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Long awaited US-Korean sword western “The Warrior’s Way” marks the debut of writer, director and noted film scholar Sngmoo Lee, as well as the first English language outing for actor Jang Dong Gun, star of “Typhoon”, “Taegukgi” and other popular hits. The film has certainly taken its time en route to the screen, having been planned way back in 2008, when it was then called “Laundry Warrior”, with Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi set to headline. Her role was eventually taken by the American Kate Bosworth (“Superman Returns”), helping to underline the film’s status as a truly international production, with such luminaries as Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush (“The King’s Speech”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”) Danny Huston (“X-men Origins: Wolverine”), and Hong Kong legend Ti Lung (“A Better Tomorrow”) filling out the cast, and special effects from acclaimed New Zealand special effects house WETA (“Lord of the Rings”).
Jang Dong Gun takes on the role of Yang, an all powerful warrior assassin in the 19th century, who finds himself unable to kill the last infant survivor of a rival clan. Taking the young girl into his care, he flees across the ocean to the American West, taking shelter in a rundown circus town. Putting aside his sword and reopening the local laundry, he soon warms to the quiet life, not least since he catches the eye of shapely cowgirl Lynne (Kate Bosworth). Sadly, though inevitably, his past isn’t done with him yet, as a clash with a vicious bandit (Danny Huston) alerts his former master (Ti Lung) and his army of ninjas to his presence, leading to an almighty desert showdown.
Though its plot may be familiar and predictable “The Warrior’s Way” is actually a pretty bold and remarkable film. From the first frame it’s clear that Sngmoo Lee is going all out for style and flair, with a huge amount of effort obviously haven gone into the weirdly beautiful visuals. Oddly, the film exhibits little pretence at taking place in anything resembling the real world, appearing to have been shot mostly against green screen and with all the scenery and backdrops being filled in with CGI. Whilst this may sound rather artificial, it works very well, and Lee fairly overloads the senses with illogical though stunning imagery. This fits well with the story, which itself plays out almost like a western archetype fairytale, and with its international cast and behind the scenes talent, having the cultural flavour of different countries and styles, though never obviously belonging to any one of them.
The cast really give the film a lift, with Jang Dong Gun turning in a creditable performance in the lead. Although he doesn’t have a great deal to do or any particularly meaningful dialogue, he exerts an effortless kind of laid back charisma which makes his ‘man with no name’ type hero a genuinely likeable figure. The film also earns points for his relationship with the spritely Bosworth, being one of the few to actually feature a romance between an Asian actor and a Hollywood actress. Geoffrey Rush, Danny Huston and Ti Lung all seem to be having a fine time chewing the scenery in hilariously over the top and lively roles, and add a few effective touches of nicely judged, if at times bizarre humour.
Unsurprisingly, most of the action revolves around slow motion trickery rather than old school swordplay, though Lee handles things well and shows a great deal of creativity. As with the rest of the film, the combat scenes are unhampered by the laws of physics or good sense, with characters flying around, appearing out of nowhere and generally acting like mythological supermen, which to be fair was probably the point. Despite the nonstop onslaught of CGI, the battles still carry a reasonable amount of impact and are never over choreographed to the point of daftness as they have been in other similarly special effects heavy films. Lee keeps the action coming thick and fast, and the film gallops along at a fair clip, wisely not overstaying its welcome with a relatively short running time.
As a result, though it does at times have a surreal, almost comic book like feel, “The Warrior’s Way” is far more entertaining than might have been expected. Sngmoo Lee is obviously somewhat of a craftsman as well as a talented director, and ensures that the film rises above mere eye candy.
Sngmoo Lee (director) / Sngmoo Lee (script), Scott Reynolds (uncredited)
CAST: Dong-gun Jang … Yang
Kate Bosworth … Lynne
Geoffrey Rush … Ron
Danny Huston … Colonel
Tony Cox … Eight-Ball
Ti Lung … Saddest Flute