Warrior's Way, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe watches well-dressed actors enact slo-mo violence against green screens...
After a lifetime of training in swordsmanship and hand-to-hand combat, the world’s most dangerous fighter (ever), Yang (Jang Dong-Gun), is unable to complete his final mission, when he can’t kill a rival clan’s final member – an adorable baby girl. Now pursued by his former master, Yang flees his homeland, and starts a new life in the American West, where he hunkers down in a small circus town in an effort to live a peaceful life with the child he has adopted, and his newfound best friend/apprentice/vague love interest Lynne (Kate Bosworth). Soon enough Yang learns of Lynne’s dark past when a brutal Colonel (Danny Huston), and his gang of marauders visit the town, and corrupt it with their violence. Forced to choose between defending his friends, and maintaining his anonymity, Yang risks alerting his master to his location by taking up his sword once more.
Warrior’s Way is an odd mash-up of a film, mixing elements of martial arts, fantasy, and western films. There’s a dash of High Noon, a healthy dollop of Yojimbo (and with it plenty of Fistful of Dollars), dashes of Lone Wolf and Cub, heaping spoonfuls of Seven Samurai, a smidgen of HBO’s Carnivale, a pinch of Django, and a wash of fairy tale logic for good measure. As happens more often than not this mash-up is cooler in concept than execution. Despite a definite understanding of the genre imagery he’s aping, writer/director Sngmoo Lee never manages to do anything more than ape without recontextualizing anything. I also suspect he doesn’t quite understand what makes the films he finds inspirational so special. Other East meets West post-modern cut-ups like Kill Bill and Kim Jee-Woon’s The Good, the Bay and the Weird work so much better because they take on archetypal characters with novelty, and storylines that intrigue beyond their post-modern contexts. Warrior’s Way is just a prettier version of a story you already know, a remix instead of a cover song. This renders the film more comparable to Takashi Miike’s flawed, but generally more successful Sukiyaki Western Django, and Ryûhei Kitamura’s overlong, but exciting take on live-action Anime Azumi. I can’t quite put my finger on the thing that makes those equally superficial films better, or even more lengthily tolerable, but I will say that Warrior’s Way is definitively better than the utterly boring Casshern, and that I actually enjoyed myself quite a bit, despite the largely negative reviews and lame trailer (not to mention the remainder of this review).
Warrior’s Way is certainly stylish, even beautiful, but never in a truly moving manner. The extreme artificiality of the environments feels out of place given the grit, and decorative art design of the western settings. It’s usually beautiful in the same shallow, almost callous way videogames are beautiful, which is kind of funny, since it would probably make a better videogame than it does movie (I know I’d play it). Sometimes the idea behind the pretty image transcends the pretty image itself, in the same way steam-punk culture can be entirely inane, but still evoke a visceral and emotional response. Cool, colourful and ornamental occasionally works on their own terms. The Christmas celebration sequence, which features the memorable sight of a lo-fi fireworks Christmas tree, is a good example of Lee getting the whole post-modern thing right – he finds new beauty in something that recalls and exploits popular culture memories of old beauty. At the very least I can definitely verify the Lee has some solid action direction chops. The more special effects heavy sequences are a bit weightless, and to accuse him of overusing slow motion would be akin to accuse the sun of being a bit warm, but his geography makes sense, it’s easy to tell what the main character is up too, and the energy can be infectious. I also appreciate the mix of hyper-realistic modern gore, and hyper-stylized traditional samurai flick arterial spray. The shifting tones of violence (sometimes we’re meant to cheer, other times we’re meant to shudder) aren’t very successful, and don’t feature the gut-punch of Miike’s similar tonal change-ups, but there is dramatic clout behind the bloodier bits.
The surprisingly A-list Hollywood cast appears to be having a good time with the material, though no one gives a particularly compelling performance. It doesn’t help matters when they’re constantly out-acted by a baby. A particularly charming baby, but a baby nonetheless. Jang’s only real job is to standby and look stoic, and from that standpoint he succeeds admirably, but Bosworth, Huston and Geoffrey Rush have a little more meat on their characters to chew. Huston gets a pass as the half-faced, teeth obsessed heavy villain, but doesn’t appear to be dipping too far into his repertoire to pull off the role. Rush, who plays the town drunk (who, of course, has a dark secret), also doesn’t delve to deep into his talent well, but has such a commanding presence, even on autopilot, he’s hard to ignore, and his ham-fisted narration fits the film like a glove. Bosworth is the wildcard, as I’ve never been particularly impressed with her chops, but given the slightly schizophrenic nature of her character, her successes are hard earned. Her accent and sub- Robin Weigert Calamity Jane-with-a-pretty-face performance starts off mighty awkward, but eventually settles into a relatively charming groove (I’m also willing to buy her southern accent).
