Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Western Promise

The Warrior's Way 2010 New Zealand
Directed by Sngmoo Lee
Screening at UK cinemas

Warning! The path of the true swordsmen is filled with many spoilers. Tread with caution

I’d not heard of this movie until the day before I actually ventured out to my local cinema to take a look at it. I think that pretty much says everything about how bad the marketing has been on this one. Some movies just aren’t given the push they need to get them to the audience’s attention. I was lucky enough to see it listed locally and sought out a trailer on the internet... People! It’s about an Asian assassin swordsman who relocates to the Wild West! This is, frankly, a marketing no brainer. All you need to do is mention Shaws Bros style swordplay and The Wild West and pretty much everybody who’s even vaguely interesting in the trappings of the genre of either of these two movie styles will come and see it! Sort yer Marketing out!

Ok... rant aside, Eastern Swordsman movies and Western films have been feeding off each other in a cannibalistic but nurturing way like Ouroborous eating its own tail, almost since the two genres co-existed together. Well, ok, I can’t speak from the early days of cinema because Japanese cinema was really not put onto the international map until Kurosawa’s Rashomon won the Golden Lion (almost by accident) at the Venice Film Festival back in 1951. Certainly, some of Kurosawa’s movies were “adapted” into remakes (some may say that Sergio Leone “absconded” with his remake) as various westerns over the years - Rashomon as The Outrage, Seven Samurai as The Magnificaent Seven and Yojimbo as A Fistful of Dollars - but Kurosawa was the first to admit that he was, in himself, inspired by the movies of John Ford (one of his directing heroes) and certainly his films seem to be seen more in his home country as having a more distinctly Western rather than Eastern flavouring to them.

Of course, it wasn’t long before the two, in their broadest terms, Eastern Martial Arts/Japanese Samurai and Hollywood/Spaghetti Western genres started to cross over in movies such as The Stranger and the Gunfighter and Red Sun. Their have been a fair few of these over the years and it’s about time we had another one I guess. The Warrior’s Way is really no different from any of these in the one key ingredient that a lot of these kinds of films have in abundance... it’s a fun movie.

That being said though... the way the mixed genres blend together in this one are, certainly until you get used to the idea of the fluctuating, deathly morbid tone mixed up with sequences of high comedy, more a little “oil and water” rather than “milk and cornflakes”. That is to say, the uneven kind of tone is something that I think a lot of people will find a little uncomfortable to deal with on this one and perhaps the audience a little less accepting. Not me though. I thrive for unusual combinations of elements in movies so this one was a joy to watch because it was handled quite competently despite the mash-up (in the parlance of our times) of emotional tones.

The movie opens with the lone swordsmen slicing up the “worlds greatest swordsmen” and thus inheriting this title but then refusing to kill the last surviving member of his clan's enemy clan, a small toddler. Instead, he “adopts” said small toddler and “boats it” to settle in a small, almost deserted Wild West town where a circus troupe are building a big wheel to try to attract interest back to the dying town.

And it’s at that point that the film takes it’s main departure from all that preceded it because, although some of the intertitling in the opening sequence has got a humerous bent in it’s use of repitition, the tone is, for the most part, deadly serious. When our hero reaches cowboyland, however, we end up in heavily cliched Western comedy time for a bit as he becomes the local laundryman and a larger than life cowgirl played by Kate Bosworth hams it up in a “funny cowgirl” routine that’s so over the top that you’ve not seen anything like it since Doris Day played Calamity Jane. Once you can get past this clash of sensibilities, however, it’s very easy to kick back and enjoy the on-screen action for what it is... until the revenge motives from “funny cowgirl” are brought in to give the movie a more darker edge in the form of the incomparable Danny Huston playing one of his typically nasty, and he is really nasty here, villains. When his character returns and is marginally defeated but gets away from our heroic townsfolk, he has fully taken on the mantle of this movie’s Eli-Wallach-coming-back-to-terrorise-the-small-Mexican-village-protected-by-the-Seven character. Which he, of course does, but not before our “worlds greatest swordsman” and “funny cowgirl” have the chance to develop a romantic attachment and for our hero to teach Kate Hudsons character how to throw her knives properly and a few “knife someone up good” skills along the way (knifing up someone good skills being a classic requisite of every hate-filled, vengeance hearted cowgirl, of course).

As the final battle commences though, the inevitable happens and our hero’s clan of ninja trained assassins turn up to join in the fight and battle both warring factions in an effort to kill our hero and the toddler surivor of the enemy clan. The film almost finishes as you’d expect it to but instead of settling down with “our vengeance satisfied heroine”, "our hero" leaves the toddler with her (this is not Lone Wolf and Cub territory we're in here by a longshot) and goes to travel the four corners of the globe because he knows his clan will always be after him... which is illustrated in an almost jarring scene at the end of the film where a load of his clan members turn up to destroy him again... an unresolved scene reminiscent of the final scene in the movie adaption of the classic Dead or Alive beat-em-up computer game series (I think I was the only person on te planet to like the stupidity of that movie).

All in all, though, it’s a nice, gentle little film that deserves a lot more audience attention than it’s getting. I’d read some bad word of mouth on the movie via the internet but I thoroughly enjoyed it and although the audience in the cinema with me at the time wasn’t exactly a large one, they seemed to be really lapping it up too (“four stars out of five” screeched an over zealous martial arts enthusiast on leaving the cinema)... if I was personally enamoured of the horrible, horrible star rating system which reviewers sometimes use as a kind of permission not to read their whole review these days... I’d maybe give it a 6 out of 10. Worth a watch if you’re into either of the styles of cinema being portrayed here.


  1. I always love the way you put a film into context, it's what the best film writers do. In terms of Japanese cinema, I love the films of Suzuki, particularly Tokyo Drifter. I'll watch anything Danny Huston's, I think he's a terrific actor, very underrated. Smart work again.

  2. Hi there.

    Oooh, yeah. Love Seijun Suzuki. Got a fair few of his movies. I think my personal favourites of Suzuki are Branded To Kill and Youth Of The Beast.

    Yeah, Danny Huston's pretty good. You seen him in "Ivan's xtc"?

    Again, thanks for the kind words.

  3. This wasn't advertised too well here either, since I didn't know about it until it came out! I missed it in theaters but I'll certainly get it as a rental after your fun review!

  4. Hey there lady! Many thanks for your kind comment!

  5. I'm a Kill Bill type of fan. I should take a look at this movie.

    Break a Lego!

  6. Agreed on all above, and this is a funny (ha-ha funny) bit of writing too! I hadn't heard good things online about this flick but you put the unevenness of it in a different light--its a juxtaposition that can be a little turbulent but also dynamic.

  7. Yeah. Sometimes the juxtaposition of different moods can be really jarring... but as I've got older I roll with the punches a lot easier. Or maybe I'm just being too forgiving.

    Either way... I'll be purchasing the DVD (when it goes in the sales) so I must have got something out of it, I reckon. ;-)