The Warrior's Way is a pop-colored crackerjack of an action-adventure movie, mixing a classic samurai tale with the dusty Old West and baking to preposterous, yet rousing, results. The delightfully self-aware production never hides its inspirations -- part spaghetti Western, part Lone Wolf and Cub, with a little bit of Tod Browning's Freaks thrown in for good measure. But it's all told in an unreal fashion whose hyper style owes a bit to 300, albeit with flourishes of anime. To some, this grab bag of bonkers may be hard to swallow. The movie is pure cheeseball, yet serious enough to garner an R, not only for sensationally over-the-top violence, but the curious adult themes it dishes out. One thing is for sure -- a certain cult audience will eat this up in time. It's just that juicy.
The film follows an Asian samurai (Korean superstar Jang Dong-gun) who has a change of heart after sparing a newborn child of his enemy soon after slaughtering her family. On the run from his master, he heads to America, where he finds a beat-down town that is home to freaks, circus performers, an old drunk (Geoffrey Rush), and a knife-thrower, played by Kate Bosworth. This spunky love interest soon becomes the student, with the wandering warrior passing along his knowledge so that she can enact revenge against a scarred scumbag hoodlum (Danny Huston). As the master tracks the sound of the warrior's sword (literally), the samurai makes one final stand with the town to thwart Huston and his gang before they burn it all down. Soon enough, cowboys and ninjas meet in a duel to the death -- guns vs. katanas.
Yes, it's splendidly silly. Seen with a mindset attuned to kick-butt absurdity, The Warrior's Way is a joy to watch. This is pure pulp, graphically told with an eye toward the fantastic. From the obviously faux backgrounds to even its sugary romance, this isn't a film grounded in excessive seriousness, even if it's played with a straight face. It invites the audience to get lost in its storybook atmosphere, constantly peppering its dozen-plus action scenes throughout to keep the blood pumping. And when the production goes dark, as with much of Danny Huston's scenes, the disturbing content just adds another layer to the film's fairy-tale nature. Additionally, the violence never goes full gore (as it did with the previous year's underwhelming Ninja Assassin), though it still finds time to delight in grisly gags.
Acting-wise, Bosworth manages to turn her exaggerated cowgirl schtick into a rather charming performance. The character is certainly heightened, as is Rush's town lush -- which also shows signs of embarrassment before settling into a neat third-act switch that forgives the character's broadest moments from the beginning. Jang Dong-gun does a fine job as the silent and deadly unnamed warrior; even with the movie's amplified action (thanks to much modern computer wizardry), the star shows off some great moves, all the while striking iconic poses to fit the comic-book style. New York Film School professor Sngmoo Lee impresses here with his first feature. Again, many will balk -- or just not even bother with the film -- yet Lee's wild hybrid of genre storytelling is welcome in a landscape full of joyless blockbusters. Cowboys vs. ninjas? Why not?