Directed by: Kim Jee-woon. I guess Hollywood Westerns reached pretty far around the world, at least judging by the names (between this and Once Upon a Time in Shanghai). Thematically, though, I feel like I can detect a bit more inter-textual stuff going on from being familiar with the tradition of Leone Westerns and classic Westerns, that they are one of the identifiable bits (among the other less-identifiable bits for me) in this jumbling, energetic, postmodern cauldron of a movie. At first, I found it a bit difficult to keep track of who was representing who, and I had to look on Wikipedia to see about the Qing dynasty (turns out, they were the last dynasty, ending around WWI). I’m sure there are a host of cultural/mythical tropes from Korean culture and beyond that I’m totally missing, but ANYWAY the point is that I found this a very exhilarating, fun, fresh combination of the elements of action/adventures that I love. It’s one of those What’s Not to Love movies.You got an old-timey WWII Korean Western set in the deserts of Manchuria. You got three strongly delineated “types” for characters, including a sleek badass who’s great fun to watch, an entertaining fool who’s fun to watch, and a shady, mysterious “good guy” who’s fascinating to watch, all of whom are infinitely more intriguing that most Hollywood film characters, especially in a dumb action movie. You got history, you got buried treasure, you got soldiers with firepower, you got rag-tag groups of nomadic motorcycle/horse riding bandits, a great action sequence on a train, a great shoot-em-up in an abandoned desert town, and a suspensful showdown with the three main characters. What’s not to love??? Now that I think of it, my appreciation of this is pretty deeply rooted in my appreciation for the classic Western tropes in movies, which this movie does a great job of injecting some life into. I’m contrasting, for instance, this year’s sure-to-be-a-turd-so-I-don’t-even-want-to-see-it-except-for-academic-interest “Western”, the Magnificent 7 re-do, which is sure to be a turd, so I don’t even want to see it, except for a little nagging nugget of interest for the genre. In the States, you have a delicate, sidelong interest in the genre, carried for the most part by Tommy Lee Jones and the Australians Andrew Dominik and John Hillcoat (not to mention this year’s supposedly great modern-day Western, Hell or High Water, which I should make a point of seeing), and then you have pretty flat, uninspired, dumb-guy adventure stories in hats and boots on horses calling themselves “Westerns” that pop out every couple of years, and which have about as much to contribute to the genre as the Will Smith steampunk vehicle Wild Wild West. I’m getting lost in the weeds a little bit here. Irregardless, this is one of the best action movies I’ve seen in a while, terrifically suspenseful with a unique voice. If it wasn’t obvious before, it’s very obvious that I better keep my eyes open when Kim Jee-woon comes to town. And now that I look, he had a new one this year that got past me, with Song Kang-ho (from Sympathy for Mr Vengeance) and Lee Byung-hun (the main guy from I Saw the Devil), who were both amazing and nearly indistinguishable in this movie. I think in 2017, if I get tired of the usual Hollywood crap, a sure bet seems to be this South Korean set of Kim, Park Chan-wook, and Bong Joon-ho. Note to self.