All Those Promises
by Molly Templeton
THE WARRIOR’S WAY: Written and directed by Sngmoo Lee. Cinematography, Woo-hyung Kim. Music, Javier Navarrete. Starring Dong-gun Jang, Kate Bosworth, Danny Huston, Geoffrey Rush and Tony Cox. Relativity Media, 2010. 100 minutes. R.
In short, I’m a sucker. And in hindsight, it was unlikely that The Warrior’s Way was really going to work that well. But the promise of the thing! Sword-wielding warriors versus dirty outlaws! In the desert! With a circus, for good measure! Or at least something like a circus. Something that requires a half-finished Ferris wheel on which to stage a climactic set piece. Because that’s the kind of movie The Warrior’s Way is: a film mostly concerned with how to move its little figurines from point A to point B in a way that guarantees maximum carnage and minimum investment from the audience.
The story is standard vengeance times two: In an entertainingly corny voiceover, we learn how the warrior (the pretty-faced Dong-gun Jang, from The Promise) came to be the most badass swordsman in the world, then set aside the sword when he couldn’t kill the baby who was the last of his enemies. (First, he kills a lot of faceless dudes who, like all baddies in this film, look like they’re cut-and-pasted versions of one another.)
Naturally, this means everybody wants the warrior dead, so he splits, opting to head to a place kind of like the American West (nationality and location are neatly fudged so that nothing has to hew to reality), where an old friend has set up a laundry. But as should be clear from the filthy clothing worn by the town’s residents, said friend has since passed on. Handily, there’s a saucy minx named Lynne (Kate Bosworth, siphoning off Robin Weigert’s Calamity Jane from Deadwood) to help the warrior learn to run the laundry. Lynne’s got her own history, and it involves the disfigured Colonel (Danny Huston), who rides into town with his gang every so often, hoping to assault women who have good dental hygiene.
All of these elements truck along for what feels like several hours, building cliché upon cliché as the characters move toward the inevitable showdown. Lynne wants to learn to throw knives, but is mysteriously still totally ineffective in a fight. The circus performers add a quirky visual touch, but writer-director Sngmoo Lee, in his debut feature, can’t quite figure out how to use them as anything but backdrop — just more shallow, funky clutter, like the exaggerated sunsets, unlikely flower garden and endless supply of cheap hooch consumed by the not-so-mysterious and constantly drunk Ron (Geoffrey Rush). There’s fun to be had in the blending of anachronistic, illogical elements; the fantastical side to The Warrior’s Way should’ve been more fully indulged. When the warrior kills an assassin with a dead fish, only to be immediately faced with a whole phalanx of enemies, Lee’s film is on its firmest footing: absurd, exaggerated, suggesting the kind of elegant, engrossing violence a film full of swordfighting semi-samurai can provide. But when you promise the best swordsman in the world, you need to deliver more than a slow-motion sprint through a row of bad guys and a misty spurt of blood, even if your warrior looks beautifully conflicted when he stands victorious and alone.