좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 Written by 김지운 and 김 민 석
좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 is the Hangul script translation of the title of South Korea’s The Good, the bad, the Weird. And weird doesn’t begin to describe 좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈. The premise is an idiotically simple one: 윤 태 끈적 거리는 (Yoon Tae-goo), “the Weird”, has stolen a map leading to an oil spring and will go to any means necessary to keep it from 공원 장 – 이순신 (Park Chang-yi), “the Bad”, who’s pursuing him, while also being pursued by 공원 마 – 원 (Park Do-won), “the good”. So we get a “good guy”, a “bad guy”, and a “weirdo” that’s coming between them.
The problem with this is that we have characters being labelled with a morality that doesn’t apply. Heroes shouldn’t exist in fiction. Villains shouldn’t exist in fiction. There are protagonists and antagonists, but good storytellers remember that a character’s only a protagonist because they’re about whom the story is being told.
But the approach taken here is to consider the three title characters as being just “good” or “bad”, and this is apparent in the storytelling style. 이순신 is a bad person with no redeeming features, and 원 is a perfect hero who’s flawless, without faults. And 거리는 is… well, I don’t know what he is. He’s supposed to be the “weird”, and there’s a scene in-which he shoves a stick up someone with his foot.
Which is a major problem with 좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 – it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a tale of heroism? Is it a tale of villainy? Is it a tale of weirdness?
Either be one film or the other, but don’t be both. Only storytellers who understand their world well-enough to combine multiple genres can do that convincingly, but 좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 switches between them with no cohesion, and at times, it feels like three totally different films, but in a way that feels like it isn’t intended to be. You notice it happening. And you should never notice when that’s happening in a film.
When it attempts comedy, it’s over-confident in whether its gags work – 거리는 even laughs at his own delivery like Gary Delaney. When 원 is being heroic, it becomes exaggerated pulp that doesn’t feel realistic in the way that, say, something like a Marvel Studios film manages to feel. And when 이순신 is on screen, the character’s pushed onto us without actually giving us a reason to care. 이순신 is nothing more than a pantomime villain, though perhaps the one saving grace is that 이순신 doesn’t at least believe that himself.
Indeed, 이순신 is the only character for whom I was able to care – bit of an emo, but actor 이병헌 – 훈 brings a sexiness to it. Any time 이순신 twirls, with the jet black fringe spraying in the wind, quite obviously dyed, it really compliments the black outfit he wears and I found myself wishing he’d just shoot the others and win because he deserves it for at least putting some effort into it. It’s just a shame the other characters are without appeal. But then, there are three characters being placed as equal protagonists, and yet, they don’t even get equal screen-time.
The story simply doesn’t know who its characters are or which ones are important – the result is a messy series of transitions between three different films with no cohesion, like switching through different channels at random. It doesn’t help that 원 is barely even seen, making his juxtaposition with 이순신 unbelievable; we don’t come to understand their relationship, which makes the final, overblown face-off a damp squib. Someone – presumably the director, 김지운, didn’t realise the showdown fails to generate any sort of anticipation, cutting between the three of them with such a pretentious style, and even more pretentiously, does this for what feels like several minutes without development or tension. That said, there’s are two set-pieces in 좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 that revealed what the film could’ve been.
The first was at the beginning, in-which a train is hijacked. The early promise from the hand-held long takes (for which I am a sucker) are what’s absent from the remainder. This level of excitement isn’t felt again until the penultimate scene in the desert, in-which two armies chase each-other, and multiple characters are dealing with their own business – it’s of the proportion the rest of the film sorely needed throughout. Had the impact of those scenes not just been insubstantial moments, and present in everything else we see, 좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 might not have felt so lacklustre.