Hyper-violent and hyper-stylized to the max, The Warrior’s Way suggests what you’d get if you mashed-up the ouevres of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Zack Snyder, Sergio Leone and Ronny Yu. Samurais battle cowboys in a surreal dreamlike old West while bearded ladies and circus clowns prance around the edges, and if that sounds at all intriguing — it isn’t. For all its razzle-dazzle, The Warrior’s Way turns out to be an unwieldy, uninvolving folly.
The film is a collage of “likes”: like Snyder, director Sngmoo Lee has shot this hybrid mishmash of martial arts and Western films on a greenscreen, painting in much of the image digitally; like Leone, Lee doesn’t shy away from blood staining dusty sand and rawhide; like Jeunet, Lee populates his film with Quirky Characters™ and eccentrically lighthearted comic elements; like Yu, Lee loves to shoot graceful, balletic swordfights against painterly backgrounds. That’s an awful lot of “likes” for one film to have.
To be fair, Lee isn’t the first magpie director (paging Quentin Tarantino!), but he fails to make his film feel like anything more than the sum of its influences. Aping Snyder’s digital-world immersion, Lee doesn’t exactly “wow” us; he just sticks us in slick, polished videogame, and the he lacks the magic to pull off any kind of Jeunet-style oddball lovability. The story itself is trite: Yang (Jang Dong-Gun) is the world’s best assassin, until he refuses to kill an infant — the last remaining member of an enemy clan — which makes him an enemy, yada yada yada. Eventually, he finds his way across the sea to the old West town of Lode, where he starts over working as the town laundry, romancing a feisty local tomboy, and eventually risking his own refuge to come to the town’s aid when a snarling, villainous general rides into town….
Yawn. A movie like The Warrior’s Way isn’t about the story anyway, but about action, and even then it disappoints. Not that there’s not plenty of action. There is, and its damn bloody action, but Lee is so intent on making us go “Cool!” that there’s nothing cool about it. The violence is a cartoon and a cartoon we’ve seen before. It’s only at the lunatic end — when samurai finally tussle with cowboys, and clowns bear arms while Ferris Wheels explode– that The Warrior’s Way finally comes alive, establishes an identity and serves up the demented pulp spectacle we’ve been expecting. Otherwise, the movie is an inert, clumsy and stitched-together hodgepodge of ideas from other, better filmmakers, coasting on slickness, devoid of heart and ingenuity.
Familiar faces show up, doing variations of characters they’ve played before. Geoffry Rush slums it as a stumblebum town drunk; Kate Bosworth is likable and sexy as that feisty love interest (and looks damn good in red hair); Danny Huston snarls, again, as the general. Dong-Gun is one of Korea’s top superstars but you wouldn’t know it from here; all he has to do his pose and look stoic. That’s pretty much The Warrior’s way as well. It’s nothing but pose.