When the renowned assassin Yang (Dong-gun Jang) refuses to kill a baby of a rival clan he becomes the most wanted man to his own ninja clan, The Sad Flutes, so takes the baby and goes West. Settling in a dying frontier town, with a bizarre and eccentric population, Yang befriends Lynne (Kate Bosworth), a chirpy young lady bent on revenge at the death of her family by a scoundrel Colonel and his mad posse. Of course, in true western style, the towns-folk are called upon to defend themselves when the Ninja and posse invade.
From the outset it is clear what The Warrior’s Way wants to be. Its story and visuals scream Lone Wolf And Cub meets Kung Fu via 300, while its design and action illustrate its aim to be the most ‘anime’ style live-action film ever made. To some degree it succeeds in these ambitions, but it’s a patchy kind of success at best.
A prime example of this patchiness is the CG. A large portion of the environments and action set pieces are made up of CG, a la 300, and though some of it is exquisitely beautiful, an equal amount is sub game cut sequence quality, the former heightening the disappointment of the latter.
The story too is poorly paced and wholly uneven, flashbacks and character motivations coming from nowhere or taking sharp turns and making little sense, but in all fairness, few people go to see a film like The Warrior’s Way for the story, a film like this, as we all know, lives or dies by its action. So what of that?
Well, in short, it’s over stylised and relatively sparse.
I’m the kind of guy that likes his fight sequences grounded, hard hitting and well choreographed, which is a world away from what is presented here. Here it’s all slow-mo or hyperactive cutting with wire assisted and CG enhanced battles that last no time at all and focus more on the drawn out, badass, climactic posses. Don’t get me wrong, if that sounds like your thing you’ll love it, and it most certainly is director Sngmoo Lee’s intention, as a way of attaining that ‘anime’ feel, but it doesn’t come off as well in live-action, and begs the question, if you want to make an anime style film so badly, why not make an anime?
It’s not all bad though. The cast play it broad and fun (except, disappointingly, the po-faced, but excellently named, Dong-gun Jang), with Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns) in full adorable mode and Geoffrey Rush (Shine) hamming it up wonderfully as the town drunk with a secret.
The saving grace through is the design work. The sets and costumes are extraordinary and do more for the anime nature of the film than any overworked action sequence ever could.
The tenacity and effort gone into realising Lee’s vision must be applauded, and sections of it are enjoyable, but it’s never that great.
C- grade – for storytelling
D grade – for action
A- grade – for design
B- grade – for cast
Overall grade C