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July 2011

The Warrior's Way

cast: Jang Dong-gun, Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush, Danny Huston, and Tony Cox

director: Sngmoo Lee

100 minutes (15) 2010
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
EIV DVD Region 2

RATING: 8/10
review by Ian Sales

The Warrior's Way

The stranger who walks into town and saves it from the depredations of a band of outlaws is a staple plot not limited to westerns, although in The Warrior's Way, for all its wuxia trappings, that's how it's used. Yang (Jang Dong-gun) is a 'Sad Flute', an assassin, who refuses to murder the last member of an enemy a clan, a baby. He takes the baby and sails to America, to stay with an old friend who settled in a wild west town. On arrival, he discovers his friend is dead and his laundry business left to go to wrack and ruin. As, too, has much of the town. In fact, the only inhabitants are the members of a defunct circus and funfair.

Yang is an archetypal wuxia hero, stone-faced but with near-magical martial abilities. These are sorely tested when the rest of the Sad Flutes t urn up to kill him and the enemy baby. By which time, Yang has made friends with the town's peculiar residents - among them Eightball (Tony Cox), town drunk Ron (Geoffrey Rush), and Lynne (Kate Bosworth) - and has re-opened the laundry. Further complicating matters are the ex-cavalry outlaws of the Colonel (Danny Huston), who had visited the town a decade before. The Colonel had tried to rape Lynne, had been badly burned by her when she fought back, and has now returned for his revenge. Yang, of course, fights off both sets of attackers - with some impressive wirework, naturally; and with the assistance of the townsfolk, who discover their courage and their own specialness under his taciturn guidance.

So far, it's nothing special... Except... The Warrior's Way really is quite a special film. It looks absolutely gorgeous, but in a fake, painterly sort of way. The town, for example, is in the middle of a featureless desert, and the sky remains a louring orange throughout the length of the film. It is a sense of visual aesthetics very much in the style of a comic. In fact, the photography and staging both also harken to that medium. The way shots are framed mimics the panels of a comic. And The Warrior's Way is the first film I believe I've seen which uses decompression as a narrative technique.

True, there's nothing unusual in a applying a comicbook aesthetic to a movie. Zack Snyder has done it several times. But where Snyder only aped the look of a comic, Sngmoo Lee seems to have successfully carried across comics' storytelling techniques. As a result, the relative hoariness of the plot of The Warrior's Way becomes incidental to the way the story is told. What initially feels like yet another entry in that line of films which includes Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, Curse Of The Golden Flower, and then tries to shoehorn its way into the western genre... actually becomes something all together different and quite impressive. It is, like Snyder's 300, more of a treat for the eyes than the brain, but its story at least does not detract from its visuals. It possesses just enough weirdness to pull it off-centre, without comprising either of the two genres it straddles - in that respect, too, it apes the feel of a comic and, more importantly, a recently-published comic.

Apparently, The Warrior's Way has not been well-received. It has a 32 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 29 reviews. It is a much better film than that rating suggests, however. It is also a much, much better film than 300, which scored 60 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. But perhaps that is not unexpected - the two films are not, on first glance, of the same type. The Warrior's Way is much more likely to be compared with other wuxia, or perhaps western, films, which is doing both the movie and Sngmoo Lee a disservice.



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