Set in the 1930s Manchurian desert where lawlessness rules and many different ethnic groups clash, three Korean men fatefully meet each other on a train.
Do-won is a bounty hunter who tracks down any criminals with rewards on their heads. Chang-yi is the leader of a group of tough-as-nails bandits. He cannot stand to be the 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?
Korean men. Women just seem to get enough of them. And since this Kim Jee-woon (A Bittersweet Life, A Tale of Two Sisters) directed blockbuster has three of them plastered on the DVD cover, you can bet those K fans are going to flock to stores to own this Korean movie, so that they can watch it again, and again, and again, at the comfort of their own homes – that is, if they haven’t already owned a giant poster already.
At the risk of offending readers who’d accuse this reviewer of stereotyping viewers of the female species, he’d bravely proclaim that if you are a female viewer, then this movie is definitely a pure joy to watch. While it is a hit in its home country, this movie was not chosen to be Korea’s “Best Foreign Film” movie at the Oscars, losing out to Kim Tae-gyoon’s Crossing (will a distributor bring that film in already?). But being a blockbuster made to entertain, this picture does an adequate job.
After first viewing, the viewer would probably come to a conclusion that this movie was made as homage to Western spaghetti movies (think 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars and 1965’s For A Few Dollars More), where gun shootouts are made to look super cool on the cinema screen. In fact, the obvious homage is evident in the title’s reference to Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). To put it simply, this Korean version tells the stories of three outlaws in 1930s Manchuria and their misadventures with different parties like the Japanese army and the Chinese bandits. What a motley crew, we hear you say.
Yes, and that results in a 129 minute mish mash of laughs, action and gosh, violence (watch out for that NC16 rating from our friends at the censorship board!). These elements are perfectly fine for a mundane night, but for anything more intellectually profound, you may want to look elsewhere. The screenplay by director Kim and Kim Min-suk does attempt to weave many subplots together to bring on escalating excitements and stirring action sequences, but the storyline does become rather tiresome somewhere along the mid point.
Credit does go to the leading men though – Song Kang-ho (Secret Sunshine, The Host) literally steals the show with his wacky portrayal of “The Weird”, a train robber who is more hilarious than threatening. Thanks to makeup and a strange hairdo, Lee Byung-hun (Hero, A Bittersweet Life) looks convincing menacing as “The Bad”, a cold blooded bandit leader who spares no mercy. Looking suave with his cowboy hat and galloping horse, Jung Woo-sung (A Moment to Remember, Musa the Warrior) is “The Good”, a bounty hunter embodying the perfect dream man any girl could wish for.
Also, listen out for the stylishly scored soundtrack by Dalparan and Chan Young-gyu and the very gripping 20 minute chase sequence towards the end of the movie. These more than make up for the somewhat loose writing of the movie. But when the filmmakers were making this movie, they probably had in mind viewers of a certain demographic (you know who you are) who will make this movie a success.
Depending on how much of a die hard fan you are, this Code 3 DVD contains bonus features which will have you satisfied (if you are an average K-fan) or scoffing at its lack of substance (if you are a true blue K-fan).
First up, there is a Teaser Trailer, a Trailer and a TV Spot which showcases briefly the best scenes from the movie. Then there are 22 minutes of Highlights – something which we cannot understand why DVD producers enjoying including in the Special Features section. Aren’t they repetitive and take up space on the DVD? Making Highlights is a 15 minute clip which brings you behind the scenes of making the movie – seeing Song run around clumsily is a hoot, seeing the menacing Lee fire his rifle is strangely refreshing and seeing Jung ride on his horse will send female viewers’ hearts fluttering. Next, see the director and his leading men decked in their best suits and bowties in the three minute Cannes Highlights. In the brief four minute Making of, hear how the filmmakers faced logistical problems, as well as how they created the chaotic and busy mood of the movie – see how live animals like chickens, ducks, horses and elephants are brought on set. Interview of Director & Casts lasts for a good 11 minutes, and you can hear the four men talk about their roles and experiences making this blockbuster. The platter is rounded off with a Photo Gallery.
The disc’s visual transfer isn’t top notch here, but then again, there is really nothing much to complain about because of the disc’s affordability. It is presented in its original Korean soundtrack.
Review by John Li