There will be blood—a lot of blood, high flying swordplay, a sassy red-head, and clowns… Sean and I were not sure what we were getting into when queuing up Sngmoo Lee’s The Warrior’s Way (2010) on Netflix. We were looking for an action film that looked at least slightly ridiculous. We were enjoying a run of those. And this film had 4 stars. We’d yet to learn Geoffrey Rush and Kate Bosworth were in it, let alone clowns.
A warrior-assassin is forced to hide in a small town in the American Badlands after refusing a mission. ~Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
The drawl of the narrator tells the story of a legendary swordsman in 19th century Asia who would become “the greatest swordsman in the history of mankind ever.” That the sequence is heavily stylized is no surprise and it allows for a beautiful segue into how Yang (Dong-gun Jang) comes to be at odds with his clan and must hide. A baby is involved and they found the most adorable baby for this role. She is so expressive, and on the list of all things sexy is a man at ease with a baby. And Dong-gun Jang relies on magnetism because he has very few speaking parts, and is shy with the smile.
It isn’t until you get to the dilapidated town in the middle of no where (desert) that you realize that outside of those crazy captions that appeared on screen, the stylized affect is how the film was made throughout. The town looks like a set, and its townspeople only add to the surreal quality. There is the usual town drunk kind of clown, and then, too, there are actual clowns. The ring master Eight-Ball is played by Tony Cox and their knife-thrower, Lynne, is Kate Bosworth (who is distractingly reminiscent of a younger Marcia Cross, and seems to be channeling Jessie from Toy Story). There is a bearded lady whom I come to assume is the madame, and there is a fire-breather. There are also the usual suspects—er—caricatures and Lynne (Bosworth) straddles that line because this is a Western.
Yang finds the friend he’d hope to meet up with has died, but “Smiley” had maintained a Laundry (surprised?). Lynne, a very bold young woman, had heard about Yang from Smiley and she used to work in the Laundry in exchange for sword-fighting lessons. Needless to say she becomes Yang’s welcome party, aide in integrating, and potential love interest. The film goes for charming over sappy, and curiosity turns to adoration in nicely subtle ways. The film is only 100 minutes and time does fly.
Where Yang’s story feels typical in the 19th century warrior-assassin way, Lynne has her own story that is very Dirty Harry/Quick and the Dead. The Colonel (played by a very creepy Danny Huston) and his men ride into town and no one stops them from taking what they want. There is no surprise that he will eventually return, and when he does, who will stop him? You have a woman bent on revenge and a lone assassin*. You also have a gunman. And TNT.
Things take a turn for the even more awesome when The Sad Flutes and the Saddest Flute shows up, the clan Yang is hiding from.
There are some gorgeous shots in The Warror’s Way. In the way it is directed, I kept wondering if the film was structured after a graphic novel. The choreography is stunning and the slow-motion would feel much more over-used but for the style of the film. The use of the sound and music in the film is really well-done. It is certainly atmospheric. The blood-letting is nice—if I am allowed to observe this. There are two really incredible sequences: one using the dust cloud following an explosion, and the second and even more inspiring, Lee using the flash of gun fire to strobe-light the hero’s movements up a semi-darkened hallway.
I am raving on this film, and it isn’t perfect (Mike Hale in his review (below) will slam it for you). The Warrior’s Way is often startling and not a little off-putting at times. You wonder how the elements and/or actors came together to make the film, and how it incorporates all the classic genre elements is a bit unexpected and sometimes silly. You have to mind the theatrical elements, especially in dealing with both Rush’s and Bosworth’s dangerously overwrought performances**. I think you have to go in a bit wide-open with this one, just go with it.
**I would recommend not having watched Geoffrey Rush in Pirates of the Caribbean within any proximity beforehand—his vocals are a short step from pirate to cowboy. And maybe not Toy Story either, that Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl connection to Bosworth’s performance really is all too unfortunately apt.
* >>spoiler alert<< Jang’s character Yang is endearing in all kinds of ways, but I adored the parts where he stepped back and didn’t try to interfere with Lynne’s vengeance. He helped her prepare, but he did not try to “help” her when it came time to confront the villain–regardless of how clumsy or potentially fatal that is was for Lynne. This was the least typical element in the film and an exciting one.<<<<<
————–The Warrior’s Way (2010)————-
directed/written by Sngmoo Lee; cinematography: Woo-Hyung Kim; music by Javier Navarrete; Produced by Barrie M. Osborne, Lee Joo-Ick, Michael Peyser; starring: Jang Dong Gun (Yang), Geoffrey Rush (Ron), Kate Bosworth (Lynne), Tony Cox (Eight-Ball), Danny Huston (Colonel), and Lung Ti (Saddest Flute).
In English. Running Time 100 minutes. Rated R for strong bloody violence.
James Mudge at BeyondHollywood.com liked it although I will have to argue the “shapely cowgirl Lynne” remark.
Mike Hale’s NY Times Review, in which his Fellini reference is too obvious—does no one else use clowns?; Von Trier is much more stark; and while I, too, thought Shanghai Noon, I felt Lee was going for the more weird kind of funny ala Caro/Jeunet. Reading this review and noting the Rotten Tomato scores next to Netflix’s 4 stars makes a point: The Warrior’s Way is not a film for just anyone.