Judge Jon Mercer was once the greatest swordsman and proudest assassin of the Sad Glockenspiel Clan.
Our review of The Warrior's Way (Blu-ray), published July 11th, 2011, is also available.
This is the story of a Sad Flute, a laughing baby, and a lethal sword.
The concept of East colliding with West is hardly new to adventure films. I can remember watching Charles Bronson and Toshiro Mifune deal out an ass-whuppin' together on many a Sunday afternoon during my childhood. However, at least to this geek, Samurai and Cowboys don't cross steel nearly enough. Forget about Cowboys vs. Aliens, who doesn't want to see the Wild West with Ninjas?
Facts of the Case
Dong-Gung Jang (Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War) is Yang, the strongest assassin of the Sad Flute Clan (named for the sound emitted from a throat freshly cut). He is a swordsman without peer, a warrior with empty eyes who discovers a conscience when ordered to slay the last living member of an opposing clan, an infant princess. Refusing, he flees to the faraway wastes of the Wild West, seeking a peaceful life amongst a desolate town populated by the members of a once proud traveling circus. This halcyon existence is soon threatened by two converging storms. One is a band of vicious bandits led by a disfigured and truculent Colonel (Danny Huston, X-Men Origins: Wolverine). The other his former brothers in arms, who have sailed on seas of blood to the New World in search of their wayward comrade and the loose end he failed to tie. For Yang, both problems require a single solution: a sword's true place is never in its scabbard.
Have you ever had the pleasure of a cold glass of properly prepared sangria? It's a delicious concoction made of various fruits and berries (really, anything will do), left to soak overnight in a pitcher of red wine and other random spirits, until the flavors mingle into a mixture that when made right is always unique and instantly refreshing. When done wrong, all that amounts is a wasted bottle of wine and a bushel of spoiled fruit. The Warrior's Way lies somewhere in between. It's made of tropes both familiar and favorite to Westerns (as well as their samurai brethren, which I like to call "Easterns"); with stuff like the emotionally distant wandering swordsman who finds himself the unlikely guardian of a defenseless child, the town filled with beleaguered cowards plagued by a pack of murderous bandits, and the shadows of the hero's bloodstained past following him to his new life. It's totally the type of carnage I like to see in my action and fantasy, and it wears every cliché proudly on its sleeve. Unfortunately the parts don't mingle the way they should, and while the potential for fun exists, there's definitely a bitter aftertaste that robs the movie of its punch. The Warrior's Way is also home to the same sort of mistakes that have corroded a once dominant movie genre in a manner so dire that more than one competent entry released during a summer season becomes an event.
Filmed primarily in front of green screens and stylized by newcomer Sngmoo Lee with a hyperkinetic flavor not unlike Sin City or 300, The Warrior's Way plays out like a Korean Manhwa come to life. Visual flourishes such as swords cleaving raindrops in twain keep the comic book sensibilities thick in the air, and, truthfully, it's during these moments that the movie fins its surest footing. Yes, we've all seen waves of incoming nogoodniks get mowed down by the precise sword swings of a skillful hero, especially in the wake of Zack Snyder's Spartan epic, but that doesn't make the effect any less potent. During the film's two main action sequences, Yang goes off like a sword-slinging force of nature, a chimera that is Half-Man and Half-Cuisinart. While there is no evidence that Dong-Gung Jang is a martial arts master, the strong camerawork and visual polish radiates a dreamlike state in which he is a believably lethal fighter. It's a pleasant illusion. Villains are dispatched into mists of blood and sinew in a display that is almost worth the price of admission.
If the Facts of the Case above make The Warrior's Way sound like a surefire bet for an evening's entertainment, I apologize for the deception. For while there's a perverse sense of fun to the package, the rest of the movie is about as watertight as a kitchen strainer. The second act is uncomfortably hollow, despite being stuffed to the gills with ancillary characters like Lynne (Kate Bosworth, Superman Returns), a piss 'n vinegar firebrand with a tragic past and a serious hankering' for revenge, or the mysterious souse (Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech) who is using alcohol to nurse, you guessed it, a tragic past! There's an unfortunate load of hooey as to why Yang can never again unsheathe his blade (unfortunate in that it only served to make me reach for the similar, and vastly superior Sword of the Stranger) and a dry white toast budding romance between the emotionally distant protagonist and Kate Bosworth, who despite a rootin'-tootin' accent and a mane of fiery ginger, comes off about as convincingly as sawdust. Even Rush, who has devoured scenery in similar roles seems bored in The Warrior's Way. The only thing that saves this long expanse of cinematic desert is a deliciously slimy comic-book villain played with gouda-esque gusto by Danny Huston. Of course, in the last fifteen minutes, the film rediscovers its pulse, somebody gives Geoffrey Rush a strong cup of coffee, and blood flows in the dusty streets. However, with only two real action sequences in a one hundred minute feature, audiences can be forgiven for reacting like a pack of hungry dogs once a little scrap of action meat is tossed their way.
Judging by the screener disc Fox sent my way, I am unable to deliver any recommendation based on its audio or video strengths. The picture seemed clean enough (for a DVD-R), and I'm sure the final product won't be horrible or anything. At the very least The Warrior's Way is colorful, with a palette of vibrant reds that seemed to mix nicely with some deep blues and looked visually interesting. The score is effective if forgettable, using a nice fusion of Southeast Asian instruments and a love of the works of Ennio Morricone.
The retail release is looking somewhat lean on extras, with only an extremely short behind the scenes montage featuring interviews with the stars and stunt crew, as well as a fleeting glimpse at the green screen setup offered by producer Barrie Osbourne (The Lord of the Rings). Rounding out the special features is a rough thirteen minutes worth of deleted scenes that if nothing else beg the question why these meager scraps of action were even sliced from the final film to begin with.
When its blood is pumping on all eight cylinders, The Warrior's Way makes for a fine weekend watch, the same sort of bipolar pastiche of styles that seems just goofy and gory enough for refined movie geeks to tip back a bottle of brew and holler in glee at. Its blade however, is dulled by disjointed pacing, and a towering stretch of runtime dedicated to a parched, flavorless and utterly clichéd romance between the two main characters that is completely barren of life. Movie fans who can enjoy an evening under the influence of adrenaline regardless of its flaws might want to check the rental shelf for The Warrior's Way. Otherwise, do as the bad guys should have done, and leave Yang the hell alone.
I'd say this one is guilty, but I like having a head on my shoulders, so we'll offer a stay of execution for now.
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