The Last Stand
My hand is huge!
We got both a return of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Hollywood debut of Kim Ji-woon with the modern day western The Last Stand. But is the title prophetic and a sign that we should stay away? If you are looking for amazing action and a return to form for an actor turned politician, then you might want to keep waiting. But if you want a good forgettable action flick with some funny parts, then The Last Stand is a passable January release. It isn’t terrible, it’s just we’ve seen much better from both the star and the director, so things come out disappointing. And that’s the worst sting of all.
Kim Ji-woon is no stranger to Westerns, he directed The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, one of the best Western-inspired films ever. He’s also responsible for I Saw The Devil, one of those films that people watch and then describe with a single emoticon of a traumatized face staring into the distance. Kim Ji-woon is the first of three popular Korean directors who are making their Hollywood debut in 2013 (Bong Joon-ho with Snowpiercer and Park Chan-wook with Stoker are the other two.) He’s also the only reason I had any interest in taking the time to see The Last Stand.
I am sorry to say that things are up to Kim Ji-woon’s normal standards of excellence. But The Last Stand isn’t a wash, either. It follows the normal arc progression of a Western with the eventual showdown against the gang by the Sheriff and his deputies. There is a lot of scattered action sequences throughout the buildup, as the cartel leader escapes from captivity then carves his way through increasingly incompetent police roadblocks via increasingly ridiculous ambush attacks.
Minimalist action theater
In the usual Western, the baddies are constantly harassing the town, the people the Sheriff likes and loves, and the danger is more personal. As Gabriel Cortez is more of a guy who is just passing through town, The Last Stand attempts to counter this by having some of his gang in town building an escape bridge. The gang causes trouble and is involved in a firefight with the Sheriff’s office. Though the gang’s leader is played by awesome dude Peter Stormare, the rest are all faceless militia types and there isn’t enough there to make them feel so evil you cheer when the hero kills them.
Police Academy: Honey Boo-Boo
The Good, The Bad, and The Weird
aka Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom
Directed by Kim Ji-woon
Written by Kim Ji-woon and Kim Min-suk
The Good, the Bad, and the Weird is the best Korean movie I have seen in years. There was a point a few years ago where Korea was the darling of the cult movie lover’s heart. Korea produced more good films a month than certain places (like Hong Kong at the time) made all year. From about 1998 until 2005, South Korea was supreme as far as Asian film was concerned. Then Korea started to falter. Movies became less good, budgets became smaller, the market became flooded with inferior products from the boom years, and the government let more foreign films into theaters. Other Asian film markets started to climb out of their slumps, and now the whole region is more competitive. Only a few great gems come out of Korea each year now, and this is one of the brightest.
From the title alone, you can guess where much of the influence comes from. The Good, the Bad, and the Weird borrows from Sergio Leone westerns in style and basic character archetypes, moving the setting to 1930′s Manchuria and allowing the influences of the Indiana Jones films. The stylization creates a universe of its own, sucking you in and taking you along for the ride. The action is non-stop, the only pauses are just to set up even bigger and more exciting action sequences.
With a budget of 20 billion won (US $15.43 million) it still lost money even with the year best ticket sales of 6.68 million tickets (at 10,000 won ($7.70) each, that should be 66.9 billion won, so something isn’t adding up even if they lose half the money to the theater owners.) Maybe someone with more knowledge of film costs in South Korea can enlighten me, but until then, we’ll just be confused. Just dub this thing and drop it off at Blockbuster, it will make money in a week. Of course, this assumes this ever shows up in America, as the track record for movies like this is that they disappear for years and everyone who wanted to see it gets it by other means… EDIT: I wrote this several months before it appeared on site, and since then a limited theatrical release was announced.