Tag Archives: Kang-ho Song




FEATURING: Kang-ho Song, Byung-hun Lee, Jung Woo-sung

PLOT: Set in 1930’s Manchuria (during the Japanese occupation of China) and loosely based

Still from The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2009)

on Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the film concerns the mad-cap, gunslinging antics of three men in search of a mythical treasure.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Sure it’s got a fun premise and goofy atmosphere, but the weirdest thing about the film is the “Weird” of the title, who’s primarily a wacky take on Eli Wallach’s “Ugly” character from Leone’s film, with spiky hair and the best jokes in the script.  It’s an excellent, peculiar movie, but never reaches List-worthy levels of bizarre.

COMMENTS: Yoon Tae-goo—AKA “The Weird” (Song Kang-ho)—is a resilient petty thief who chances upon a treasure map while robbing a group of Japanese soldiers. Park Chang-yi—AKA “The Bad” (Lee Byun-hun)—is a malicious assassin sent to reclaim the map, who resigns himself to hunting down Tae-goo. Park Do-won—AKA “The Good” (Jung Woo-sung)—is a taciturn bounty hunter chasing after both men’s rewards, who eventually teams up with Tae-goo in the search for the treasure.  Sprinkle in some curious Manchurian bandits and a dedicated group of Japanese soldiers, and soon you’ve got an all-out chase replete with wackiness, gunfights, and thrills!

There’s a lot going on in this film, but the sheer enthusiasm that brings it together makes it all completely work.  The story is fun and interesting, the action is loud and inventive, the characters are appealing, and the visuals are detailed and colorful.  There’s a range of costumes, weapons, and gadgets, giving the movie a slightly anachronistic/steampunk feel.  The premise is both an homage to and appropriation of Leone’s original, but infused with its own imaginative mythos and offbeat sense of humor, distinguishing it from a simple remake.  The addition of complex Manchurian history involving a multinational conflict gives the story a unique perspective.

The three leads are superb, but Song Kang-ho really owns the film.  As “The Weird” he’s hilarious, likable, and unexpectedly capable.  Plus, he’s got a secret past!  The writers did well to make him the central character, devoting the most time to his story and giving him the best lines.  Song is adept at wacky comedy but never slides into flat characterization, making him both engaging and intriguing to watch.  Lee Byun-hun as “The Bad” spends most of his time being incredibly badass and looking sharp.  Jung Woo-sung as “The Good” is a bit bland, and it doesn’t help that there isn’t much attention paid to his character.  He has impressive firearms and his mustache looks silly.

There is very little about this movie to criticize (except perhaps the under-utilization of The Good’s character).  With its oft-frenetic pace, out-there stunts, and silly, exuberant atmosphere, it had the audience laughing out loud and gasping at crazy moments in equal measure.  The final chase scene at the end is guaranteed to have everyone riveted, while the film itself leaves viewers instinctively smiling from ear-to-ear. I believe the technical critical term is “a rip-roarin’ good time.”


“It’s a live-action comic book. More good than bad, and with a liberal sprinkling of weird, it’s got a rock ’em, sock ’em energy that knocks the dust off a dying breed of storytelling.” –Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post (contemporaneous)

NOTE: This review is published in slightly different form at Film Forager.


DIRECTED BY: Chan-wook Park

FEATURING: Kang-ho Song, Ok-vin Kim, Hae-sook Kim

PLOT: A priest becomes a vampire after he receives a blood transfusion during an experimental treatment to find a cure for a deadly virus; after his transformation he becomes erotically obsessed with a young woman who lives as a virtual slave to the family that adopted her.

Still from Thirst [Bakwjwi] (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  All of Park’s films at least flirt with weirdness, and Thirst is no exception. In a way, however, this vampire drama is the Korean fantasist’s most conventional effort. Aside from a disorienting dream sequence intercut into a bout of lovemaking, Park adds only a few short surrealistic bursts here and there, instead sticking surprisingly close to the vampire formula.

COMMENTS: Like all Chan-wook Park films, Thirst is technically excellent: the cinematography, musical accents, and nuanced performances are all top-notch. The plot, while rambling and overlong, ties up loose ends neatly by the end. Many of the individual scenes are nearly perfect, too; the long and violent sequence where a furious Sang-hyeon forcibly converts Tae-joo into a vampire in front of her paralyzed adoptive mother is intense and beyond criticism. Hae-sook Kim’s Lady Ra has a particularly excellent turn that catches fire once her character becomes nearly comatose, and Song and Kim’s love scenes sizzle with guilt-ridden eroticism. Park even scales back the distracting, heavily stylized directorial flourishes (such as the dotted line coming off the hammer in Oldboy) that seem to pop up in his every effort just because the director thinks they look cool; the imagery in Thrist flows naturally, like uncoagulated blood.

With all of the above going for it, what I found most shocking about Thirst is how little spark or originality it emanates. We’ve seen the tragic reluctant vampire since 1936’s Dracula’s Daughter, and thirst for blood has always been a metaphor for lust (in the 1970s exploitation filmmakers became quite explicit with the theme in flicks like Lust for a Vampire and Vampyres). There’s no real spin on the vampire legend to be found here. A few traditional nemeses—garlic and crucifixes—have been jettisoned, but the vampire’s psychological essence—predation and isolation—remains intact. Making the bloodsucking protagonist a priest, while adding the superficial appearance of depth, doesn’t pay off in any profound poetic or philosophical way.  If there’s a spiritual dilemma to be found here, it’s of the mostobvious sort, as the fallen Father struggles to reconcile his vow to serve his suffering flock with his need to drink their blood and avoid sunlight.

The film’s supposed organizing principle, the vampiric curse, gives way to a noirish supernatural love triangle; as it turns out, it’s that old snake in the garden, sex, that’s the root of all evil, not nocturnal bloodsucking. The shift from the struggle to create a personal system of ethical vampirism to a story about falling for a femme fatale means film looses its thematic focus, if not its drama, about halfway through. Thirst is well worth the watch, but frankly, it left me thirsty for more.


“If, like me, you believe Thirst can’t possibly get any weirder, then you’re in for a comically surreal ride as Park’s genre mash careens of the beaten logical path into that magic land that seems to exist only in the mind of Korean filmmakers.”–Jacob Powell, The Lumiere Reader (contemporaneous)