The spaghetti Western rides again – in a chop suey variation.
The story begins in Korea, where cold-blooded assassin Yang (Dong-gun Jang) is heralded as “The Greatest Swordsman in the History of Mankind.” But he’s a softie at heart, as evidenced by his reluctance to butcher a burbling baby girl even after he’s slaughtered her parents, part of a rival clan. Scooping her up in his arms, he flees from the Far East to the Old West, winding up in Lode, a decrepit desert outpost once known as “The Paris of the West.” He’s befriended by Lynne (Kate Bosworth), an outgoing, flirt who, literally, has a tortured past. Dubbing him “Skinny,” she shows Yang around, introducing him to the eccentric circus/carnival folk, led by a pint-sized ringmaster, Eight Ball (Tony Cox), who hope that when they finish erecting their Ferris Wheel, it will revive the frontier town. Yang ingratiates himself by re-opening a Chinese laundry, growing flowers and teaching knife-throwing to Lynne, while having skirmishes with perpetually soused Ron (Geoffrey Rush), the town drunk, and the savagely perverted, facially disfigured Colonel (Danny Huston), who murdered Lynne’s family years earlier and periodically returns to make terrorizing forays into town.
Major problems arise, however, when Yang’s former mentor, Saddest Flute (Ti Lung) suddenly appears, along with a battalion of black-clad assassins who swoop ninja-style over the rooftops like a flock of demented crows, wreaking slicing-dicing vengeance.
Obviously influenced by “Shanghai Noon,” Jackie Chan’s story of an Asian princess and her protector in the Wild West, first-time feature screenwriter/director Sngmoo Lee (who earned a Master’s in Cinema Studies at NYU before founding the film department at Korean National University of the Arts) revels in the martial arts CGI, aided by cinematographer Kim Woo-hyung and production designer Dan Henneh. And Lee’s choice to use the toddler’s reaction shots to various stimuli, like stunts, fights, etc., elicits laughter every time.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Warrior’s Way” is a highly stylized, visually surreal 5, an overwrought, cliché-filled, wild and wacky kung-fu fantasy.