Without question, the operative word here is "weird". Director Kim Ji-Woon's latest film is merely one more in the suddenly-ubiquitous subgenre of Asian Westerns, but it's also a gangster picture, a biker movie, an action film, and at times just a good old-fashioned Surrealist epic. Titled The Good, the Bad and the Weird, all three of those adjectives could describe different aspects of the film, although I don't think that's the order I'd put them in.

The plot... my God, is it really possible to recap the plot? To be honest, I'm not completely certain that I even know what happened. On one level, it's the same story that was seen in its namesake, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: there's a treasure out there, and the Bad (Lee Byung-Hun) and the Weird (Song Kang-Ho) both want to get their hands on it, while the Good (Jung Woo-Sung) just really wants to get his hands on the the Bad and the Weird. It all takes place in a mash-up of the American West and Manchuria in the period immediately preceding World War II.

It is literally inconceivable to me that someone could walk out of the theater thinking, "I am pleased with the way that twisty story resolved itself." Liking the film - or disliking it, for that matter, and this is a movie that begs to be disliked - is not a matter of the reed-thin narrative, but of the spectacle that the narrative enables, and this is by and large quite spectacular spectacle. From the opening shots, it's quite obvious that we're in good hands with Kim and company: a blue, blue sky, and a yellow desert, with a hawk swooping in so close to the camera that it nearly takes out the lens, before swooping back down to the train where we'll see the treasure map for the first time.

Let me just get this off my chest: this is a tremendously pretty movie. With two credited cinematographers (Lee Mo-Gae and Oh Seung-Chul), Kim has crafted one of the best-looking films of 2008, sometimes because of how conventionally lovely it is - you can't make a Western without plenty of big ol' vistas - and sometimes because of how unabashedly strange it is - such as the bright green interior lighting in that train. This is one of those movies where most of the individual frames look so good that you'd consider mounting them on your wall as fine art.

The film attached to that drop-dead gorgeous cinematography is, I think, best thought of as a deconstruction of the Western by way of an exaggerated parody of Western tropes. There's the mysterious bureaucrat on the train, there's a shoot-out in a town, there's a three-way stand-off at the climax, and so on ad infinitum, but all of these things are presented in a wildly heightened manner. That shoot-out, for example, is something like 12 minutes long, taking place inside, outside, and on top of nearly every structure on the town set, with actors jumping from place to place like this was a wuxia epic. It's a brilliant setpiece that as it goes on becomes more and more dissociated from what's "happening" - by the end, it's all about bodies in flight and copious amounts of stage blood.

I have seen none of Kim's previous films (he's fairly well-regarded internationally, though not a superstar of the Korean cinema like Kim Ki-Duk or Park Chan-Wook), but it's my understanding that, although never a "sedate" director, he's also never been this self-indulgent in creating a nearly plotless exercise in style and action. God bless Kim Ji-Woon and his self-indulgence, says I, if this is the result. I couldn't help but feel that this was the film I wanted Sukiyaki Western Django to turn into, a generic parody/homage so intense that the basic vocabulary of cinema started to shut down at its most frantic moments.

The flipside of all this, of course, is that The Good, the Bad and the Weird is a tremendously alienating movie - anyone who cares more than a little about a good story would be driven positively mad by the film, and despite my enthusiasm, even I can tell that the hyper-kinetic style begins to drag as the film moves on (two hours is an unforgivably long time for a film like this). It's flawed, without question. But it also has more originality and invention than any given half-dozen films, and even if it's tiring to love and easy to hate, I can't help but get tremendously excited by a movie with such a wild collection of imagery.

8/10