Who’s In it: Dong-gun Jang, Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush, Tony Cox, Danny Huston
The Basics: After betraying his clan to spare the life of an infant, swordsman Yang (South Korean superstar Dong-gun Jang) hides out halfway across the world in an Old West ghost town populated by a disheveled band of circus performers. With the baby girl he couldn’t bring himself to kill in tow, Yang puts down his sword and makes a new life for himself replete with a gardening hobby, a laundry business, and a budding romance with a spunky young knife-thrower (Kate Bosworth) – until enemies descend upon the town and force the former assassin to return to his violent ways.
What’s The Deal: We’ve seen a spate of East-West genre hybrids mashing up the mutually referential worlds of samurai types and gunslingers in recent years (see: Sukiyaki Western Django, The Good, The Bad and The Weird, Tears of the Black Tiger), and certain other filmmakers have made said worlds collide with more depth and facility than first-time director Sngmoo Lee. But there’s an undeniably ballsy bravado in Lee’s over the top, eye-winking, fish-out-of-water Western fantasy, filmed with heavy use of 300-style CG effects and sets that don’t attempt to hide the strange artificiality of it all, but rather heighten the incongruous pop fever-dream feel. The cast struggles at times with ridiculous setups, dialogue and accents (as does the viewer, cringing especially hard during a few awkward romantic exchanges) but Lee’s fantastically dynamic, over-the-top comic action sequences and striking visual compositions make it worth the view.
What’ll Make Your Inner Fanboy/Girl Squeal: The “Brad Pitt of Korea,” Jang speaks English in this vehicle in an attempt to cross over to Hollywood audiences, though he’s still given minimal dialogue as the brooding dead-eyed former assassin. Not that it matters; the film’s best scenes involve the silent swordsman slicing his way through countless cowboys and ninjas alike with the assured and deadly grace of Zatoichi, leaving artful CG blood sprays hanging in the air. Extra bad-ass points go to a climactic scene in which Yang weaves his way down a darkened hallway illuminated only by bursts of gunfire, a comic moment involving an unmanned machine gun, and the satisfying way in which Bosworth’s petite-but-gutsy character is allowed to fight her own vicious battle.
Geoffrey Rush Is Campaigning For This Year’s Oscar Race: Just not with his turn as the town drunk with a secret past in The Warrior’s Way. For a while you almost feel sorry for the Secretariat of acting (he’s won an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony award) as he boozes his way through one scene after another, seemingly wasted in the film’s supporting cast of dirt-covered circus freaks. (Rush’s character eventually gets one of the more satisfying arcs of the film, which culminates with him sniper-shooting baddies from a perch high atop a Ferris wheel.) By sheer coincidence, Rush balances this lowbrow excursion with a role in one of the most highly acclaimed films of the year: The King’s Speech. Both films are currently in theaters in select cities, so you know what to do. (Geoffrey Rush double feature!)
So, To Recap The Things You’ll See In The Warrior’s Way: Flying mystical ninja-warriors jumping out of thin air, 300-style green screen, lots of fantasy CG slicing and dicing (with minimal actual gore), the Korean Brad Pitt brooding silently like a sword-wielding supermodel, slow-motion action sequences, bullet time, adorable baby close-ups, dust-covered carnies, clowns used as target practice, fish used as stabbing utensils, evil Danny Huston vamping it up like he always does, a bearded lady, Tony Cox as a little person ringmaster, a massive CG-enhanced Old West showdown between carnies, samurai, and cowboys, and a single chaste kiss.