The Warrior’s Way (Blu-ray + Digital Copy)
Directed by Sngmoo Lee
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 100 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English ; Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Review Date: June 29, 2011
Most everyone knows that The Magnificent Seven was an Americanized remake of Seven Samurai, but what if you put both of those classics together and added a touch of Sergio Leone to the mix? Well, you’d have something akin to Sngmoo Lee’s The Warrior’s Way, a weird amalgamation of the three that gives us the first samurai spaghetti western. And hopefully, it’ll be the last. It’s not that the idea isn’t novel, but there’s only enough plot in the movie for about ten minutes of screen time, so the film has been stretched to endless extremes with phony, toney slow motion battles and artificially pithy sayings about manhood and worthiness. The characters, the look, the narrative: all seem off, and the movie isn’t much fun, even for those whose bloodlust knows no bounds.
After refusing to kill the last remaining member of his enemy’s family, a recently born baby girl, Yang (Jang Dong-gun) packs up the child and takes her with him and heads to America hoping to put some distance between himself and his own family of samurai killers known as the Sad Flutes. Hoping to make a home with a relative who runs a laundry in Lode, Arizona, he arrives to find the town desolate except for a band of itinerant circus performers who are camped out there. The members of the circus live in fear of the return of the Colonel (Danny Huston) who was driven away some years earlier by the plucky young girl named Lynne (Kate Bosworth in adult mode) who flung hot grease in his face. Now Yang must rouse the troupe to defend itself not only from the Colonel and his huge band of marauders but from the Sad Flutes who will know Yang’s location the instant he resumes his samurai ways in helping to defend the town.
Writer-director Lee is all over the map with his first feature directing job combining these genres and using archly stylized surroundings that fool no one from realizing they’re in a studio with tons of green screen all around. While there are some good conceptions in portraying the mayhem at least early on (blood spray shown as mist rather than as liquid by the gallon), the film has so many looks that it’s almost headache-inducing to watch them flicker by. Flashbacks are toned in blue-green, the early western scenes are gold-hued, but that later changes to more natural coloring before the final onslaught which is almost monochrome. Some of those painted sky vistas look as if they’re straight out of the Technicolored-Duel in the Sun, but these shifts get wearying after a time, and with such a slight story, they serve as pretty meager compensation. Lee tries to work up some romantic chemistry between Yang and Lynne, but they don’t make a very interesting couple. More time might have been wisely spent letting us get to know some of the other eccentric circus performers who must make do with their odd costumes and mannerisms instead of being given flesh and blood people to play. Characterization is also inconsistent, too, as Yang takes some time getting to know and be accepted by the carnival folk, but they eventually become great friends. Why, then, does he wait so long and allow the Colonel to butcher some of them before he leaps into action? It’s not a very heroic gesture from the character clearly meant to be the film’s protagonist. On the plus side, the climactic clash between the three warring factions takes up the film’s last half hour, and there’s one really impressively shot sequence where a gatling gun goes haywire and begins firing without a user in control of it, spinning wildly and decimating anything in its path, all captured kinetically by Lee and his cameraman Kim Woo-hyung.
Jang Dong-gun doesn’t have to worry much about dialogue as his character is one of those speak-little-and-fight-much samurai warriors. Kate Bosworth is the live action version of Toy Story’s Jessie the Cowgirl, at least initially as her rootin’-tootin good time gal is way over the top for this sedate samurai western. Danny Huston’s Colonel is pure evil with no redeeming qualities and is overplayed for all its caricaturized villainy. Geoffrey Rush also gets to overact all over the place as the drunk town tramp, but once he realizes the town’s imminent danger, his changed persona is more appealing and he offers a better, more assured performance. Tony Cox makes the most of his time in the spotlight as the carnival’s ringmaster while Ti Lung makes a very resonant, very grave samurai master as Saddest Flute.
The film has been framed at 2.40:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. With the stylized picture colors and tones all over the place and the heavy use of green screen making backgrounds always a bit soft and unreal, clarity is a mixed bag. During those scenes where the picture is at its most natural, detail is excellent and flesh tones are true. Colors vary from heavily desaturated to distinctly oversaturated, but even at their most lush, there is no bleeding or noise in the hues. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is a stunning achievement from start to finish. The fronts and rears are intelligently used for any number of split surround effects (particularly enjoyable is a fly that buzzes around a room whizzing between different channels in amusing fashion), and the thundering effects of the hoards of bandits make a decidedly great impression. Dialogue is clear and precise, usually placed in the center channel though there is occasional use of directionalized dialogue. Javier Navarrete’s music also resonates throughout with effective use of the classic “The Sailor’s Hornpipe” at opportune moments.
A behind-the-scenes montage filmed during production features brief sound bites from Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth, Tony Cox, and Danny Huston. This EPK featurette runs 2 ½ minutes in 1080p.
There are thirteen deleted scenes which may be viewed individually or in one 12 ¼-minute grouping. They’re in 480i.
The second disc in the set is the digital copy of the movie with enclosed instructions for installation on Mac and PC devices.
2.5/5 (not an average)
The Warrior’s Way has an interesting premise that went wrong in the writing and production end of things. For martial arts fans, the blood sports mostly come late in the game, and for others, there is not enough substance here to make the film really satisfying. It’s a good try, but it’s a near-miss.