East meets West with fairly positive results in The Warrior's Way. Director Sngmoo Lee uses his debut film to mash up the action elements of Samurai flicks with the rough and tumble lawlessness of a dusty Western. The ensuing carnage is fun to gawk at, but stilted pacing leads to long, dry stretches between the bloodletting.
As the film opens, we are dropped into a tale of two warring clans. On one side, we have the stoic and deadly Yang (Jang Dong-gun). On the other side we have a number of faceless fighters who are living on borrowed time. You see, Yang is very, very quick with his sword. One whoosh of his blade and his opponents are reduced to puffs of blood and so much meat. With them out of the way, Yang prepares to do his clan's final bidding. Unfortunately this means that he must assassinate a cute little girl (Analin Rudd) who just so happens to be the enemy princess. Unable to carry out this act of violence against an innocent child, Yang takes her and goes on the lam. He is now Enemy #1 in the eyes of his own clan.
As Yang travels West with baby in tow, he happens upon a half-horse town inhabited by nomadic circus folk. After some convincing, he settles down with them and starts to lead a seemingly normal life which is highly atypical for him. I guess it helps that a pretty girl named Lynne (Kate Bosworth) has taken a real interest in him. She introduces him to the charms of small town life while he helps her brush up on her knife-throwing skills. She'll need them if she has any hope of exacting revenge on the cruel Colonel (Danny Huston) who killed her entire family. The rest of the film practically writes itself, including a climax that features one villain too many.
From what I've said so far, you can probably gather that the film is quite predictable. Director Sngmoo Lee has assembled it from cinematic tropes that every moviegoer is intimately familiar with. The honor-bound stoic hero, the ragtag bunch of misfits who band together to fight off an overwhelming force...these are all character types we've seen before and Lee knows that. He uses that knowledge to blend together familiar ingredients in a few unexpected ways. Sure you've seen a gunslinger help oppressed townsfolk fight off tyrants with his six-shooter. But replace that gun with a super sharp blade and the equation changes just enough to capture one's attention.
While Lee doesn't sweat the details by keeping the plotting broad and accessible, he does attempt to goose the proceedings with a visual style that is graphic novel surreal. I'm talking about that slightly off-kilter and otherworldly look that 300 and Sin City achieved through the use of green screen and CGI. Although Lee isn't in the same league as Zack Snyder or Robert Rodriguez in terms of visual polish, he sure tries his darndest. We even get a bit of speed ramping just for good measure. This aggressive dedication to achieving a dreamlike state sometimes leaves bits of action looking like videogame cutscenes. However, when it works the rush is undeniable. While the swordplay of the final showdown is far from realistic, it has a visceral impact on the level of pure spectacle.
Although the action setpieces caught my eye, I found myself waiting far too long between them to have my bloodlust satisfied. After an initial display of Yang's badass skills, we have to patiently wait until the film's final act for the action to really kick in. While the midsection of the movie is engaging in its own way, it is no match for what comes before and after it. This indicates a flawed approach in pacing. I understand the point of building an appetite, but in fluffy action fare like this I don't mind when a bone is thrown my way once in a while.
The performances themselves run the gamut. Kate Bosworth pulls off cute and perky despite being saddled with a ridiculous accent while Geoffrey Rush sleepwalks through a forgettable performance as the town drunk with a secret. Danny Huston is sufficiently villainous as the sleazy Colonel with a thing for young girls with nice teeth. Jang Dong-gun fares much better as the quietly destructive force of nature that is Yang. With that said, my favorite performance of the film belongs to Analin Rudd as the adorable little baby in Yang's protection. The film has a lot of reaction shots from the expressive little lass who lights up every scene she's in.
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