8 December 2010

Ninjas. Damn! - THE WARRIOR'S WAY Review

We've been here before, last year with Blood: The Last Vampire, at the beginning of this year with Ninja Assassin, and now Hollywood once again takes a flying kick at integrating all that is awesome about martial arts cinema with The Warrior's Way. On the plus side, it's a Western!

Yang is our single Oriental protagonist this time around- a swordsman arriving in a derelict frontier town that used to be a successful circus. He carries a baby girl with him, the last survivor of an enemy clan that Yang otherwise slaughtered. Taking mercy on the child, he's hiding out in America, but his Sad Flute clan isn't best pleased that he has defied and deserted him. On top of everything else, the sadistic Colonel is coming back to the circus he destroyed several years prior, and a confrontation of epic proportions looks all but certain.

To be fair, The Warrior's Way is a better film that either of those mentioned above. It's a Western, so that's a given. It's especially coming from the perspective of a writer and director who is not American, Sngmoo Lee. This means his influences are Sergio Leone, and he brings a decent ladling of surrealism into that too. The trouble is that the Hong Kong sensibility of martial arts cinema is like a jigsaw piece that won't fit into American movies, no matter how hard Hollywood presses down on it.

This leaves much of the surreal promise unfulfilled, falling back on clich├ęs from both the east and the west rather than surprising anyone. For starters, the single best line of the film, delivered by Geoffrey Rush's alcoholic gunslinger as ninja sentinels position themselves on every building in the rundown town, ready to rain hell down on everyone else, isn't even in the film. His pitch-perfect intonation of "Ninjas. Damn!" was the only thing that sold me on this film, and it wasn't even in there.

Rush is probably the high point in a cast that consists of Dong-gun Jang being about as expressive as a sleeping Keanu Reeves, Kate Bosworth doing a less capable impression of Jessie from the Toy Story films as a vengeful knife-flinging cowgirl and Tony Cox as a sideshow midget. And it's not really played for laughs. The nadir is Danny Huston as the Colonel. It's no wonder that most of the backgrounds are CGI, with the scenery presumably left chewed beyond repair at the rehearsal stage. His pantomime villain turn is a low point in his career, and this is someone who was in Wolverine.

There's no real tension in having a character who is "The Greatest Swordsman In The History Of Mankind Ever", as the film terms it with some of that unfulfilled oddness, being hunted by people we know are his inferiors. It makes it all the more dissatisfying when this one ends in a very similar fashion to those other two movies- with copious extraneous flashback sequences breaking up a master-apprentice confrontation into even less satisfying chunks.

In a year that also saw the Horse with No Name make his directing debut on the gloriously inept Western Jonah Hex, The Warrior's Way can only look better by comparison, with all of its gumption and cinematic literacy. Howver, just like Yang as he trains knife-throwing Lynne in the way of the sword, it feels like it's holding back- as though something better is being formulated off-screen. It might have involved the line "Ninjas. Damn!" It can be appreciated as a Western, but if I were you, I'd really wait for True Grit in the New Year.

The Warrior's Way is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Warrior's Way, why not share your comments below? If you remember Ninja Assassin being as little fun as I remember it, stay well away.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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