Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Warrior's Way (2010)


I don't remember hearing anything about this movie when it was in theatres last Christmas . . . possibly because it was only in theatres for about 3 minutes.  It was one of the biggest box office bombs of 2010, with a production budget of $42 million and a worldwide gross of just over $11 million.  Rotten Tomatoes lists a "freshness" rating of only 31% for critics and 46% for moviegoers. 

I confess, I don't really understand why.  I found the movie quite enjoyable.  It may not have reached the lofty heights of "awesome", but it was far from terrible. 

The premise of the movie is an answer to two questions:  "What if the laundry man was the deadliest assassin?" and "Who wins a three-way fight between ninjas, cowboys, and dynamite-wielding carnies?"  With a schtick like that, I confess it seems like it would be a sure fire hit.  Even the opening line of narration--"This is the story of a sad flute, a laughing baby, and a weeping sword"--is a rather unconventional (and in my case, effective) attention-grabber, especially when delivered in Geoffrey Rush's lazy Western drawl, which provides a rather original contrast with a stereotypical minimalist (yet artistically impressive) Asian backdrop. 

The visuals become even more striking once the hero relocates to the Old West.  The dying town, populated almost exclusively by carnival folks, creates an almost surrealist feel, and contrasts nicely with the hero's somber silence and subdued clothing.  The bright colors and bizarre assortment of characters are reminiscent of Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge--gaudy, drab, and highly stylized.  Like all tiny towns in the Old West (or at least tiny towns where extremely-capable-yet-goodhearted killers wind up), this community is victimized by a tyrant--Danny Huston's "Colonel" (no other name is given, or really required).  He is cruel--almost inhumanly so--and utterly revolting.  There is a tale of vengeance to be told here, and the film does not neglect it (though the avenged party is forced to sink to embarrassing levels of incompentence in order to postpone final vegeance until the appropriately climactic moment).

Jang Dong-gun is quietly competent as the lethal Yang, and Tony Cox and Geoffrey Rush lend credibility and pathos to the tale of the has-been carnies.  Kate Bosworth is perhaps unimpressive but inoffensive as the knife-throwing Lynne.  This is not a movie about acting, however.  It is a movie about death, life, new beginnings, dealing with your past (whether it's something you did or something that was done to you) . . . and lots and lots of violence.  Highly stylized violence, but violence nonetheless.  Fortunately, the movie sports a seemingly inexhaustible supply of filthy cowboys and lethal ninjas that can be thrown at one another--with varied, but invariably bloody, results. 

Many of the reviews criticized the film for failing to be truly original.  Yet lack of originality is not a cardinal sin, at least to me.  And there are several creative touches along the way--I for one have never seen a cowboy-ninja-carnie showdown.  The hero's kills are artistically executed, and a lot of people die in very visually striking ways.  There is a lovely sequence in which hand-to-hand combat is portrayed as a sort of dance--and, indeed, for these characters, it is their dance.  I haven't seen a lot of martial arts movies, so perhaps all of this is old hat.  I like originality, but I prefer fun.  And this movie, whatever other flaws it may have, was definitely fun.  And I'll take that over important and original any day.

WARNING:  A dog dies in this movie.  Offscreen, but still.  You have a right to know. 

No comments: