Movie review: ‘The Warrior’s Way’
A master swordsman leaves his homeland of warring clans for the Wild West in the bloody wuxia/shoot-em-up hybrid “The Warrior’s Way.” But South Korean filmmaker Sngmoo Lee’s debut feature is less a genre-spanning romp than a tiresome lab experiment in computer-generated tropes and green-screen oppressiveness.
The human part involves quietly dashing Korean star Jang Dong-Gun as the stoic, blade-wielding nomad Yang, who brings his waylaid enemies’ lone survivor, a baby girl he can’t bring himself to kill, to an American frontier outpost made up mostly of circus workers led by a welcoming ringmaster named Eightball (the always appealing Tony Cox).
There Yang takes over a laundry, grows flowers, teaches the spiritual side of knife-throwing to a lipsticked yet still grime-laden Annie Oakley type ( Kate Bosworth, working her own unfortunate hybrid of yeehaw and sultry) and tussles with a perverted colonel in a burn mask ( Danny Huston, all leer, sweat and tongue) who regularly terrorizes the locals, while Geoffrey Rush regularly terrorizes us with his clichéd town drunk.
The real showdown, though, comes when our hero’s none-too-happy master makes a third-act appearance with an army of black-clad assassins, who swoop ninja-style onto the rooftops like a murder — no, make that slaughter — of crows.
The aforementioned image is an admittedly nifty only-in-martial-arts-extravaganzas entrance, cartoony but kicky, and appropriately pregnant with mayhem, which Lee then delivers with no lack of R-rated gusto. But for the most part, “Warrior’s Way” — an outdoor story shot indoors, “300"-style — is a regrettable example of the cyclical nature of movie special effects.
The digitized backdrops and blood sprays, physics-defying stuntwork and micro-slo-mo tours of traveling bullets and slashing blades is technically admirable, but this menu of action schematics has become as stultifyingly rote as rear-screen projection and stop-motion inevitably were to earlier generations of moviegoers.
What’s missing, like a hole, is a visionary personality — think Stephen Chow or Johnnie To — who can turn comically violent Pop art on its head. Lee’s hunger to flamboyantly distract with his bag of tricks is never in doubt, but “The Warrior’s Way” is a dead end and too often plays like a requiem for showoffs.
‘The Warrior’s Way’
MPAA rating: R for strong bloody violence
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: In general release