Friday, January 20, 2012

[Freya-dæg] The Warrior's Way

What do you get when you combine a gun toting country girl (Kate Bosworth) from the 19th century Western United States and "The Best Swordsman in the World. Ever." (Dong-gun Jang) from somewhere in Asia? Well, you get the Warrior's Way, of course.

The film is Sngmoo Lee's first English language effort, and my guess is that it does his Korean work little to no justice.

As a fan of Hong Kong cinema and the awesome madness of movies produced outside of North America, I may be a bit biased against the Western aspects of the movie. But, within themselves they are done well. West and East just don't mix very well in this flick.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, (my determiner of what a generally "good" or "terrible" movie is) this has a ranking of 31% among critics and 47% among viewers. So it's close to being good enough to pass over. However, as both numbers fall below 60%, I'm going to go ahead and say that it is a generally "terrible" movie - something that could perhaps use a little bit of redeeming.

But. Here's the bad stuff that even I noticed.

This movie is as covered with clichés as 19th century gift blankets were with smallpox. The idea behind the flick is to combine the ninja/samurai genre with the western genre. However, instead of having the two interact in a new and interesting way all of the familiar stereotypes are here: silent warrior, spunky country girl, drunken old gunman, lecherous old general (Custer, essentially) - plus the clichés around fighting styles are there too.

The cowboys fight with guns and dynamite and revel in explosions, the Asians fight with dramatic pauses and rather useless after-kill poses. But the two never really mix aside from the girl's learning how to handle double swords from the Asian swordsman.

There's a neat nod to the silent gunman riding off into the sunset at the end, but the reasons for the swordsman's leaving aren't just because he's defended the town and is now ready to move on. He goes as an expression of his love for the girl. This is well done, but is way too minimal within a movie that puts more emphasis on the fight scenes than anything else.

And, like all modern movies featuring fight scenes, slow motion action sequences are used freely. To the point where they become distracting and essentially meaningless. The last thing you want to do when studying is to highlight every word, and the same principle should apply to slow motion and fight scenes.

All of these things made the movie lag for me. A film that was just about an hour and a half felt instead like two and a half.

But. The good:

One of the major plot threads of the movie - the romance between the girl and the swordsman wasn't anything new, but it was interesting to see it unfold. And to see how it ultimately came together in the end-they weren't just two crazy kids in love, but instead were two that gradually fell in love (in some proper, eye-roll-worthy scenes) and then couldn't be together because of what was indeed best for all.

Jang's flashbacks to his training were awesome. It's the usual over the top samurai/ninja/martial arts movie training, but instead of wild challenges to increase his strength and agility we're shown the parts of his training that destroyed his compassion. Though predictable, it's definitely a unique thing to show, and a very good point to make about what's needed to be the greatest fighter.

The cliché of the cold-hearted killer turning soft because of a child is pretty standard in most martial arts flicks that want to get a little more sentimental. But it's well done enough to make it an interesting transformation.

The rest of the good that I can say about this one relies entirely on its visual appeal. There's a lot to look at, and a lot that's very attractive. But there's nothing really amazing or memorable.

Despite the fact that I've pointed out more good than bad still leaves one thing. The clincher: does this make me want to see more of Sngmoo Lee's movies? Not really.

The swordsman's reasons for leaving were at least a little complex, and the fact that he's caring for the baby that is the last member of his rival clan definitely adds some interesting layers. But these aspects are too often left lingering in the background while flashy fights are center stage.

So, it was neat and all, but ultimately just not that intriguing. Maybe his foreign language stuff (The Legend of Evil Lake) is solid, but this is just alright. Best just to let this one go, so it can fall back to the stack of fallen fighters from whence it came.

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