by Lex Gilbert
As happens from time to time, today we have a guest critic sharing their take on a given new release. Reviewing this weekend's lone new wide-release, The Warrior's Way our guest critic for this particular bit of hybrid B-cinema is Lex Gilbert, better known by his online nickname 'LexG'. Enjoy.
Preceded by an appropriately insane trailer scored to some riotous canned Nu-metal, an apparent two-plus-year delay, and a title change (from “Laundry Warrior”), The Warrior's Way is either most accurately described as Jonah Hex by way of Zu Warriors plus Shane… or as the ultimate movie that was meant *only* to be seen at the 11:40am matinee by lone male attendees. Most others can probably safely steer clear, though fanboys and Western buffs (spaghetti and classical American variety) who can get into its quirky mix of classic genre film tropes, bad comedy, and stylized violence might have a blast.
First-time feature director Sngmoo Lee starts things off with a visually striking action prologue, though the almost poetic mood of the shots is compromised by some “wacky” tongue-in-cheek title cards that set the awkward tone for too much of the first half-hour. We meet Yang, a roaming bad-ass swordsman from one of two historically warring clans in an unnamed Asian country (the movie later seems to suggest they’re Chinese, even if the star is decidedly Korean), who refuses an order to murder a sworn enemy’s baby, and is forced to flee to America with the child in tow when his own crew issues a death warrant. Arriving in a classic movie Western town, he soon becomes protector to the townfolk, including a local troupe of carnies, a drunken ex-gunfighter (Geoffrey Rush), and smoking-hot knife-thrower/love interest Kate Bosworth (with a violent past of her own), from both a maniacal posse of marauders led by deformed super-villain The Colonel, played by (who else?) Danny Huston, and from Yang’s former mentor, hot on his trail.
The aforementioned trailer generously bills leading man Jang Dong-Gun as an “international superstar,” which as we all know probably translates to “some Korean guy you’ve never heard of, ever” to most American moviegoers. But credit where due, Jang is solid, intense and charismatic, holding his own against heavyweight hambones like Huston, Rush and, er, Tony Cox… even if his main acting approach, like so many crossover martial arts stars, is simply to exude gravitas via extreme seriousness and as few words as possible. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a reverse world where if Jesse Eisenberg flew over to Hong Kong and held a sword while scowling a lot, he’d be treated as the second coming of Eastwood.
In establishing all of this, Lee veers wildly from awkward freakshow comedy (literally: around the time an actual bearded lady made an appearance, I was ready to write it off almost entirely) to disarming romantic interludes to rather epic blasts of chaos; It definitely has that post-Zack Snyder look where for all I know, the principal cast never left an Auckland warehouse, but with its bright, giant red-and-blue-tinted skies straight out of 1950s John Ford, unique one-horse carnival town backdrop, and computer-enhanced deserts, the look is consistently awesome and cinematic (if decidedly in “NewZealandVision”). And the wobbliness of the early stretches is handily rectified once Huston comes into the picture, essentially playing the character of “John Malkovich In Jonah Hex,” slinging more lecherous double-entendres than Freddy Krueger, as the murderous, pillaging scumbag who once wiped out Bosworth’s whole family after trying to rape her. (And if the flashback to this event is to be believed, he also has the supernatural power to somehow turn a brunette, curly-haired young actress who looks like Hailee Steinfeld crossed with Hailie Kate Eisenberg as a teenager into the lithe, freckled, straight-haired redhead Kate Bosworth within a span of ten years.)
Bosworth is a whole other story here, registering more cinematic mugging than Kristen Wiig as Gilly, or like Renee Zellwegger in Cold Mountain on a Jolt bender; I’m sure the script described her character as “feisty,” as I half-expected her to say “varmint” at some point. But somehow in the course of all the other madness, it works, at least once the elements come together in the more confident, action-oriented second half, as Huston’s posse and Yang’s warrior enemies descend on the town simultaneously, leading to a well-choreographed, prolonged orgy of chaos, all of it scored not to the expected metal, but to Javier Navarrete’s clever mix of Asian and spaghetti Western motifs. Rush’s Will Munny routine is also good for a laugh, and his slumming hamming could only be improved by a cutaway to Ben Kingsley giving him the big thumbs-up on this career move.
So, definitely a niche movie, and even that niche has of course seen all the individual pieces a zillion times before. But as no-expectations December throw-aways with overqualified supporting casts go… well, I still wouldn’t necessarily *recommend* it to anyone not already pumped for it, but if you’re sick of hearing about the same ten Oscar bait movies over and over, might be a fun time-killer.