Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Warrior's Way (2010)

Cowboys vs. Ninjas

Image: Entertainment Film Distributors

Mad, silly films are tough to get right. After all, it’s one thing to take a bunch of different elements and throw them together, it’s quite another to make it likeable and watchable. It’s also rare that they star an Academy Award winner. So, how does Sngmoo Lee’s martial arts western fare?

A brief prologue shows Yang (Dong-Gun Jang), the best swordsman in the world, decide to spare the life of a baby. This, of course, immediately marks him for death. He runs from China to America, ending up in a small town in the desert populated apparently entirely by a circus troupe. He’s welcomed with open arms, particularly by Lynne (Kate Bosworth), a feisty gal with a dark secret. Both their pasts are about to catch up with them: an army of ninjas and a gang of vicious cowboys led by the monstrous Colonel (Danny Huston).

I wasn’t that interested in watching this film until I saw that Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush and Huston (The Proposition) would be appearing. Admittedly, Huston hasn’t had the best quality control recently, but Rush looked like he was having fun in the trailer. And fun is certainly what writer/director Lee is going for. The film is like a comic book come to life, with all pros and cons that entails. There’s next to no characterisation, the plot is occasionally laughably thin, and some audience members may sniff that the performances are much too hammy.

But, dammit, it’s fun. Bolstered by a welcome sense of humour and knowing full well how silly it 
is, The Warrior’s Way moves quickly along. The circus folk give the film an almost Jean-Pierre Jeunet feel, and the physical gags involving Yang’s treatment of the baby had me giggling. The green-screen works well in the context, with impossibly starry nights and ridiculously orange sunsets. The violence is also impressive; the creativity making up for the occasionally too-obvious CGI.

Yang is appropriately poker-faced as the man of few words/killing machine, Rush gives it all the ham he’s got as town drunk with a secret Ron, while Bosworth (Superman Returns) is surprisingly good as the haunted but lively Lynne. She gets the tone exactly right, almost like a grown up version of Jessie from Toy Story. Yes, I know how strange that sounds. And Jessie never had to meet Huston’s Colonel. When Huston appears on screen, the balance shifts. With half his face covered by a Leatherface mask, the Colonel starts off as a Batman villain before becoming intensely horrifying and threatening. Huston is almost too effective; as it looks like he might actually rape Kate Bosworth you wonder what the hell happened to the film you were just watching.

I can see for some viewers the dark parts might be simply too dark, or the silly parts too silly, but I thoroughly enjoyed this strange, strange mish-mash. Obviously, this isn’t for everyone, but if the notion of cowboys fighting ninjas while a circus troupe is caught in the middle appeals, not to mention the fun of good actors throwing restraint to the wind, this is well worth a look.

Cinematic lunacy of the most entertaining kind.



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