I’m not sure who this movie was made for. I could maybe recommend The Warrior’s Way to a handful of people (including co-critic Ken Hanke). If you can imagine a kung-fu flick made by Baz Luhrmann and Sergio Leone, then you would start to get an idea of the world in which the film operates. You would also get a good idea of whether or not this movie is for you.
The film marks the American debuts of South Korean director Sngmoo Lee and actor Dong-gun Jang. Thankfully, The Warrior’s Way is not some American-ized rehash of Ji-woon Kim’s “Oriental Western” The Good, The Bad, The Weird, which came out earlier this year, nor is it the stiff-backed movie its ponderous title might suggest. The Luhrmann comparison is the most apt, because—while the film isn’t as frantic as Moulin Rouge! (2001)—its color palette and sensibilities are similar. But above all, The Warrior’s Way is a movie. Any sense of realism is abandoned in favor of a fanciful action yarn that oozes style.
It is, however, an approach that takes getting used to. The film’s opening, with its CGI-painted backgrounds and occasional titles that float across the screen (in Comic Sans, the world’s most garish font, nonetheless) makes the whole thing look a bit cheap. But as the film progresses—and as long as you’re able to give yourself up to the world it’s created—The Warrior’s Way can be a pretty impressive, unique piece of action filmmaking.
As far as plot goes, we have our hero Yang (Dong-gun Jang), the world’s greatest swordsman (so we’re told), fleeing his former clan in the East after he refuses to murder an infant who is the last of their enemies. Yang ends up in a ramshackle town in the middle of the American West, inhabited by a Fellini-esque carnival and a ragtag group of settlers. There, he meets Lynne (Kate Bosworth, showing some personality for the first time in her career), whose family was murdered years ago by the nefarious Colonel (Danny Huston, in a pretty juicy villain role), whom she disfigured with a skillet full of hot potatoes (à la Tyler Perry).
Yang—arriving in this peculiar and fantasticated world with the infant he saved—begins to learn what it means to be a normal person and not an emotionless killer. On paper, this is nothing special, but the film goes about it in a charming, almost genteel way. But don’t let that fool you, the film remains a pretty violent, bloody affair, but one that’s handled in an overtly stylized—and almost poetic—fashion. In all, it’s a playful take on the action movie, and for those who can handle a lack of gritty realism with their actioners, look no further. Considering that it opened in a dismal ninth place among the weekend’s new offerings at the box office, it would probably be a good idea to take that look with all possible speed. Rated R for strong bloody violence.