Sometimes a movie comes along that is so deliriously outrageous, over-the-top and utterly insane that even with its various flaws, one can’t help but embrace it. In The Warrior’s Way, a ninja is brutally killed after being impaled in the eye with a frozen fish. How can one not find enjoyment in that absurd visual? Some things in life are just beyond criticism.
Paying homage to Spaghetti Westerns and the “Lone Wolf and Cub” series, this film wisely sets a comedic tone from the outset. Yang (Dong Yun-Gang) is a skilled assassin who immediately faces off against “the greatest swordsman in the world… ever.” Unwilling to kill the adorable newborn of his vanquished enemy, Yang turns his back on his Sad Flute clan. Literally carrying the baby around like a grocery store bag by the scruff of the collar, he heads to the Old West and dilapidated town of Lode (“The Paris of the West” as its sign proclaims).
Determined to live a quiet life, Yang begins a laundry business, plants flowers in the desert and befriends the circus performer locals. Also in town are a posterior flashing, drunken sharpshooter named Ron (Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush) as well as love interest Lynne (Kate Bosworth), a woman determined to kill an evil Colonel (Danny Huston) who murdered her family. When the Colonel’s gang ride into town the trouble begins, but when Yang’s vengeance-seeking Sad Flutes also arrive to finish off the baby, events get completely out of hand.
There’s no doubt this movie will perplex many with its unusual tone and visual style. It’s not a movie for everyone. Most of the film is shot in front of a green screen, with exaggeratedly bright Technicolor backdrops bursting from behind. At sunset, the sky is a primary red color straight out of Gone with the Wind, and even the buildings, including an abandoned Ferris wheel, are striking in their hues. None of the beautiful imagery seems photorealistic, but this appears to be the point, creating a fascinatingly surrealist western vibe.
Director Sngmoo Lee shoots the bloody fracases using slow-motion John Woo-esque camerawork. He also attempts a few experiments of his own, including extreme close-ups of sword blades slicing raindrops in half and some of the most exaggerated swordplay seen in some time. Highlights include our hero sidestepping the weapon of a severed body part after an explosion, and chopping the limbs off a machine gun-firing henchman. Naturally, the villain must watch as his severed hands continue firing the weapon after landing on the ground and fill his own body full of lead.
Fascinating experiments are also taken with the film’s score. In a couple of instances, the sound and rhythm of gun fire is incorporated as part of the music, something that this reviewer doesn’t think he has ever seen attempted before.
Of course, while gorgeous to witness, the movie isn’t perfect. The film drags a bit in the second act as Yang tends to laundry, gardening, gets to know locals and teaches Lynne to fight. Some of the tonal shifts are jarring, not all of the jokes work and the acting at times too exaggerated.
The Warrior’s Way possesses a striking bizarreness that will be off-putting to some. It certainly has its share of flaws, but this New Zealand-produced oddity is also refreshingly different from everything else out there. It’s so chock full of energy, ideas and a willingness to try anything to entertain, that one can see it eventually winning over scores of B-movie fans and finding the appreciative cult audience it deserves.
4 out of 5