One from Column A and 2 from Column B. Remember that? The traditional Family dinner at your local Chinese restaurant. A little of this and a little of that. Well the mix and match style has reached film-making as well and I don’t mean recently. Here director Sngmoo Lee has mixed equal parts of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the martial arts, the wire work and even the bamboo forest, spaghetti westerns for the setting and the laconic and iconic posturing of the hero, and the Fantasy film Wild Wild West, he then transported the whole thing to a small town called Lode in the American West, and you come away with The Warrior’s Way. We now have reached a new low in cinematic fusion films.
Instead of a Sheriff or a Marshall facing down a ruthless baddie at noon in the center of town, we now have a master of the slice and dice teaming up with the local townsfolk including Geoffrey Rush (below) who fared much better in Elizabeth, Shakespeare in Love, and the Pirates of the Caribbean films, as the town drunk who also possesses can’t miss shooting skills. They face off against a large gang of bad-ass cowboys led by Danny Huston on one side, and hordes and hordes of faceless and nameless ninjas on the other.
Not only that, but this is all done in a CGI style with similar amounts of CGI but with far less panache than we saw when Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 was brought to the screen by Zack Snyder in 2006.
However, this film is just so dull. All the swordplay is stylized to the extent that it never takes more than one swing of the blade to kill off an opponent. Blood spurts and gushes, heads, hands, and feet are severed. But all without a lot of color. Forget about sunlight, blue skies, majestic panoramas, even red blood. All of that is totally and emphatically missing.
It seems as though the entire film was done on a sound stage. The Ninjas? Not once do they arrive in a standard way, they fall from the sky, explode upward from bodies of water, or even out of the desert floor. Once they have arrived, they stand on roofs gathered like so many crows on the wire in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. They also enter a room by crashing through the doors, roofs, or boarded up windows. Aside from killing totally defenseless townsmen, they are useless against the one man that matters.
The story begins with an assassin from a far off land refusing his mission which was to kill off the absolute very last of this place’s enemies. He refused because the last of the enemies was a baby girl. So he leaves with just the clothes on his back, his sword, and the baby girl in tow. Somehow, in what would have to be many, many months later, he arrives in this town called Lode, and he is set up as the town’s laundryman. His fortes are silence and looking at you without ever showing any emotions at all.
Two strange things have occurred so far – the baby hasn’t aged much, and this town looks like the home base of a failed circus or carnival. In fact, some of the townsfolk, still are dressed in clown costumes. There’s a huge ferris wheel, and beyond that the town looks like a partial ghost town. Why? We aren’t told.
So much for the story. Kate Bosworth (above) has the female lead, Lynne. Apparently, the original female lead was Zhang Ziyi, but for reasons unknown to me – that didn’t work out. So Lynne aligns herself with the laconic assassin who is called Yang in the credits, but I don’t think he is called that, or anything else in the film. Her plot purpose? She has to exert revenge on The Colonel. He is played by Danny Huston (below).
Huston is hidden behind a leathery mask, ala Phantom of the Opera, for most of the picture. The thing about this Huston, is that these days, he most often plays a villain. But if you close your eyes and listen to him (I think he has the most spoken lines of any character in the film) you will hear that he speaks with the same tone, manner, and style as his father, John Huston. It is uncanny. Danny Huston is speaking and you will hear Noah Cross played by John Huston in the classic 1974 film directed by Roman Polanski called Chinatown.
Strange once more: If the assassin Yang left after refusing his mission, as in left the country, with the last of the enemies (the baby girl) why was it necessary to hunt them down a year later, in a foreign land, and waste dozen and dozens of ninjas in the attempt?
I think everything in this film was lifted or borrowed from films that came before it. Films that we are quite familiar with. The film isn’t a good story, has no spoken lines that amount to anything (un-quotable to the nth degree), there’s hardly any ‘acting’ in the usual sense, and the film is more of a study in the use of CGI technology instead of film direction as we commonly understand it.
I guess you can say that I didn’t care for this film. I even dozed off a few times during it. There are no characters to root for. None of the combat is realistic, and the film isn’t very visually attractive. All of the sunsets, starry skies, and backdrops are all mattes.
A final thought. Most films open on Friday’s hoping for good reviews to fill the theaters over the opening weekend. Neither the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or even Roger Ebert reviewed this film on Friday the 3rd. The Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB.com) did not show any external reviews at all, and only two user reviews. To me this means the film was not made available for press screenings, a usual sign of problems. Which only amplifies the fact that film was shot in late 2007 and early 2008, but was only released at the end of the 48th week of 2010. Financial problems, maybe? Or lack of any one willing to distribute the film, possibly or even likely.
Towards the end of the film, we get this exchange between Rush as Ron and Yang (Dong-gun Jang):
Ron : I guess that’s the end of them
Yang: No, it is just the beginning
Is a sequel in the works? Heaven forbid. Check out the trailers which are readily available on the web. But don’t bother seeing this one at the theater.
Edit December 5th: Both the NYTimes and the LATimes finally did publish reviews, but neither sent their lead reviewers. At this time Roger Ebert still hasn’t reviewed the film, and the IMDB still does not list any external reviews. The number of User Reviews has increased.