The Warrior's Way Review
After watching The Warrior's Way, I'm certain that the film I saw was based upon a comic book, even if that comic book was only in director Sngmoo Lee's head. Because that's basically what we have here: a movie that tries hard to replicate the feeling of a cinematic version of a graphic novel, resulting in a weird meta-action flick that doesn't do too well on its own.
Let's chat about our hero Yang (Jang Dong-Gun). The world's best swordsman, a member of the Sad Flutes assassins guild, lifelong enemies to another family of assassins. He's the best of the best until he slaughters the last of the opposing clan, only to be stopped short by the laughing of a baby girl. Instantly growing a heart, he takes her and sets off to the town of Lode in the American West, where a wacky rabble of circus performers are all that remains of the once functional ghost town. Spunky Lynne (Kate Bosworth) and Eightball (Tony Cox) take an immediate liking toward Yang, while town drunk Ron (Geoffrey Rush) regards the man from a distance. For twenty minutes we are introduced to the simple idyllic of growing flowers and doing laundry, because this is apparently what retired assassins do.
Of course, nothing is ever as easy as that, so while Yang has the entirety of his former clan hunting for him, the town of Lode has their own problems to deal with. Their biggest problem lies in The Colonel, a bastard of a human being who has a perchance for slaughtering people, including Lynne's family. With a burned and mutilated face from his last encounter with Lynne, he's back for vengeance, and the film ends with a climactic battle when all three groups face off at once.
The plot is as overwrought as you would expect, and the acting borders on the campy side. Poor Rush is slumming it in this one, and Bosworth is a little silly as the wannabe Annie Oakley knife thrower Lynne. Dong-gun does a fine job as Yang, but the mostly silent character isn't exactly broad. He's lauded for his amazing pokerface, and that's pretty much the only face we get throughout the entire film.
The Warrior's Way was also shot almost entirely on green screen, which means the film takes on a very manufactured feel. All of the backgrounds are of stunning sunsets, and while they are very pretty to look at, they feel like a 21st century version of the painted backdrops used in Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. It comes across as very odd looking. Even more, the town of Lode is the most derelict ghost town put on cinema. It just doesn't make sense why anyone would want to stay in this desert hell hole.
Clearly The Warrior's Way is designed as a super stylish film with an almost cartoon or videogame aesthetic. It ultimately feels amateurish in application. There's a clear visual direction here, but it's never quite stylish enough to wow, or even set it apart from other action films. For example, disembodied text is floated above Yang in an early scene, declaring him the greatest swordsman ever; an effect that is oddly used only once. Why is this comic book effect used only once? Why isn't it used throughout the film? Why introduce this effect, then never return to it again?
Unfortunately, even the sword fights themselves fall a little flat. After the advent of crazy special effects with The Matrix, many films go for a superhuman representation of swordplay. It might just be me, but when our hero can leap through the air and slaughter everyone with very little effort, it's too hard to root for the guy when he is basically invincible. The fights are initially enthralling, but there is no suspense, no excitement, and after a while you only want them there to break up the silly plot.
The Warrior's Way is not a very good action flick. Some may find the story to merely be a filler to allow samurai assassins to fight cavalry men like some historic cross-over, but when the movie doesn't even reach these moments until the last 30 minutes, the previous 70 serve only to drag the film down. With cheesy special effects and borderline boring fights, it's hard to put much enthusiasm behind The Warrior's Way. There are better ways to spend your weekend this holiday season.