Apparently the way of the warrior is to travel down several paths at once, but never excel on any of them. “The Warrior’s Way,” written and directed by Sngmoo Lee, works hard to be a highly-stylized fantastical romp with a mix of martial arts action, quirky comedy, and heart-wrenching drama, but it can’t quite nail any of them.
Lee tells the story of Yang (Dong-gun Jang), the best-ever warrior ninja whose mission is to kill every last member of a rival clan. But when the clan’s final member turns out to be a laughing baby, Yang has a change of heart, turning him into the enemy of his own clan. Yang flees with the baby to an old west town of misfit circus folk, who are battling their own cowboy demon.
“The Warrior’s Way” is driven by the stunning visuals that strive to create a magical world where the sun is always setting and ninjas defy gravity. While many of the scenes are visually appealing, you never forget that it’s filmed on a soundstage with plenty of green screen backgrounds. Lee seems to be trying to achieve the whimisical fancy and visual kaleidascope of Paris from “Moulin Rouge,” but on a recession budget. The ghost town is even billed as “the Paris of the west” and features its own vertically deficient leader (Danny Cox). John Leguizamo’s Toulouse-Lautrec was better.
But just as the visual effects fail to come together, so does the rest of the film. In the opening scenes, subtitles attempt to introduce the humor of the film, but it is just too awkward to be funny. It took me awhile to figure out that this was intentional comedy and not just bad drama. But even now I am not convinced that some of the laughs weren’t developed as an afterthought.
The fight scenes will definitely have limited appeal to those looking for traditional martial arts action. Yes, the ninjas are pretty cool as they fly through the air and blood creatively poofs and pours, but the battles are extremely short. While this is a pleasant surprise for those who are not into extended fight scenes, it keeps it from being the martial arts flick that many will expect it to be.
Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of “The Warrior’s Way” is the inconsistent dialogue that keeps the viewer from knowing what type of film it’s watching. An effort to add style and quirkiness to the characters results in uninspired caricatures, most notably that of Lynne (Kate Bosworth). Bosworth does a miserable job of delivering such horrible lines as, “You’re slower than molasses in January,” with an accent that is a little too close to that of Jessie from “Toy Story 2.” And it’s just plain uncomfortable to have the town’s villain (Danny Huston) delivering wry punch lines while looking for his next rape victim.
Lee is closest to success with the dramatic portion of his script. When you strip away the overbearing style and misfired humor, the story is actually compelling. There are times when Bosworth forgets her Annie Oakley persona and we have a meaningful connection between two broken people. The dancing-with-knives scene with Yang and Lynne is a nice moment where the style and story actually work together. And Geoffrey Rush finally redeems himself once it is revealed that he is more than the cartoonish town drunk who randomly appears for most of the movie (I can’t help but think that Rush shot many of the scenes not knowing his character’s own back story). Unfortunately, these quality moments are overshadowed by the chaos that is the rest of the film.
“The Warrior’s Way” is definitely unique, but it tries too hard to be so. If the entire movie would have been consistent with its final fifteen minutes, this may have been a valiant effort. But as it is, it’s a movie that tries to be too many things and loses itself along the way.
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