Bursting with colourful visual effects, and lit with every hue and contrast under the rainbow, Warrior’s Way works quite well in HD. Colours and contrast levels are probably the strongest elements, but there’s also plenty of detail, both near and far to appreciate. Costumes, sets, and all other practical props are usually intricately decorated, featuring both tactile textures, and complex, yet subtle colour schemes. This crystalline transfer allows viewers to count the pours on the actor’s faces along with the plaid squares on their pants. Some of the most complex shots, such as that of a flower garden around the 19-minute mark, become slightly overwhelmed, and show signs of compression, and minor edge enhancement. For the most part the occasionally fuzzy edges are easily blamed on the production’s extensive use of green screens, and there is relative consistently to the overall detail levels. Lee’s use of digital grading over every shot of the film (seriously, you could probably convince me that Warrior’s Way was shot entirely in black and white, and post-converted into colour) leads to some incredibly vibrant sunsets, desert landscapes, and a general warm glow to the western town. These warm scenes feature delicate transitions between similar hues, along with the sharp edges needed to create the contrast and texture. I’m more impressed, however, with the slightly more rare dark and cool sequences, which feature some pretty impeccable dark blue on black components. I haven’t been able to discern this much detail in such a dark image in some time.
This disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is plenty loud, and features plenty of aggressive stereo and surround effects to tickle your ear buds. This mix celebrates both extremes, from soft and subtle, to loud and brash. This contrast pretty much defines the aural experience, especially during the feature defining action scenes. These vary from thunderous, sharp and punchy, to lithe and swift, and in all forms the stereo and surround channels play a key role. Even the busiest, loudest sections, such as the gallop of dozens of horses over crashing score, don’t suffer noticeably compression loss, or distortion, and the important elements are rarely lost in the noise. Much of the soundtrack often mimics Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western work in the same way Kill Bill and The Good, the Bad and the Weird did, though on occasion it recalls Tarantino’s similar musical reuse a bit too much (the Spanish guitars that open the final, mano e mano showdown, for example). This works from the same stylistically shallow reasons the visuals work, and elicit a grand swelling reaction at times, especially the grand use of Spanish horn. The occasional use of Verdi produces warm, semi-ethereal effects as well.
The brief extras begin with a montage of behind the scenes footage (2:30, HD), including interviews with actors Rush, Jang, Bosworth, Huston, Tony Cox, stuntman John Osborn
The footage very quickly covers the actors’ interests in the material, stunt rehearsal and wirework, adding up to not much but an EPK in the end. This is followed by 13 deleted/extended scenes (12:10, SD), which are presented unfinished, and mostly cover minor plot points that are already made pretty clear. Rush’s character’s back-story, which is cleverly shot like a silent film, is the one piece I’d have put back in (I’m entirely unsure as to why it’s presented twice, however). I also might’ve switched the deleted coda for the actual final shots. The additional circus folk chaos during the battle scene is unnecessary, but did make me notice how little character they’re given during the film.
My friend, Zach Walker (credit where it is do and all that), called The Warrior’s Way ‘one of the better screensaver movies [he’d] seen’, and that really struck me. This is a ‘screensaver movie’ born of Tsui Hark’s breathtaking supernatural kung-fu epics, and green screen-heavy hits like 300, even more than it is a post-modern exploration of tropes and styles born of Star Wars and Pulp Fiction. Viewers that are ready to deal with gorgeous images that barely even pierce the first layer of skin should do fine here, and even get a couple of choice action sequences for their trouble. The Blu-ray looks and sounds quite pretty as well, but features very little in the way of extras, save the deleted/extended scenes, some of which probably should’ve been left in the film.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 28th June 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Behind the Scenes Montage, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sngmoo Lee
Cast: Jang Dong Gun, Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth, Danny Huston
Length: 100 minutes
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