Director/Screenplay – Sngmoo Lee, Additional Writing – Scott Reynolds, Producers – Jooick Lee, Barrie M. Osborne & Michael Peyser, Photography – Woo Hyung Kim, Music – Javier Navarette, Visual Effects Supervisor – Jason Piccioni, Visual Effects – Christov Effects and Design, CIS, Digipost, Digital Dimension, GEON (Supervisor – Buckley Collum), Iloura (Supervisor – Peter Webb), MOFAC (Supervisor – Young Soo Park), Photon NZVFX, PRPVFX Ltd. & VRAM FX (Supervisor – Gavin Guerra), Special Effects Supervisor – Mike Latham, Prosthetics – Make-Up Effects Group, Production Design – Dan Hennah. Production Company – Mike’s Movies/OzWorks
Jang Dong Gun (Yang), Kate Bosworth (Lynne McCarthy), Geoffrey Rush (Ronald), Danny Huston (Colonel), Tony Cox (Eight Ball), Ti Lung (Saddest Flute)
Yang, an assassin for the Sad Flutes clan, becomes the greatest swordsman in the world. He eliminates all of his clan’s enemies but refuses to kill the last – a baby girl – and takes her under his personal care. This pits the Sad Flutes against him. He sets out to America, seeking his friend Smiley in the rundown town of Lode. There he learns that Smiley is dead but the local girl Lynne persuades him to reopen Smiley’s laundry. Yang begins to train Lynne in the way of the sword, she to show him about ordinary life, and an attraction grows between the two. Meanwhile however, The Colonel, the leader of a band of soldiers turned bandits, returns to town and wants to settle the score with Lynne who scarred his face with cooking fat after he attempted to force his way with her as a child. As Yang organises the townspeople to fight back, his having to unleash his sword again brings the attention of the Sad Flutes who come to attack en masse.
The Warrior’s Way is a genuine oddity. It is a modern Wu Xia film that became all the in-thing and much copied after the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which in itself was a reworking of the tradition that had developed in Hong Kong during the 1980s. In this case, The Warrior’s Way is a Wu Xia film that has been made in South Korea, a country that has been relatively scarce when it comes to the output of fantastical martial arts cinema with only occasional efforts such as Volcano High (2001) and The Warrior (2001). It is also the novelty of a Korean-made Wu Xia that has been made for international appeal by casting known faces like Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush and Danny Huston. Moreover, the film is a melange of genres – here the traditional Wu Xia/martial arts elements have been blended with the very American genre of the Western, something that has never been conducted before unless you look to tv’s Kung Fu (1972-5) or Jackie Chan’s unserious Shanghai Noon (2000). And to make the production seem even stranger, most of the show has been shot in New Zealand. It could be said that what we end up with is a genuine work of cultural fusion.
The traditional Western elements are paper-thin. Jang Dong Gun’s hero is modelled on another of Clint Eastwood’s tight-lipped loners of few words. He has a perfunctory romance with Kate Bosworth, an actress who has always tended to the eminently forgettable in everything I have seen her (here playing with an affected accent that is highly unconvincing). The plot of the town rallying against the forces against them, the warming of the outsider are all played by the numbers. The one sparkle of life comes from Geoffrey Rush who incarnates the old alcohol-soaked dog who pulls himself together to re-enter the fray in time to save the day with a wily sparkle. Even though the film seems to set itself in absurdly unreal Western setting, I couldn’t help but think that the protagonist Jang Dong Gun’s position of acceptance in the town as an Asian man, let alone his having a relationship with a white woman, flies absurdly in the face of the racial realities of the era, which regarded the Chinese and Asians in general as the lowliest on the social rung, as little more than disposable slave labour.
The Western elements have been shot in ways that make the entire look of the film seem surreal, almost fantastical. We either have a Western town that has been built inside a soundstage or one that has been enhanced by a great deal of CGI so that the exteriors take on a dreamlike look. This matches the highly stylised, CGI-enhanced look that director Sngmoo Lee gives all of the action scenes. These are where The Warrior’s Way come to life is, particularly at the climax. Here Sngmoo Lee offers up amazing visions of platoons of ninja all flying into the town and going into attack in formation, Jang Dong Gun walking through the melee despatching multiple opponents with slow-motion sword blows, scenes of the bandits climbing the rundown structure of the Ferris Wheel as Geoffrey Rush picks them off, plentiful gore (albeit digitally created), all manner of amazing poses, not to mention images of bandits massacring ninja with a Gatling gun, the gunner’s arm even being severed and continuing to shoot in a circle mowing everybody down amass.