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Review: The Last Stand

In 2008, South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-Woon directed The Good, the Bad, the Weird, a stylish, postmodern “Kimchee Western” featuring some of the most energetic, inventive, and utterly insane shootouts ever committed to celluloid. It remains his most popular work in the West–and a personal favorite of mine. How appropriate, then, that he should revisit the genre for his first English-language feature, this time putting modern-day spin on the classic High Noon/Rio Bravo scenario–and casting a recently un-retired Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role for good measure.

Sadly, The Last Stand isn’t nearly as effortless or elegant as the director’s previous efforts (which include A Tale of Two Sisters and the brilliantly demented I Saw the Devil). Like many foreign artists, he struggles to adapt his vision to an unfamiliar system–and an unfamiliar language. Early scenes plod along at a sluggish pace, laden with a somewhat over-bloated ensemble cast and long stretches of unwieldy dialogue.

But the action scenes… The action scenes are every bit as wild and imaginative and crazy as the very best bits of The Good, the Bad, the Weird. And such variety to boot: a tense, gorgeously choreographed high-speed car chase through a field of corn; an agonizingly suspenseful firefight in the pitch dark desert between a pair of outgunned sheriff’s deputies and a small army of mercenaries equipped with night vision goggles; and an explosive climactic showdown in the streets of Sommerton Junction (the quintessential small town), which starts with a rocket-propelled grenade blowing a parked vehicle sky-high and just keeps on escalating from there.

The Last Stand is far from perfect, but it’s still an exciting American debut from one of Asian cinema’s most unique creative voices–and a thoroughly satisfying return to form by one of the industry’s most beloved action movie icons.

[Originally written January 18, 2013.]

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