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The Warrior’s Way (2010) **

December 5, 2010

written by: Sngmoo Lee
produced by: Barrie M. Osborne, Lee Joo-Ick, & Michael Peyser
directed by: Sngmoo Lee
rated Rm (for bloody violence)
1 hr. 40 min.
U.S. release date: December 3, 2010
When I first saw the trailer for this fantasy western, I immediately came to two conclusions: I never heard of it and I thought it looked like an abysmal waste of time. What I saw looked like a sloppy hybrid of a ninja video game (hmmm, last year’s “Ninja Assassin”) and a comic book western (alas, this year’s “Jonah Hex”), so I wasn’t satiated but I remained curious as to how much of a wreck it would be. Well, for a mess of a film, it’s not all that bad. I came to that conclusion early on, as I got lost in a myriad of homages, retreads, and stereotypes. Amid the generous bloodshed, I found myself unexpectedly amused at a cute little infant, a town drunk, and an expressive dwarf. And if I can find something unexpected out of an unoriginal movie that looks rote and predictable, than all is not lost.
This western fable takes place back in the Old West, yet it starts in the Old East where we see a stoic assassin/warrior named Yang (Jang Dong-gun), the titular quiet man who knows how to slice and dice his way with a sword. Yang is a member of the Silent Flutes, trained by their leader, The Saddest Flute (veteran Ti Lung), and eventually we come to find out that he has one flaw….a heart. This is evident when he makes the decision to spare the life of the last surviving enemy, a darling little infant girl. He may have wiped out her family but offing an infant is not the way of this warrior. Yang knows such an action will not go over well, so he high tails it across the high seas and holes up in a desolate town called Lode, somewhere in the American West. 
Hoping to find a friend who ran a laundromat (I mentioned there’d be stereotypes) in this town, he instead stumbles upon a community of washed-up carnies. It’s like the Island of Misfits for stock stereotypical western and circus characters, complete with the aforementioned dwarf (Tony Cox), a clown, a bearded lady, a fire-eater and one hottie. No really, the only average-looking person is Lynne (Kate Bosworth) a feisty orphan and wanna-be knife thrower, who also happens to be the only one who knows how to bathe. A crowd like this easily accepts this lone wanderer and we soon see how such a motley crew helps Yang find his humanity again.  
Predictably, Lynne takes an interest in him while the town drunk, Ron (a hilarious Geoffrey Rush) watches cautiously.  She calls him Skinny (he’s not skinnier than some of the other crusty town folk, but, of well) and he silently smiles and nods. Yang is busy discovering the joys of scrubbing dirty clothes, planting and nurturing flowers, and blowing bubbles with the infant princess. As he learns of Lynne’s tragic backstory, Yang becomes her Yoda, teaching her how to handle a blade, while she teaches him how to dance under the CGI stars. Yee-haw! 


But for a man who has ended countless lives, violence is just around the corner. Trouble comes in the form of a disfigured baddie named The Colonel (a hammy Danny Huston), a detestable character with connections to the town’s past, who’s come to terrorize once again. The Colonel has a thing for a perfect set of choppers on his rape candidates (ugh!) and inspects all the female citizens dental makeup (blech!) while his gang runs amuck. That’s it! The entire town has had enough and decides to take a stand against The Colonel once they realize they have a bona-fide ninja assassin among them (that’d build my confidence too). But the sound of Yang’s sword being drawn attracts the attention of The Saddest Flute and his ninja minions from thousands of miles away (go figure) and thus a new threat join the mix. With flying ninjas descending on the studio-constructed town, ready to eliminate the one who disgraced them and refused to kill the last of their rivals, a whole new showdown is seen on the big-screen.
When “Warrior’s Way” started, the chug-chug-chug guitar riff immediately had my eyes rolling, but by the film’s end, I can’t really say I regretted the time spend taking in this East meets West yarn.  That is partly due to the acting here, which is nothing phenomenal did keep me in the film despite the distracting green screen work here. Unlike the insane over-the-top delivery of John Malkovich in “Jonah Hex”, we have a gross Danny Huston (utilized more than he was in “Clash of the Titans”), giving you the heebee-jeevees. Not as good as Gary Oldman in “Book of Eli” but still, it helped that he didn’t lay it on thick with the cheese. Watching Rush play drunk isn’t a first, but it was fun seeing him have fun with the role. From exposing his bare bum to sharp-shooting with an antique sniper rifle, each scene with him is a treat. Those were the standout roles, while the two main characters came across as serviceable, yet bland and ridiculous.
The dead-eyed delivery of Dong-gun I liked, but it still would’ve been nice for him to show some charisma, just a smidgen. This man is a convincing threat though, even as he sojourns his way with baby in tow (in a nod to Lone Wolf and Cub), injecting a welcome wink and a smile here and there. Bosworth has taken a lot of hits from fanboys after “Superman Returns” and rightly so (she was miscast), but I’ve liked her since “Blue Crush” and she does well as a fiery redhead with a silly southern accent. Much better than whatever Megan Fox was going for in “Jonah Hex”. Yes, I am comparing these movies often here, but since they are both toying with genre conventions and were released in the same year, it’s easy to do.  





WARRIOR'S WAY Kate Bosworth




While it’s not marketed as a comedy (well, I laughed at the trailer), each character has their moments of welcome humor that adds an unexpected warmth and quirkiness. Newcomer Lee steals generously from Sergio Leone (there’s trumpets and whistles), Kurosawa (lone warrior stumbles unto a town that needs him), and Tarantino (ala the “Kill Bill” flicks), as well as other indie Asian flicks. All that is fine since many have stolen from these masters already, but the movie does have an obvious identity crises as it teeters between genres. It’s not a western and it’s not a ninja movie, yet it looks like a video game or a Michael Jackson video. Still, if you’re a fan of either of these genres and are intrigued and seeing them combined or are game for Rush’s theatrics and Huston’s scenery-chewing, then you’ll eventually check this out.

Lee shot the film back in 2007 in Aukland, New Zealand but one could hardly tell it was shot anywhere due to its artificial sheen. When it comes to the action, Lee has a competent eye for slo-mo slashing sequences, yet they would be more convincing if it felt like the action was set in a real world, not a post-production playland.  Lee also employs a self-referential text that has become over-used in films lately and a storytime narration from Rush that proposes the story as a fable.  The film should’ve either gone all-out comic book or settled on one genre, instead, it’s all thrown together resulting in a messy good time.
Since the story is at the mercy of its own predictability, it concludes with an inevitable climactic swords and ammo battle. As I mentioned, ninja dropping from the sky opposing cowboys is not a common sight and there are some pretty cool action sequences here, if that’s what you’re looking for. The end battle provides a unique use of a dilapidated ferris wheel, at least and the final scene even includes some crazy Eskimo ninja action. No really. By that point, it’s hard to surprised by anything in this kitchen sink approach to fantasy action.
Next summer, Jon Favreau will give us “Cowboys and Aliens” so if you’re looking forward to that and you can’t wait, this cowboys and ninjas flick should suffice.











2 Comments leave one →
  1. francesca permalink
    April 5, 2011 1:31 pm

    OK David, I think we can agree that neither of us was expecting what we finally saw. I personally loved the strange comic book look of the film and I did like that it referenced so many other genres – it was much more fun that I expected. I… loved the show down between the swordsman and his master to the spahgetti western music which segues into opera and the last scene left me hoping there might be a follow up. I particularly liked that it wasn’t overly sentimental despite the presence of a baby, and it was gently funny rather than going for big laughs. Of course Jang Dong-gun tipped it for me 😉 And Geoffrey’s bum.


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