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movies / December 8, 2010

warriors-way-fight

There’s a new movie out called The Warrior’s Way, and it’s flopping like a doomed fish. It was so unpublicized I wouldn’t have known it existed, except I was hunting through the movie openings for the week in my dogged way. Never say die, that’s my motto. They crap out Burlesque, 127 Hours, Love and Other Drugs, and the 112th Harry Potter movie, and I still check the new releases as if I had faith in “the entertainment business.”

The latest movie openings included Tangled—that Rapunzel-based cartoon with the bland-looking characters all yelling and mugging—and Black Swan, featuring young Hollywood hotties pretending to be serious ballerinas by staring at each other haughtily and craning their thin necks a lot, plus, I hear, having a lesbian sex scene that is completely justified artistically. Considering these grim choices, naturally The Warrior’s Way stood out—something about ninjas versus gunfighters. It was a little unclear, but even so, it almost sounded like a real movie of the old-school, made “for your viewing pleasure.”

So I went.

And, well—as kindly disposed as I was to the whole project—this is the sort of movie that’s hard to pull off. Stylized multi-genre films look easy when they work, when the Coens or Stephen Chow or Quentin Tarantino’s in the house, but we mustn’t kid ourselves. Nothing dies more horribly onscreen than a failed effort of this kind. The protracted squealing and convulsions are an agony to witness. So the film industry kahunas made sure nobody’d witness it, by holding back the movie for two years, then dumping it into theaters unheralded. What’s a $42 million loss among friends?

Even so, there are a few fine moments in The Warrior’s Way. It starts well, partly because it starts quietly, somewhere in the glorious Asian Martial Arts Land of olden times, with its poetic Kurosawa rainstorms and endless supply of legendary warriors.

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Yang (Korean actor Jang Dong Gun), “The Greatest Swordsman in the History of Mankind,” is achieving his official status by slaying the former Greatest Swordsman in the History of Mankind, who is also the last adult member of an enemy clan. There’s a lone survivor of that clan, an infant girl. The stoic Yang decides not to slaughter her, which makes him a traitor to his own clan of super-killers; they will now relentlessly seek to assassinate him. He escapes with the baby to the new world of the Wild West, where he will face a host of fresh killers along with the old familiar faces.

The action in this opening sequence is beautifully silent, except for a voice-over narrating these events in a nasal, raspy, laconic, philosophical Westerner cadence. This is a pretty clear tribute to the Coen brothers, one of several in the film. That disconcerting frontier tale-telling voice starting up before we know where we are or what we’re looking at is a narrative technique the Coens have deployed in various registers in Blood Simple, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men.

All righty then, South Korean writer-director Sngmoo Lee! You have our attention! Proceed!

But after this promising intro, Lee ruins everything. The tributes and homages come thick and fast in The Warrior’s Way, a million crammed-in references to wuxia and Westerns—it’s evident that Lee’s had a fine education in genre films. But, sadly, he’s also gotten entangled in the worst kind of Euro art film legacy, and he doesn’t know how to value the respective inheritances; probably his NYU film school training messed him up. Lee lets arthouse pomposity and preciousness get the upper hand when he sends his killer, Yang, to the American West and settles him in a desiccated frontier town populated by a troupe of whimsical circus performers.

Not whimsical circus performers! you say. Holy jeez, he doesn’t fuck it up as bad as that!

Oh yes, he does; and there’s no merciful release from them after a scene or two, either. Yang stays in that blasted town with the sad clown and the jolly bearded lady and the fractious dwarf, learning important life lessons about how to have a regular job, and tend a flower garden, and not kill people, for the whole damn film.

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For some reason, art film types love whimsical circus folk and raucous old-time acting troupes who travel in caravans—it’s a whole big thing with them, full of significance. Countless art films of the 1950s and ’60s by people like Jean Renoir and Federico Fellini and Marcel Carne and even that old crab Ingmar Bergman, trot them out, and showcase them lovingly, and treat them as repositories of wisdom, and make them stand for things. In such films, when a wandering character comes across a community of circus folk or raucous actors, he’s sitting pretty, because they’ll take him in and show him a hell of a good time—in a wistful, live-affirming, transitory way, of course. It’s not so hot for the audience watching, though.

