South Korean actor Dong-Gung Jang plays an assassin in the Sad Flute Clan who refuses to kill the last member of an opposing clan, an infant girl. He and the girl (who is adorable, by the way) high tail it to the Wild West (!) and a town full of travelling circus folk. Apparently he was hoping to live in peace, and also to see an old friend, who he soon discovers has died. His quest for a peaceful existence is shattered upon the arrival of badass Colonel (Danny Huston, 100% pure evil) and his men. Meanwhile, his comrades (led by the legendary Ti Lung) have also come looking for him and the task he failed to carry out. Kate Bosworth plays a tough rootin’ tooterer (she’s not shootin’, though, she throws knives) with revenge on her mind, Geoffrey Rush is the town drunk, who also narrates the film (incongruously).
Better than “Sukiyaki: Western Django”, this 2010 Asian Western/martial arts hybrid from newbie writer-director Sngmoo Lee has its moments (and Lee proves a visual stylist at least), but plays like a 90 minute trailer instead of a real, flesh & blood movie. I wanted to like it a lot more than I actually did (Ninja vs. cowboys! Sounds epic!), but I felt like the characters were caricatures and that we were only getting a cliff notes version of character relations. Filmed mostly with a green-screen, it’s bloody impressive-looking, the stylised action is cool when we get it (kinda like “Ninja Assassin” or “Versus”), and Danny Huston walks off with the entire film. He seems to be going for somewhere in between Jack Palance and his own dad John, and is effortlessly menacing. The guy makes mince meat out of the scenery in the best way possible, and he deserves his own damn movie (or at least to be in a better one than this).
Unfortunately, there’s not enough action, Geoffrey Rush plays a role beneath him (It’s the old Thomas Mitchell/Edmond O’Brien/Jack Elam town drunk role), Kate Bosworth is terrible and miscast (as a Yosemite Samantha type, even saying ‘tarnations!’ at one point), and the ‘townies’ are so caricatured that we even get the town ‘midget’ played by “Bad Santa” co-star Tony Cox. Bosworth is so bad, she seems to be basing her performance off Jessie the Cowgirl in the “Toy Story” films. Embarrassing.
It’s weird, never really comes off, and looks like ¼ of it was directed by Terry Gilliam, as the travelling circus thing never really feels organic to the rest. Terrific music score, though with Morricone influences, and the cinematography is so eye-popping, you’d swear it was in 3D. It’s washed out, but still visually arresting, with especially fine shot composition.
Unfortunately, it’s all so empty and the East/West marriage is an extremely lumpy one. Meanwhile, at times I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was a real town or just a travelling circus, it never quite came off. Flashy, occasionally interesting (when Huston’s around), but not very filling. It’s weird enough to be watchable, though.