I love cowboys and I love ninjas. Who doesn’t? What could make cowboys and ninjas even cooler? Mixing them together! That must’ve been the logic behind The Warrior’s Way. A stylistic, character-driven action movie, Warrior’s Way wormed its way into my heart and cut it to ribbons. Light on plot, heavy on conflict, the film starts fast, gets the story going, and draws us into this fantasy world where two such awesome cultures collide in a bloody climax full of bullets, severed body parts, and explosions.
Beginning with a gravelly narration by Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean), we’re introduced to Yang (Jang Dong-gun, The Promise). He stares at his reflection in the water in contemplation, then suddenly kills a ninja hiding under said water. The first blood is spilled a little over a minute into the film. He then proceeds to cut a bloody swath through his clan’s mortal enemies, becoming the world’s greatest swordsman ever (so sayeth the captions that appear on screen) and wiping out all but one of the clan members: an adorable little baby. Betraying his clan, Yang takes the baby and flees to the American West, finding a new life in the desolate but colorful town of Lode, making acquaintances with the beautiful, cheery Lynne (Kate Bosworth, 21), grouchy, barely coherent town drunk Ron (Rush), and 8-Ball (Tony Cox, Bad Santa), the vertically-challenged ring-leader of the former traveling carnival, and more. Things seem like they might just be alright, until The Colonel (Danny Huston, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), previously introduced in one of the film’s several flashbacks, and his posse return and cause trouble, resulting in Yang unsheathing his katana and defending his new family. Naturally, this draws his clan (the Sad Flutes) directly to Lode, and a three-way battle erupts between the townsfolk, The Colonel and his boys, and the Sad Flutes in a thoroughly entertaining, if not entirely satisfying, climax.
Lots of character development fills the gap between action scenes. We find out that a few of Lode’s citizens have a skeleton or two in their closets, an attraction blooms between Yang and Lynne, and we get to watch as Yang and the baby, named April, become a part of something. Unlike a lot of action movies with lots of extraneous characters, Warrior’s Way actually made me care about the colorful, underdeveloped carnies that inhabit Lode. The Colonel himself was an absolutely delightful sadist, and Huston played the part very well, and his posse’s colorful outfits gave character to a bunch of redshirts. I wish that the Saddest Flute (Ti Lung), leader of Yang’s former clan and the clan themselves were half as interesting, but instead they found themselves relegated to ‘faceless bad guys,’ a niche enemy ninjas know well.
The performances in The Warrior’s Way took me by surprise. With a simple “cowboys versus ninjas” plot, I wasn’t expecting much, but found myself more than satisfied. Yang’s simple and soft-spoken way was as endearing as his master swordsmanship. Bosworth pulled off a terrific balance of adorable and damaged as Lynne (who’s disposition and coloration reminded me a hell of a lot of Fallout 3’s Moira), and she sure knows how to fill out a corset. Geoffrey Rush was great as the comedic relief, and seeing the route they take with his character was incredibly satisfying. Tony Cox was a kinder, gentler character than he usually plays, and while he didn’t add too much to the grand scheme of things, he was certainly not a drawback. As I mentioned, Danny Huston was terrific and played the vile, revolting Colonel to the T.
The town of Lode itself, a broken, struggling outpost surrounded by desert, was as much a character as any one of the film’s actual stars. An unfinished Ferris Wheel looms high over the rest of the town, storefronts are all that remain of some buildings, and the desert seems ready to swallow the whole place alive. During the final battle, the entire town was used to it’s full potential, especially its most obvious set piece.
The action in this movie is like a wet dream for anybody who ever mashed their action figures together when they were kids. With an R rating, there was no cutting away as limbs fell to the ground and by the end of the film, Lode is practically swimming in blood. My only real problem with it is that they establish Yang as the world’s greatest swordsman, and none of the Sad Flutes and especially none of The Colonel’s boys can give him a run for his money. Fortunately, watching an unstoppable force at work is still incredibly entertaining.
The Warrior’s Way was one of those rare movies with a nearly-perfect balance of style and substance. The set-up was simple, the characters were excellent, the acting was top notch, the action was awesome, and the effects were great. Taking two different cinema staples like cowboys and ninjas and mixing them together is often a crap shoot, but this movie pulls it off without a hitch. I look forward to next year’s Cowboys Vs. Aliens, and can only hope that it will be half as entertaining as Warrior’s Way was.
This movie charmed me. I went in expecting a generic experience and got much more than I bargained for. There’s sword fighting, gun slinging, limb severing, Kate Bosworth in a very sexy period outfit, and a cast that will surprise you. The climactic three-way battle alone was worth the price of admission.