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The taming of Yang unfolds very slowly, you understand, the sheet-washing and flower-growing and spiritual rebirth proceeding with exaggerated, airless, set-bound, green-screened formality. Digital artifice and twee cinematography have joined in unholy matrimony here, so that every shot is designed to be gaped at for its sheer fussiness and grandiosity.

It’s only when you’ve despaired of ever seeing another fight scene in your life that the renegade bad guys show up to terrorize the town.

So you resolutely bracket off the circus mess and try to concentrate on the Western shoot-out of renegades vs. townspeople, but that’s ruined too, because the townsperson leading the fight is a young woman named Lynne (Kate Bosworth) who’s a Calamity Jane-type, a hopeless cornball cliché even more painful than whimsical circus folk. She stomps around in men’s clothes saying she reckons she aims ta kill the Colonel (Danny Huston), the sadistic Civil War vet who heads up the renegades and who murdered her family in a previous rampage through town. She’s coached in her fight skills by Yang, of course, and romance threatens to gum up the works even further.

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To put the tin hat on it, Geoffrey Rush is busy hamming it up as the town drunk who, when sober, is actually the fastest gun in the West (yep, ripping off Lee Marvin’s Kid Shaleen character from Cat Ballou).

Meanwhile the hooded swordsmen have amassed somewhere out there, waiting for Yang to start fighting again, as indifferent as we are to this whole frontier circus fiasco. By the time Yang finally gets over his droopy pacifist phase, we forgot why we came into that empty movie theater in the first place, and feel bored and cheated by the carnage. (Though it’s a pleasure to see the circus folk killed. Take that, whimsical acrobat!)

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But what can we do? Some of us still need movies. Though we know the cinematic landscape is so blighted and toxic that everyone who wanders out into it is just asking to suffer, we have to totter out there eventually, hoping for a miracle. Remember, True Grit opens right before Christmas! So there is a Santy Claus!

I’ve decided that the emblematic film of our era may be 127 Hours. That’s the one about the guy played by James Franco who’s out in the middle of nowhere with his arm stuck under a rock till he finally hacks it off in order to survive. Let your mind linger on that for a moment. You in the theater staring at James Franco and a rock. 127 movie-hours tick by, with you wondering how much gore and gristle there’ll be when you finally, finally get to the payoff, and knowing there can’t possibly be enough to make up for what preceded it. That title alone is so dreadful, so indicative of how dull and punishing the whole experience of watching it is going to be, it’s like part of a bizarre challenge industry honchos devised a while back, and forgot to announce, that goes like this:

They make the most repellent movies they can think up, and we see if we can stand to watch any of them!

And the kicker is, nobody wins!

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17 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Zhu Bajie  |  December 8th, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    So is reviewing all these awful movies a karmic punishment or what?

  • 2. wendigo  |  December 8th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Good review about a fillum that I’m still going to see and be disappointed by, for the same reasons the reviewer felt compelled to see it. But something must be mentioned:

    “The STOIC Yang decides not to slaughter her, which makes him a traitor to his own clan of super-killers…”

    This word

    I do not think it means what you think it means

  • 3. MQ  |  December 8th, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Does anyone think an adult woman named “Eileen Jones” went to a ninja movie voluntarily? This is Dolan. Come on Dolan, you need to get back to reading books and lay off with the junk movies! At least get cable TV or something, TV is way more interesting than movies these days.

  • 4. JoJoJo  |  December 9th, 2010 at 10:29 am

    It has ninjas in it and as far as I know isn’t a remake of anything… so I’ll probably throw some money at it. I’m pretty desensitized to poo as long as it isn’t hipster poo.

  • 5. Zhu Bajie  |  December 9th, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Go see the new Zhou Yun-fat movie, “When Bullets Fly,” the trailers look promising.

