Written and Directed by: Smgmoon Lee
Starring: Dong-gun Jang, Kate Bosworth, Tony Cox, Geoffrey Rush, Danny Huston
Rated: R for strong bloody violence.
“The Warrior’s Way” is a pitch-perfect blend of two stylized genres: the Western and the Assassin/Samurai Flick. That the two genres have a lot in common isn’t exactly news (consider Sergio Leone’s Western remakes of classic Kurosawa samurai films). The film opens with a lone swordsman facing off against a large group of assassins and ends with the classic walking off into the sunset (followed by an awesome little epilogue). This film is packed with familiar tropes aplenty, but it puts a new spin on them by combining them. Much like listening to a well-done mashup of two great songs, it’s all the more satisfying for the precision with which the two genres are combined.
Our hero is Yang (Dong-gun Jang), the Greatest Swordsman in the History of Mankind, Ever (we know this because he kills the former holder of the title in the opening sequence). He has studied and trained long and hard to reach this pinnacle, and served his clan faithfully in its rivalry against a neighboring clan. He and his brethren have killed every member of that other clan, save one: a baby girl being transported by the late former Greatest Swordsman. When Yang sees her, he cannot bring himself to kill her, and goes on the run, bringing her along so he can protect her.
Knowing he’s now enemy number one of his clan, he travels to the Old West, planning to join a friend of his who has already moved out there. He arrives to find his friend dead and the town nearly abandoned — there’s a circus in town, hoping to revitalize the place and create a permanent home for themselves by building a huge Ferris wheel, but the buildings are dilapidated and the townsfolk are far from optimistic. We meet the cast of secondary characters: Lynne (Kate Bosworth), who was partially trained in the ways of the sword by Yang’s late friend; 8-Ball (Tony Cox), a circus midget who more or less runs the town; and Ron (Geoffrey Rush), the town drunk — who fairly obviously knows more than he’s letting on.
Yang seals his sword and takes over his dead friend’s laundry business, planning to settle down for good and raise his young charge, but what kind of movie would it be if that happened? A local bandit leader, The Colonel (Danny Huston), has been terrorizing the town for years, and it doesn’t take long for Yang to find himself forced to choose between losing the town and people he has come to care about or unsealing his sword and taking up his violent lifestyle again. Things are further complicated by the impending arrival of his clan, who have followed him to the new world.
This is a film which takes itself the right amount of seriously. The fights are beautifully choreographed, with perfectly-timed slowing and speeding up of time and clever cinematography. The dialog has just the right amount of self-referential wit and each revelation is deftly set up in advance. There isn’t a lot of subtlety here, but one doesn’t generally go to a Western or a swordslinger flick for subtlety.
First-time writer-director Sngmoon Lee has a good eye — some of the color-saturated longshots show their computer-generated nature a little too much, but he paints with a consistent and carefully-chosen palette and many of the shots are beautifully composed. He also has spot-on timing, which is vital to this sort of film. I’ll be watching for his next flick.
“The Warrior’s Way” is not a film to see if you want complex characters or subtlety. If, however, you enjoy both Westerns and the samurai/ninja genres, do not miss it.