A surprisingly enjoyable, effects-driven, and irony-laced take on the Samurai Goes West genre, The Warrior’s Way walks lines both fine and broad along its merry, mythic, and comic-bookish path. In some ways, the movie could be seen as a lesser, C-grade variation on Kill Bill, or a distant, expensive echo of TV’s surreal The Wild Wild West, but it keeps winning points for finding heart in the midst of its fun, genre mash-up outlandishness.
From the opening scene of The Warrior’s Way, as our calm, collected, and über-deadly samurai protagonist Yang (played with minimalist charisma by South Korean star Jang Dong-gun) unleashes his graceful blade-swinging fury on a posse of foes, in misty slow-mo, we know there will be blood. And sure enough, it comes in ample portions, especially in the inevitable climactic showdown in the wild American West circus/ghost town. By film’s end, the body count turns into some serious math, all waylaid in balletic-cum-cartoony orgies of violence.
But wait—there’s more, and the “more” is what makes this film more than just a body-count dude flick for fans of video-gaming and fantasy yarns. There are “hell riders,” mystical samurai soldiers descending from the sky, gun-toting clowns, Geoffrey (Shine) Rush dispensing wicked vengeance from the top of a half-finished Ferris wheel, and a group of bit players identified in the credits as “women with bad teeth.”
Key plot points include a treasured baby girl from our samurai hero’s opposing clan, whom he protects rather than kills, and who then becomes precious cargo and a symbol of vengeance-breaking innocence. Directly related to the same innocence protection plan, and part of the film’s sentimental engine, we have the lissome but kickass local girl played by Kate Bosworth. With her frontier twang and lean loveliness, she belies her advancing skills as a knife-thrower and worthy protégé to Yang’s sword’s-edge wisdom. Danny Huston, who has seemingly stumbled onto a Hollywood gravy train as a villain, is an especially pernicious bad guy this time out. With a face mangled in the line of bad-guy duty, he storms in and out of town with casual killing, rare steak dinners, and other mayhem on his mind, armed with his dry, killing wit and blatant disregard for human life.
With his debut film, writer/director Sngmoo Lee has cooked up an expensive and visually elaborate quirk of a film here, which hasn’t gotten the buzz it deserves, but may find second life in the cult film department. In addition to the army of workers on the digital end, Oscar winner Javier Navarrete (Pan’s Labyrinth) supplies a great musical score. Deftly mixing up post-John Ford/John Barry Western-genre musical sweep with left turns and a pinch of “Turkey in the Straw,” Navarrete’s handiwork is half-earnest, half-winking, like the film itself. Needless to say, there’s post-modern circus in this bloodletting, wild, East-meets-West opera.