The Warrior's Way Review
The revitalisation of the Western has come from some unusual quarters in recent years. From the colourful camp of the Thai film Tears of the Black Tiger to the more recent international success of the Korean-made The Good, The Bad, The Weird however, it’s been the Asian take on the genre that has been the most innovative and promising, remaining true in many ways and affectionate towards the spirit of the originals, even if they are somewhat heavily reliant on computer graphics to recreate the look and feel of the old west. With The Warrior’s Way, the next step, perhaps in hindsight, seems inevitable – fusing the ninja martial arts movie with a cowboy picture. It’s amazing no one has thought of it before, and even more surprising that it comes from New Zealand with a Korean director.
Of course, in reality, there’s nothing at all new in the cross-pollination of American westerns and Japanese samurai films, with early American cinema and John Ford in particular being a major influence on many early Japanese filmmakers including Akira Kurosawa, who would in turn see his western-influenced samurai epics Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai remade in the west as A Fistful of Dollars and The Magnificent Seven. If it’s judged at all to be a successful fusion of this kind – and it does exploit the possibilities afforded by the cowboy-versus-ninja concept well and with some degree of style – The Warrior’s Way does however wear its influences particularly heavily.
The set-up, opening in Japan, is handled stylishly, but owes something to the Lone Wolf and Cub films of the 1970s. Having struggled to hone his skills in his battle with a rival clan all his life, Yang finally becomes the Greatest Swordsman in the World, killing the former greatest swordsman, the last remaining member of his enemies’ clan. Although not strictly the last one. A young baby girl remains alive, and Yang (Dong-gun Jang) cannot bring himself to deliver the final fatal blow. Knowing that this outcome will not be accepted by his own clan and their master, Yang leaves Japan (but not before an obligatory bamboo forest battle sequence) and, trying to get as far away as possible from their inevitable reaction, he ends up in the small American western town of Lode, where he hopes to gain the protection of an old friend.
His friend however is no longer alive and Lode itself has seen better days, occupied now only by a rag-tag bunch of circus acts and carnival freaks hoping to establish the town as a base for their show. They are however terrorised by a large group of outlaws (yes, the Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven come immediately to mind) under the command of their vicious and bloodthirsty leader, the Colonel (Danny Huston). Taking up his old friend’s role in the town as the clothes washing and pressing service, Yang also continues the training of Lynne (Kate Bosworth), the typically feisty Calamity Jane-like Western girl, who had been trying to perfect her knife-throwing skills for her circus act, but it’s clear that she has it in mind to use her skills and sword training to enact revenge on the Colonel for the death of her parents when she was a child.
After the striking, if not exactly original opening sequence, the mid-section of the film wades through all the usual Western clichés (including an indifferent Geoffrey Rush as the town drunk) in a knowing but not particularly engaging manner. It’s not helped by the fact that the amount of CGI used to recreate the Western setting is simply painful on the eyes, with every single scene over-saturated with colour – every sunset employs a full range of colours between bright orange and deep purple – and overly elaborate camera movements and bullet-time effects are employed for even the simplest of situations. We’re talking Kung-Fu Hustle levels of artificiality here and with Dong-gun Jang in the main role, comparisons with Chen Kaige’s martial-arts CGI-fest The Promise also come to mind.
Ultimately though, The Warrior’s Way delivers on the promise it offers, as you know it will, so well signposted and predictable is the plotline. The inevitable climax is bloodthirsty and gory in the extreme – severed body parts fly in all directions in the manner of Lone Wolf, if not with quite as much fountaining arterial blood – and some of the set-piece action sequences are most impressively choreographed and filmed, if rather overly-reliant on green-screen and digital effects. I could imagine that if you haven’t seen the original films so heavily referenced, all this will be most entertaining, but in comparison to those classics, The Warrior’s Way falls well short.