Friday, December 10, 2010

The Warrior's Way

Spoiler alert-o-meter: Medium spoiler alerts ahead.

The Warrior’s Way is a mash-up of multiple genres and movies—Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, wild west meets Asian buddy movies (yes, it’s a very limited genre, but it exists thanks to Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon/Knights), Fellini-esque fascination with character grotesquery, the comic book/graphic novel, and the visual whimsy (minus the originality) of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Amélie and the City of Lost Children. It's been described as a Wuxia Western, the mixture of martial arts chivalry and the American Western.

The debut of director Sngmoo Lee, The Warrior's Way looks like it was designed and shot in a computer program. It’s one of those movies where the exterior scenes are hyper-stylized, over-processed, with the sepia cranked to eleven. The action appears to happening within the panels of a comic book (for visual reference points, see Sin City and Speed Racer). That’s good and bad. It’s an effect that adds to the anything-can-happen adrenaline shot the movie wants its audience to experience, while also leaving nothing to the imagination. There’s no in between or breathing room, making for an obvious and tiring movie going experience.

But, it’s also goofy fun. Popular South Korean actor Dong-gun Jang (whose acting style is minimal, austere, and he only comes alive when he's working the sword) plays Yang, a warrior during the late 1800s or early 1900s (my guess) who longs to be the best warrior in the world ("ever," as a subtitle over-explains).

When Yang finally kills the best warrior to capture the title (as defined by who, exactly?) he discovers that a baby lolling in a nearby bassinet is the next generation of his enemy. The baby smiles at the tough Yang and melts his cold heart. Yang travels with the baby to the American West to avoid his own clan who insist he kill their enemy’s next generation. He ends up in a small town where his old friend lives.

Turns out Yang's friend is dead, and the town—a sanded-over desert boom-town gone bust complete with a set of forlorn citizens—is in shambles. The centerpiece of the erstwhile town is a traveling carnival that had stopped there years before and got stranded. All this exposition, in case you have your eyes closed during the movie, is obnoxiously voiced-over for you.

What’s a bored warrior with lots of time on his hands to do? He decides to lay roots and reopen his old friend’s laundry business (Note: the original name of the movie was, get this: Laundry Warrior. A lost opportunity for best movie title ever). The warrior meets a young lady, Lynne. Lynne is played by Kate Bosworth, with a rictus smile and a manic energy that makes up for her leading man’s somnolence. It’s fair to say that her technique is so over the top as to appear another CGI effect.

Kate flirts with Yang while he teaches her the fine art of swordsmanship. She needs to defend herself because, as it turns out, Kate’s parents and sibling were killed years ago by a band of bad men, led by Danny Huston as a character called Colonel. And Colonel and his pack of nasty gunmen return to pick up terrorizing the town where they left off. Kate, using the element of surprise (Colonel thinks he's killed her years back), tries to dispatch him, but only makes him angrier. Yang saves her life but Colonel escapes.

And on and on it goes. You either like this kind of stuff or you don’t. I’m not sure what age group this movie is aimed for: some of the humor in the beginning is sophomoric, to a degree that I was shaking my head and waiting for the laugh track since nobody in the theater was laughing. But the violence, while entirely computer generated, is grisly, with body parts flying and the spray of blood lovingly attended to with sound effects and lingering camera work (or, program work—I’m not sure where a camera actually comes into play with so much digitization going on).

While full of visual potential, the film's use of a carnival and insistence at populating the town with sideshow freaks has nothing to do with the story. Only one of the characters, a drunk carny played by Geoffrey Rush, turns out to have much to do with the plot. And then he’s only a device to help Yang dispatch not one but two sets of enemies during the elongated climax. 

Although a romance never really blossoms between Yang and Lynne, there is much hooey about how if you love someone and you’re a warrior, you better stay as far away from that person as you can or they will eventually be killed.

 There is some fun to be had:
  • The carnival folk finally fighting back, with Yang and Geoffrey Rush (when he's sober he's an excellent shot) leading the way. 
  • One set of bad guys set upon by the next. Always entertaining!
  • A visually stunning set piece that takes place in a house’s dank upstairs hallways where Yang fights his way through gun toting desperados in near darkness to reach the room where Colonel has stolen the baby (remember that baby?). 
  • The final fight between Lynne and Colonel. She’s no master warrior, and while I never felt her life was in danger for a second (Yang was nearby by the whole time) it was good to finally see some fighting that wasn’t entirely assisted by a computer.
The movie was shot almost two years ago, and is just now in theaters. Probably the post-production process held up the release. Not for the kiddies, but aimed straight for 12-year-olds, The Warrior’s Way is an entertaining, stupid, derivative, and sometimes visually stunning piece of American/Korean pulp hooey.


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Sunday afternoon matinee. Price $8.50. Viewed solo.
Snacks—Peanut butter Builder's Bar.

Coming Attractions:

Season of the Witch. More Nicholas Cage goofiness. Has everyone forgotten this guy can really act?

Sanctum. "An underwater cave diving team experiences a life-threatening crisis during an expedition to the unexplored and least accessible cave system in the world." To say the least.

The Rite. The Exorcist meets Anthony Hopkins, and brings this kind of devil-lives-in-innocent-kids scare tactic to the 21century. "An American priest travels to Italy to study at an exorcism school." Wow, what a boring IMDB description.

The Fighter. Go Micky!


Robin said...

Dell -- I loved reading about this film's visual effects and the group of colorful carnival characters interacting with bands of desperadoes, but this still isn't a movie I would probably run out and see on the big screen. Thanks for giving me a glimpse into a new type of hybrid film.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

Wow, two thumbs up to the Unreliable Narrator! You are an amazing reviewer of movies. ;)

As for the The Warrior's Way...I'll pass.

Dell Smith said...

Someday I'll review a movie people actually want to see! The next few weeks should see an influx of new movies released. The Fighter anyone?

devin said...

Sounds good, maybe I'll find a torrent of it >:)

Nice review!

Dell Smith said...

Sorry I can't help you there.