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[MOVIE REVIEW] 'The Good, The Bad, The Weird' aspects of English subtitles

2008/07/21 Source

"The Good, the Bad, the Weird", a $17-million oriental Western by veteran filmmaker Kim Jee-woon, topped the domestic box office in its opening weekend, selling a record 2.19 million tickets in four days since its release on Thursday.

The strong performance was widely expected, not least because the blockbuster project included Korea's three most bankable actors -- Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho and Jung Woo-sung.

What's notable is that the movie has also signed on for a rare deal: English subtitles. Although only CGV Yongsan theater provides the Korean movie in English subtitles, it seemed a welcome change for a growing expat community in Korea.

The English subtitle for "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" is part of the program that CGV, the country's biggest multiplex chain, kicked off earlier this year with "A Man Who Was Superman", starring Jun Ji-hyun ("My Sassy Girl"), targeting non-Korean audiences here.

CGV's decision to screen the movie with English subtitles also reflects the movie's grand scale and distinctive genre. Set in the 1930s Manchuria, the action-packed film weaves a tale of three peculiar characters -- a bounty hunter, a gang leader, and a train robber -- who scramble to grab a hidden treasure across the expansive desert in a series of wild chases.

On Friday, nine non-Korean audiences watched the film, with the help of CGV and CJ Entertainment, which distributes the film, and afterward shared their feelings, which revealed a couple of widely ignored points about Korean cinema.

The general consensus of the foreign audiences in question was that not enough Korean films come with English subtitles, missing precious opportunities to connect with expats living in Korea and, by extension, a broader group of audiences outside of Korea.

What is happening, at least for those who love to watch Korean films, is that almost all Korean movies get released here without English subtitles, and potential viewers have to wait for several months to rent a DVD, which mostly come with English subtitles.

The current DVD-oriented system produces a significant delay for Korean movie fans in and outside of Korea, so more movies should be released in a way that offers a chance for the foreign community here and tourists to enjoy Korean movies, they said.

Anne Ladouceur, a Canadian who runs a website for the expat community here, said that not enough people know that some Korean movies are available in theaters with English subtitles. In fact, neither production houses nor distributors pay much attention to the need to provide such bilingual services on the assumption that demand is too weak. But the local expat community is growing fast: more than 1 million foreign residents are currently living here, according to government estimates.

Ladouceur said she did not fully understand the background story in "The Good, the Bad, the Weird", concerning the Japanese colonial period, but the movie was enjoyable, and the camerawork for the chase scene was "fascinating".

Brad Ficek, who works as the head coordinator for the Camp Adventure program in Korea, said that action sequences in the movie were brilliant. "My favorite part is the opening", Ficek said, referring to the train robbery scene where the key characters encounter each other, setting off a series of breathtaking chases and lethal showdowns.

When it comes to characters, Song Kang-ho, who plays the weird train robber in a hilarious fashion, turned out to be more popular than the other two actors.

Although the action sequences toward the end were a little "too much", few predicted the final conclusion of the film, giving the non-Korean audiences a welcome twist in plot. In addition, the quality of the English subtitles was good enough to deliver a number of Korean jokes, the group said.

The movie is being promoted as a hybrid Western as many scenes feature characters brandishing their guns and riding horses in a desert, but nine non-Koreans were struck by the Asian characteristics of the movie.

"It was not a Western. This movie is actually set in Asia. You've got the guns, and cowboy hats, and guns, but it's still Asian. And it has a very Asian flavor to it and has an Asian sense of humor", said Ladouceur.

Currently, only Yongsan theater of CGV (Open the link) provides the English subtitle to the movie, but CGV plans to screen more English subtitled movies, such as "The Divine Weapon" and "Modern Boy" in coming months.

By Yang Sung-jin

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