On the JadedEye Podcast, Alex and I review both the films we’ve seen and the trailer reel before them. A few weeks ago, at the screening of Burke and Hare, we were confronted by a trailer which left both of us scrambling for words. If you listened to said podcast, you’ll remember this well. Even Alex, who generally has an opinion on everything, was struggling to describe what we’d seen. But one thing we both could say was that the trailer was Weird. Fascinating, potentially great, but Weird. The trailer was for a movie called The Warriors Way – it intrigued both of us with its outlandish premise and we made a note to look out for it on release. Well, after much searching we finally found a cinema showing The Warriors Way. And, it appears, for once, our powers of deduction based on a movie trailer were spot on – this film is Weird!
The story begins in Korea. Dong-gun Jang is introduced as the eponymous Warrior, a ninja-swordsman. The best of the best, he single-handedly destroys a group of his greatest foes – an opposing Ninja clan, without breaking sweat. However, when confronted with the last member of this clan, a baby girl, the warrior decides (for no apparent reason) to stop killing people, and runs away with the baby, incurring the wrath of his own clan who vow to hunt him down. However, this is not the oddest decision he makes, as the warrior then heads off to the Wild West of America. Somehow, he is aware of the exact shanty town that an old friend moved out to and quickly finds it. Unfortunately, said friend has long since passed away. But no matter, the warrior can easily take over his friend’s old cleaning business which mysteriously runs a profit servicing the almost deserted town. Deserted, except for a town drunk, a spunky local girl, a circus troop and a crazy civil war general and his army, which visits the village every few years to threaten the people, then kill or rape them (motivation: unclear). The Warrior must choose between his vow to leave a life of violence behind him and his new friends who need his help to defend themselves. And all the time, the Warrior’s past is creeping up on him.
So, just your standard Western, Martial Arts, Comedic, Revenge thriller then? Nothing about the Warriors Way is straightforward. The genre jumps from scene to scene, and occasionally from actor to actor within the same scene: the tone is consistently inconsistent, lurching from farce to melodrama to action without stopping for breath. And yet, somehow it largely hangs together. The first time Writer & Director Sngmoo Lee pulls every trick out of the book and them some more and just about gets away with it. Never afraid to try anything, some sequences may not work, but never mind, a whole different genre is just around the corner. Throughout all of this, Lee’s ace card is the cinematography. The film is jaw-droppingly beautiful to look at. A mix of great locations and/or sets aligned with excellently judged CGI results in some stunningly composed shots. A heavy filter (blue for Japan, red for America) quickly orientates you to the location of the current scene with the blood red skies over the western town providing an evocative highpoint.
As the lead in an English language film, Dong-gun Jang handles the challenges of acting outside his native tongue very well, and provides a strong screen presence to anchor the crazier elements of the film. It’s his central stoic performance around which the madder elements of the story spin. Geoffrey Rush is tremendous fun as the town drunk and manages to handle the switches between humour and pathos a lot better than the other major cast members. I never took to Kate Bosworth’s performance as the supposedly damaged Lynne – a girl with a dark past. Unlike Rush, Bosworth seems to struggle to hit the right note – too hyper during the lighter moments, too dark during the more dramatic scenes: she gives the impression of being just as lost and confused as most of the audience. Danny Huston is another who seems to always be searching for the right level, veering between Panto villain and sadistic torturer. However, Huston is fairly good in both roles and is certainly more successful than Bosworth. Tony Cox appears as the circus ringmaster 8-Ball, in which initially appears to be a significant role but which diminishes as the picture progresses. There’s nothing wrong with his performance, but it’s not especially noteworthy either.
In truth, the larger plot elements of the film are kind of clichéd. The silent loner arrives in town to escape his past, brings the town together to fight an external foe, then the ghosts of his past catch up with him. Nothing at all original there, it’s the story of a thousand Westerns. But everything about the film defies such pigeonholing. Clichés are setup, then defied or avoided. The slow, perhaps even a little dull middle section of the film is soon forgotten when the barnstorming final third thunders into view and the film never stops for breath from this point until the closing. It’s a credit to all involved that such a Frankenstein creation was firstly green lit, and then completed without compromise. I look forward to see what Lee creates in the future as he seems to be a writer/director brimming with invention and ideas – sometimes too many for one film to handle! The Warriors Way is daft, uncontrolled, and great fun. And also, more than a little bit weird.