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The Movie Like Mad Max That Action Fans Need To See

Nobody ever said making great art was easy. 

Though the drawn-out, hazard-filled production of "Mad Max: Fury Road" has been well-documented, few in the audience would tell you it wasn't worth it. The film was a critical and commercial success, making nearly $400 million at the box office and landing on just about everyone's "Best of the Decade" lists at the end of 2019. For action junkies, it has become a sacred text. The pace, the dynamism, the intricate ballet of man and machine were nothing anyone had ever seen before, not even in director George Miller's three previous "Mad Max" films, at least one of which, "The Road Warrior," is an all-timer in and of itself. The image of Max cantilevering up on a Pole Cat in front of a massive explosion was worth the price of admission on its own. The film is stuffed with shots just as good as that one. 

So it's a tough ask to go find a film that reaches the same highs as the action movie of the decade/probably the 21st century/maybe all of human history. But there are examples out there that drive nearly as hard and burn nearly as bright with ludicrous energy, including one that mixes the classic anti-heroes of Sergio Leone's spaghetti Western with Miller-style epic action and drops the result into a Far Eastern setting full of gunslingers and outlaws.  

The Good, the Bad, the Weird mixes Mad Max with Sergio Leone

The 2008 South Korean actioner "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" stars "Parasite" patriarch Song Kang-ho as Yoon Tae-goo, the Weird of the title, a thief who steals a treasure map from a Japanese official in the deserts of Manchuria shortly before World War II. Pursuing him for the map and the treasure is the stylish but murderous bandit Park Chang-yi, the Bad (Lee Byung-Hun). Pursuing them both for the bounties on their heads is the Good, Park Do-Won (Jung Woo-sung), an impossible-to-ruffle bounty hunter. The three form a shifting series of alliances as they pursue the treasure and try to stay one step ahead of the Japanese army and rival bandits.

Song is the standout. His outlaw is consistently underestimated but proves endlessly creative when it comes to dishing out carnage, wearing a diving helmet in one gun battle, and saving bullets by dynamiting a single opponent in another. He's every bit as magnetic as Eli Wallach was in the Leone source material, which is saying something. Lee is slimy and murderous and believably charismatic as leader of bandits who would backstab any of them in a heartbeat. Jung has the hardest job. His stoic sharpshooter gets some of the film's best action beats – he swings like Tarzan from a crane above a shanty market town at one point, firing down at his opponents – but his character's detachment is less compelling than that of Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name or Hardy's Max.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird features a bonkers desert chase that could have come out of Fury Road

But chances are you're not looking for "Mad Max"-type movies for the plot or character work. You want action, and "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" delivers that in spades. From the thrilling train heist the film opens with to the battles in the courtyard of an inn and the above-mentioned marketplace, director Kim Jee-woon puts the pedal to the floor and rarely lifts his foot. The contrasting styles of the main trio, and the variety of baddies they face off with each time, keep the combat as inventive and as escalating as any video game could hope for.

As such the film's biggest set piece, and its finest "Mad Max" homage, is its final one, a madcap chase through the barren desert between trucks, Jeeps, motorcycles, and horses that's equal parts "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Looney Tunes." Just when you think there are no more levels for it to go to, an artillery bombardment starts up, sending all those vehicles and animals charging through clouds of smoke and dirt as they race each other for the treasure. Rifles, revolvers, machine guns, dynamite, and a big medieval flail all come into play. The whole thing is scored by the horns and hand-clapping of Santa Esmeralda's cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," which you may remember from the climactic fight of "Kill Bill: Vol. 1." It is maximalist action filmmaking, and if you're looking for something to ease your cravings of "Fury Road" or "The Road Warrior," then it's about as close as you're going to get to "Mad Max"-style action too.