AKA: Laundry Warrior
“This is the story of a Sad Flute, a laughin’ baby and a weepin’ sword.” What could’ve been one of the tongue-twisters that Geoffrey Rush told Colin Firth to say while setting out to correct The King’s Speech in the Oscar winning Best Picture serves as the introduction to The Warrior’s Way as Rush’s town drunk turned narrator Ron sets up writer/director Sngmoo Lee’s increasingly bizarre tale of carnies, cowboys and ninja warriors (oh my!).
As far as Geoffrey Rush movies go, The King’s Speech and The Warrior’s Way may be the oddest double feature on record. However, in a strange twist of fate, nearly three years after production on the then-dubbed Laundry Warrior began in Auckland, New Zealand, Lee’s blandly re-titled Warrior’s Way made its theatrical debut around the exact same time that Speech gained momentum in 2010-‘11’s speech-making award season.
But despite its long life on the shelf, Warrior had a remarkably short one on the screen, disappearing from theatres with stealthy speed. Yet unlike other films that suffered the same fate due to studio restructuring, budgetary problems, legal red tape, or scheduling conflicts for so long that – like neglected flowers – they withered and aged, Warrior’s Way lost its bloom from too much (rather than too little) attention.
Fusing together a samurai picture and a spaghetti western with a new age spin on the old west, whether it’s meant to be surrealistic storytelling or just plain silly is anyone’s guess but in NYU master’s film degree holder Lee’s everything-and-the-CGI-kitchen-sink debut, 19th century Asian East meets the wide-open-spaces of the Wild West to extremely exaggerated effect.
Having sworn allegiance to the Sad Flutes since he was first initiated into the cruelest clan of assassins in the Eastern land as a child, Jang Dong Gun’s conflicted warrior Yang finds himself struck with a crisis of conscience upon discovering that the last living member of the Flutes’ enemy is a giggling baby girl instead of a grown man.
Unable to murder an innocent child, the Sad Flute takes the “laughin’ baby” on the lam, knowing full well that by not fulfilling his mission to murder every member of the opposing clan, he’s put himself on the top of the Flute’s most wanted list.
And with this in mind, the warrior Yang improbably packs up his mystical “weepin’ sword” that acts like a honing device, which if unsheathed sends out a signal revealing his location that only Sad Flutes can hear.
After traveling to the American town of Lode (as in Silver Lode?) that’s been illogically dubbed “the Paris of the West,” Yang and the baby set up shop in the barren dead-end desert town where everyone other than carny folks, circus freaks, and outsiders with tragic pasts have left, passing through on their way to a better place.
And even though the warrior had vowed to leave his violent ways behind him, it’s only a matter of time before Danny Huston’s sadistic Colonel returns to Lode after gunning down the entire family of Yang’s gal pal Lynne (Kate Bosworth) years before.
Taking up arms once again to stop the colonel and his ruthless posse of thugs from causing new destruction and settling old scores, Yang joins forces with carnies, sideshow freaks, strangers and lost-souls against those who cross his path, from crazy cowboys to ninja warriors.
A cinematic contradiction, The Warrior’s Way is as elaborately ornate as it is functionally stark. Considering the minimalistic production design and scores of green sheets and screens shown hanging in plain sight in the deleted scenes and on-set footage that make up the Blu-ray’s bonus features, you get a sense that for Warrior’s filmmakers, the emphasis was purely focused on the CGI.
From its Impressionistic CG style Monet skies and carny cast of Moulin Rouge escapees from the sketchbook of Toulouse-Lautrec to its overwhelmingly bare-bone set-pieces as if Lee was staging Dogville in the desert (as opposed to say, Shakespeare in the park), Lee’s Warrior is equal parts Jeunet and Von Trier.
Unfortunately even with three years to play with, the odd contrast between oddly empty frames that give off a Von Trier Dogme vibe and the eye-candy overload of ninjas raining from the sky just doesn’t flow together in any way shape or form.
Hoping to make up for in style what it lacks in substance, Sngmoo Lee and company overdose on homage with specific nods including Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy (boasting a shiver inducing Morricone sound-alike score by Javier Navarrete) as well as playing with genre and character expectation a la Rush’s gunman turned drunk, Bosworth’s vengeance seeking daughter and Huston’s Lee Marvin-esque thug.
In fact, Huston, Rush and Bosworth are all so good in their otherwise under-developed roles that we can’t help but think how much better the film would’ve been as a three-handed modern spin on a western without that pesky bookended warrior subplot altogether.
For in addition to having no chemistry with other members of the cast, we have no connection to our hero as well, which is understandably hindered by the realization that the hybrid-happy script never seems to convey a single authentic emotion let alone settle on a tone.
Pulled in far too many directions, although it’s filled with potential (especially as a tongue-twister), Warrior’s Way is too wildly all over the place for us to fully enjoy the ride.
And while I can’t recommend Warrior’s Way as anything other than promising bunch of ideas that resulted in disaster, those who dive into the Blu-ray should visit the deleted scenes to take in an alternate ending with Bosworth and Rush that may have salvaged the mess overall.
Text ©2011, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.