The Warrior's Way -- Film Review

Relativity Media
There are so many ways to kill a man in a samurai-gangster-spaghetti western.

Movie houses may have to expand their concession-stand choices to accommodate fans of movies such as "The Warrior’s Way" to include perhaps Szechwan popcorn and kimchi pasta. For its Korean-born but American film school-educated writer-director, Sngmoo Lee, has tossed into the blender about as many different film genres and heroes as you can imagine. One ticket buys you cowboys, samurais, gangsters, ninjas, spaghetti Westerns, Hong Kong martial artists, knife throwers and even Fellini-esque circus performers. But like kimchi pasta, some things aren’t meant to mix.

The ingredients here congeal into a gooey mess that is not without amusing moments thanks to a what-the-hell attitude that seems to have permeated the set. Certainly, the designers, cinematographer and digital crew went to town with an exotic ambience, a kind of Arizona by way of the Mongolian desert that features arresting matte paintings and fabulous skies behind a desolate town that looks like nobody could possibly live there. The actors, other than South Korean star Jang Dong Gun, take turns mugging for all they’re worth, with Geoffrey Rush and Danny Huston going toe-to-toe in a scenery-chewing contest. You can almost see wood splinters and nails spewing from their mouths.

The multicultural mash-up pivots around the Korean star playing an Asian warrior and the world’s greatest swordsman. He flees to the American desert to escape his own murderous clan when he refuses to slaughter the last remaining member of a rival bunch, a baby girl. He is, a narrator explains in the beginning, “a warrior with empty eyes,” which may also be a description of Jang’s acting style. To be fair, this is his first English-language movie, and when he occasionally speaks, he acquits himself adequately before the movie reverts to combat mode.

The warrior totes the giggly infant around in various bags and satchels until he reaches “a town full of broken people at the end of the desert.” Unaccountably, a carnival has taken up permanent resident in this town with scarcely enough citizens to form an audience.

A Chinese friend he means to visit is dead, but the warrior revives the man’s laundry business with the help of the young, knife-throwing, redheaded heroine, Lynne (Kate Bosworth), while the town drunk (Rush) watches everything with a jaundiced assurance that the script will eventually reveal his true talents as a gun-fighter.

The town of Lode is plagued by a marauding band of bad guys lead by a colonel (Huston), who once tried to rape Lynn when she was an adolescent but had to settle for murdering her entire family instead. If you’re guessing she wants revenge, then you’ll also guess that the warrior will teach her the sword and knife tricks needed to fulfill this ambition.

A climax brings together murderous cowboys and lethal ninjas along with guns, swords, knives, dynamite, Gatling guns and a new use for that Ferris wheel. When the body count goes way beyond the number of combatants that initially charges into town, you gotta figure some are getting up to fight again when they’re supposed to be dead.

Lee stages the carnage with enthusiasm and style, making it clear in every frame that none of this is to be taken as anything other an artistic effort in composition and imagery. Bodies fly apart in silhouette, warriors take to the air in slow motion, and tumult is choreographed down to the tiniest detail.

A credit crawl reveals a New Zealand-based production that uses partial sets and green-screen techniques along with CGI and matte paintings to achieve its mythological look. As befits the new order of globalized cinema, contributions came from Australia, Asia, India, Europe and the U.S.

But you awaken from the film’s surreal reverie as from a dream experienced after a midnight-movie marathon in a grind house. Did a samurai really challenge cowboys with guns?

Opened: Dec. 3 (Relativity Media)
Production companies: Rogue presents a Boram Entertainment in association with Wellmade Star M, Sidus FNH, Fuse+Media Pvt. and Culture Unplugged Studios presents a Mike’s Movies/OzWorks production
Cast: Jang Dong Gun, Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush, Danny Huston, Tony Cox, Lung Ti
Director-screenwriter: Sngmoo Lee
Producer: Barrie M. Osborne, Michael Peyser, Jooick Lee
Executive producers: Eui Hong, Timothy White
Director of photography: Woo-hyung Kim
Production designer: Dan Hennah
Music: Javier Navarrete
Costume designer: James Acheson
Editor: Jonno Woodford-Robinson
Rated R, 100 minutes