Monday, December 6, 2010

The Warrior's Way

I'm guessing many of you have never even heard of The Warrior's Way. It's OK - I hadn't either. Shot back in 2007 and shelved until this past Friday, the samuari/western mash-up earned only three million dollars in its opening weekend, one of the worst wide-release showings of the year. But does that mean the movie is terrible? Actually, it kind of is - but it's also more entertaining than it has any right to be.

The Warrior's Way
Writer/Director: Sngmoo Lee
Starring: Jang Dong-gun, Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth, Tony Cox, Danny Huston

Set in an indeterminate time period that's neither future nor ancient past, the plot follows an epic swordsman (Jang Dong-gun) on his quest to defeat every member of his rival clan. When it comes down to the last member - an infant girl - the swordsman can't bring himself to kill her, and (shocker!) decides to adopt her and go on the run from his own clan. He holes up in a dilapidated wild west town full of circus characters; the society inexplicably can't get their act together enough to finish the construction on the circus. The town is populated with all sorts of crazy characters: the height challenged leader of the group (Tony Cox), dressed to the nines but known as "8 Ball" because of the number eight scrawled on his bald head; the ex-gunfighter-turned-town-drunk (Geoffrey Rush); a ruthless band of outlaws with a leader (Danny Huston) who enjoys the company of adolescent females; and one of the aforementioned females (Kate Bosworth) who scarred his face and escaped his clutches, now - of course - out for revenge.

As totally contrived as that plot sounds, there's a colossal difference between a movie like this and one like Faster, a similar B-movie themed flick from earlier this year: style. For all of its attempt at recreating 70's revenge movie nostalgia and a sense of raw filmmaking, Faster took itself way too seriously, to the point of being detrimental. The Warrior's Way has no problem being derivative, but it also knows that in order to have a story that's so similar to things we've seen dozens (if not hundreds) of times on screen, they have to add something interesting to the equation. Even if that new addition is the something as simple as the look of the movie, shot almost entirely (if not 100%) in front of green screens down in New Zealand, at least it's contributing something to the greater movie landscape and doing it with some flair.

Like a trainwreck on fire, The Warrior's Way makes it hard to look away: all the dazzling colors and washed-out backgrounds are punctuated with CGI blood spatter as swords go slicing and bullets go blazing. There's a distinct B-movie vibe on full display here, and because the entire film is played tongue-in-cheek, it's hard not to appreciate the over the top attitude. The influence of Zack Snyder is felt not only in the green-screened look of the movie (ala 300), but also in handling the action; the movie cribs Snyder's style but does it adequately enough to make the fight scenes worth seeing. I won't list all of the movies this one copies - that would be an insanely long list - but in an effort to report on the tone of the movie, two came to mind. Clive Owen's Shoot 'Em Up shares the cartoonish atmosphere, and, to a lesser degree, the final act of John Woo's Hard Boiled comes to mind (the baby being the key part of that allusion). More than anything else, though, The Warrior's Way feels influenced by video games. The ability of the near-perfect hero to thrash hundreds of bad guys with little to no danger feels like the best sort of cheat code, one in which to enjoy the barrage of battles and not worry for a second about pesky things like health or mission goals.

It'd be a shame not to mention the performance of Geoffrey Rush, currently gaining awards momentum for his work in The King's Speech, but here channeling co-star Johnny Depp from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. This is Rush's chance to play the stumbling drunk, the wheezing teetering boozer always a second away from passing out, and he does it with gusto. Kate Bosworth also committed to her role, and while I initially found her harsh accent to be grating, I must admit she grew on me as the movie progressed. Danny Huston plays the villain with equal parts camp and sleaze.

It's not even worth it to bring up questions of logic in a movie like this. (If the people in this town are all so jovial and work so well together, why don't they just finish building their Ferris wheel so they can start the circus like they wanted?) This is a movie in which text pops up to alert us that our hero is "the greatest swordsman in the history of mankind...(ever)." It's totally aware of its place in the overall movie realm and embraces that as much as possible. The Warrior's Way is a fun watch - totally unrealistic, ludicrous in almost every way - but unquestionably a lot of fun. Until next time...

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