychological scars of lost nationhood. Location shooting is done in the Gobi Desert, China's true Wild West, adding a further touch of authenticity.

As an unashamed fan of Sergio Leone, I've gotta see this! The trailer looks as if they've out-Sergioed Leone himself!



Chas S. Clifton said...

Whew! I thought only Western archaeologists wore hats like that in Manchuria! And was that Mosin-Nagant revolver that flashed by?

Anonymous said...

DAMN!!!! this looks like a cool movie! I wanna see it, but I have a feeling I'll be out of luck.... Any ideas?