The Warrior's Way
Back in the late 1980’s, I was offered a job in the panhandle of Florida, working at a pair of radio stations owned by the people for whom I was working at the time. The town was about 30 miles from the beach; I loved taking vacations in Florida and thought this would be a great thing to do. My wife and I packed up everything we owned and moved to the small town of De Funiak Springs, FL. It didn’t take long for us to feel a bit out of place. We were used to living in larger cities with plenty of choices for whatever we wanted and, essentially, a completely different lifestyle. Needless to say, we were looking for a way to get back home pretty quickly. The movie this week, “The Warrior’s Way,” is somewhat like that. Of course, when I did return home, all I needed to do was find a job, not fight off seemingly endless trained assassins.
Yang (Jang Dong-gun) is a swordsman who has been trained since early childhood to be a cold, heartless assassin. He and his clan are led by The Saddest Flute (Ti Lung) and are embroiled in a centuries old feud with another clan. The feud will not end until all of the members of either clan are dead. Yang has nearly completed the extermination and is left with only one survivor; a baby girl. Yang cannot bring himself to kill the innocent child so he scoops her up and plans on heading to America, dodging and killing assassins hidden among the population he encounters as he makes his way to the boat. Once in America, Yang heads to the town of Lode where an old friend lives and may be able to offer some refuge. When Yang arrives, he meets Eight-Ball (Tony Cox), part of a traveling circus that is permanent residents of Lode. The town has seen hard times since the nearby gold mine stopped producing. There are only about 50 residents, Yang’s friend not being one of them as he has died. Yang also meets Lynne (Kate Bosworth), a knife thrower in training. She lacks confidence because, as a teenager, her entire family was murdered by a gang of roving thieves led by The Colonel (Danny Huston), after Lynne scarred The Colonel with a pan of hot grease as he was about to rape her. Lynne was also seriously injured and left for dead. Lynne offers to help Yang re-open his friends’ laundry shop if he will teach her about martial arts. When The Colonel shows up in town again, Yang is faced with a dilemma: Yang has sealed his sword so the sound of it weeping as it kills people will not attract assassins from his former clan. The town needs his help to defeat The Colonel’s army of killers and rapists. Ron (Geoffrey Rush), the town drunk doesn’t offer much encouragement or support, but a long-buried secret from his past, along with Yang’s sword skills, may be enough to defeat The Colonel and save Lynne; but, what about The Saddest Flute and the onslaught of trained assassins who will descend on the town if Yang uses his sword?
“The Warrior’s Way” defies being reviewed, at least by me, because it is sooooo beyond the more reality-based films I’m used to. After all, sword-wielding assassins launching from the bottom a pond or breaking through polar ice is not something I see every day at the movies. I was faced with two choices as I watched the film: First, I could dismiss it out of hand for its over-the-top action and the near-superpowers exhibited by the assassins, or second, I could just roll with it and enjoy the spectacle as it unfolded. I chose option two.
“The Warrior’s Way” is, on its face, rather silly with all the stunts and wire work, the swordsman who is able to kill 20 men at a time, deflect bullets with his blade and appear and disappear at will. Since I was going to accept whatever happened on screen, all of that was perfectly normal in this universe. It was also very entertaining.
While I don’t know much about martial arts films, I do know the single super-fighter who can clear a room of numerous opponents is a long-held tradition of the genre. It is also, in various forms, common in American cinema. “The Warrior’s Way” takes this convention and turns it up to 11. Jang Don-gun is a Korean superstar and has numerous acting and action credits under his belt back home and all over Asia. His cool, quiet expression gives Yang a dangerous undercurrent that says, “I’ll give you enough rope so I’m justified in hanging you.” And by “hanging,” I mean cut you in half or decapitate you. Of course, hero of few words may also be explained by the actor’s need to learn his English dialog phonetically. Still, under the circumstances, it works.
The rest of the cast seems to know the story and style of the movie are silly and they also buy into it. Kate Bosworth plays Lynne in a way that’s similar to the female character in “Oklahoma” who can’t say no. Her enthusiastic anything-is-possible attitude and her playful, innocent charm make her adorable. The pain that’s exposed later in the movie isn’t really handled that well. It makes the character do things that don’t quite fit with what’s come before. While revenge is a great motivator, Lynne abandons all reason as she looks for a way to get close to and kill The Colonel. It’s hard to see Geoffrey Rush as Ron and not think of his character in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing since he’s playing a drunken rouge here as well, but it does sometimes get in the way. Rush is essentially wasted (pardon the pun) in the film. He’s not given much to do and his transformation late in the story is rather slipshod. Danny Huston as the scarred and masked Colonel, fares some better as the amoral, lecherous villain. He also plays his character in a low-key manner which makes him that much more menacing. His Colonel will say nice things to you just before he kills you. Tony Cox as Eight-Ball acts as a mentor to Yang, the new guy in town. Eight-Ball is a guide, source of information and the town’s unofficial community director. There’s nothing particularly memorable about Cox’s performance except a scraggly fake mustache that reminded me of Salvador Dali.
“The Warrior’s Way” is rated R for strong bloody violence. Blood sprays, drips and pools throughout the film. There are numerous instances of arms and heads being cut off and a rather lengthy shot of various body parts lying in a pool of blood along with random flowers. I think that might have been an effort to make an artistic statement. About what, I am unsure.
My complaints aside, “The Warrior’s Way” is a fun, silly mash-up of martial arts and western films. While the western side might get short changed, fans of masked assassins with unnatural abilities, clanging swords and flying blood and body parts should be pleased.
“The Warrior’s Way” gets five guitars.
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