Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Warrior's Way Review

In the past few years, we have seen resurgence in two seemingly lost film genres. One would be the classic Western. The other, the epic Kung Fu spectacle. You may have been thinking The Warriors Way endeavors to combine these two winning themes into an exciting new beast, but the film’s creators have a bit more in store for you. Add a heaping spoon full of French art film oddity and the quirky, slightly over the top imagery of a pulp comic book thrust into reality and NOW you are a little closer to the end result. Is this the bastard offspring of a spaghetti western, Asian mythological wire fighting epic and lushly colored foreign art house indie film three-way? Pretty much! Yea!

The Warriors Way opens on Yang (Dong-gun Jang), the greatest swordsman who ever walked the Earth. His clan has been in constant battle with a rival clan and now, with countless bodies strewn about his feet, he looks into the eyes of the child that is the last of his enemies’ offspring and has a change of heart. Now he must leave behind the life he once knew, as becoming protector of the enemy makes him the target of his own clan. The journey takes our new hero to America and a burned up, dried out, falling over, sleepy little CGI town of nowheresville (my name not theirs) populated by circus folk struggling to survive. I’ll allow you a moment to let that sink in and add they are led by a little person named 8 Ball (Tony Cox) whose own special brand of kung fu involves attacking the groin of his enemy with furious anger and a steel grip. Sorry for that bit of spoiler, but if that alone isn’t the hook that gets you into the theater to see this movie, I don’t know what is! Also in the town is the one pretty girl with all her teeth; Lynne (Kate Bosworth), who survived the brutal death of her family and is now just counting the seconds until she can take revenge. It’s also important to mention that Lynne is the real life embodiment of the spitfire cowgirl from Toy Story…but with knives. We’ve also got Geoffrey Rush as the comical town drunk with a mysterious past.

Yang is adopted by this oddball town and becomes their laundry man (ahhh..stereotypes are fantastic!), forging friendships with the people within... especially Lynn who seems a kindred spirit. Yang can appreciate her urge for revenge and trains her in the ways of the sword while slowly allowing his heart to open for the first time in his life. Of course, it is only a matter of time before the marauding band of cowboys led by the murderous, raping Colonel (Danny Huston) will return to shoot the place to holy hell…or will the clan of assassins known as the Sad Flutes rain down on the town with ninja wrath before they can get there?

At this point you must be thinking “What a fucking mess”, but this clashing of imagery against an ultra stylistic backdrop is becoming common place. Hell the trailer for Sucker Punch has giant Samurai, dragons, robots AND World War 2 fighter planes and I’m still insanely optimistic! Once you’ve accepted that The Warriors Way is very much ripped from the ethereal pages of some comic book fever dream, the lush colored skies make perfect sense as backdrop to a town of dirty circus folk! The real miracle is that the over the top themes never go so far as to tread into “Wild Wild West” or “The Spirit” territory. Our main hero is quiet and thoughtful with a thousand mile stare…exactly what you’d want in a killer swordsman/ western hero. In counterpoint, our primary bad guy (the Colonel) is just the right amount of despicable, murdering rapist (if there is such a thing) as not to be a drooling psychopath chewing up every scene and sprouting giant mechanical spider legs in the finale. He doesn’t look for laughs, doesn’t do an evil guy dance, doesn’t scream into the camera every five minutes and doesn’t turn red with rage to the point that the veins in his neck stand out. He is the perfect bad guy who you will be happy to see die in a horrible way, when the time comes. These days, it’s a miracle they pulled that off in a movie like this!

Acting is more than adequate throughout this sort of misfit adventure. As ridiculous as each character that comes along may be, they remain completely believable. This made me think of movies like “City of Lost Children” where a character will walk up to you in clown makeup, for no apparent reason, and stare at you, unflinching, until you say “Ok..I buy it.” This helps to create a complete pocket universe where you care about the characters in peril and continue to wish for their safety even through the more talky moments of the film. Kate Bosworth practically steals the movie by pushing the typical tomboy cowgirl role so far it seems she’s thrown a dash of Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz” into her waggly, hyper active performance. Even when the story forces her to show the slightest bit of sex appeal to lure the bad guys to their doom, she comes off like a pre-teen with no mothering influence that got a pastel makeup kit for Christmas. The term “Hot Mess’ is even pushing it. Between Kate, Geoffrey Rush’s lovable drunk (who is kept to a minimum) and 8 Ball, the bad ass little person in a top hat, you’ll have plenty to smile about.

Speaking of smiles…BRING ON THE NINJA VIOLENCE!! When we hear about a movie like this, we immediately expect massive doses of CGI blood, slow motion battle, a helping of bullet time and many a cut away death. While The Warrior’s War does include all of the above, you barely see those CGI sprays and what replaces it is oddly artistic for this movie. The battles look fantastic. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say the film’s creators have made the most of the ninja mythos and have them leaping and flying in every way possible while, astoundingly, keeping them human and therefore, killable. If ninja bloodshed was the only thing you need to get you in a seat this weekend, consider it covered. If a band of dirty cowboys armed to their nasty, rotting teeth is icing on the cake, then you should be per-ordering your tickets as we speak. All those things are delivered through the skillful eye of a cinematographer and director who know how to set up a scene, keep things fresh and are amazingly adept at amping up the drama before the bodies fall.

You’ve got amazing feats of ninja death dealing, killer costuming you’ll want to mimic come Halloween, ultra stylized imagery, enjoyable acting performances at every turn and a bloody finale that will satisfy every sadistic bone in your body. To be sure, the plot of The Warrior’s Way is as thin as can be with themes we’ve seen time and time again and while the film gets lovably introspective, you’d hardly call it deep. It is execution that makes this genre mash-up an action-packed roller coaster of ninja awesome that’s fun for the whole family, provided the youngest member is at least 13 (lest you’ll be explaining rape on the way home in the car.) Go into the theater programmed for fun and you won’t be disappointed.

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