  • 6. maus  |  December 9th, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    @4: “I’m pretty desensitized to poo as long as it isn’t hipster poo.”

    Yeah, tits and explosions are pretty anti-“hipster”, but is that really something to champion?

  • 7. radii  |  December 9th, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    “repellent”

    that sums it up

    … it is a generational thing, started with Xers, then y has taken it even further

    the ear-cutting scene in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs marks the beginning of the trend

    Gen-X & Y have nothing to say, so the retread older films and stories and mash them up, remix them, or spinkle their elements like spices … but they push it all to the extreme … what new stories does Gen X or Y have to tell?

    None.

    That’s why we’re getting big-screen versions of every crappy 60s TV show that ever existed
    … you can’t ask know-nothings to expound upon nor lend insight into culture they don’t possess

  • 8. whatever  |  December 9th, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    This movie just has the feel of being made by people who only watch movies, as in not books, not plays etc. eh, maybe they play a lot of video games too

  • 9. Jacob  |  December 9th, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    @JoJoJo”It has ninjas in it and as far as I know isn’t a remake of anything… so I’ll probably throw some money at it. I’m pretty desensitized to poo as long as it isn’t hipster poo.”

    That was her whole point about the stupid circus caravan. It *is* hipster shit.

  • 10. Flatulissimo  |  December 10th, 2010 at 6:49 am

    “Gen-X & Y have nothing to say, so the [sic] retread older films and stories and mash them up, remix them, or spinkle [sic] their elements like spices …”

    Yeah, it’s just practice for being handed this country after it’s been demolished by the greatest generation and baby boomers. They better be good at combining whatever is left crumbling and layin’ around, to make something interesting, because they sure as hell won’t have access to anything shiny and new to construct use up and exploit like previous generations have had.

    If the greatest generation (ha ha) and boomers don’t completely destroy civilization on their way out in the next 20 years, than Gen Xer’s will finally get to take over and attempt to rebuild everything those generations fucked up right as they hit middle age. So I cut ’em a little slack for their pop-culture retreads.

  • 11. Flatulissimo  |  December 10th, 2010 at 6:51 am

    ^Oh, but don’t take that last post as a defense of this particular movie, which sounds terrible.

  • 12. Jay  |  December 10th, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Come on, Eileen. Can’t you enjoy anything? I was supposed to see that Russell Crowe film but we got the time wrong so Warrior’s Way was the only thing showing, and, knowing zilch about it except it wasn’t Russell Crowe, I enjoyed it. I didn’t analyze it to death.
    I’m sorry but you guys at the eXile, upon seeing your first sunset, would say it was an homage to this and a reference to that but it just didn’t measure up to some film school theoretical crap about a sunset. Stop seeing movies, for Christ’s sake, and keep your bummers to yourselves. Having zero knowledge or expectations about this film before seeing it, I can say it was better than any film I’ve seen in a theater in a good while. But that’s not good enough for you guys. Go suck the Coen brothers’ dong why don’t you and lay off your keyboard.

  • 13. universitychinanet  |  December 10th, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Just going to watch the movie and also come back and comment again. I’m just so impressed about the reviews. Goings to throw some bucks into that.

  • 14. John Drinkwater  |  December 12th, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    MQ, as a fan of the exile, don’t you realize that Dolan, who was in Iraq for the 2009-2010 academic year, couldn’t have possibly written any of those reviews of new Hollywood movies that were published here by Eileen Jones throughout the year?

  • 15. Mike  |  December 13th, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Eileen forgot to mention the obvious ‘homages’ to Zack Synder, which means that someone responsible for the cinematography discovered that by messing around with the colour saturation controls, you can make everything look like it was dipped in coloured ink, and that every action shot has to filmed with pointless slo-mo effects.

  • 16. VBC Fobbit  |  January 20th, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Those who have never been to Iraq don’t realize that you can get pirate copies of first-run movies at or before their release for a few dollars. So, Dolan might easily have been able to write the review.
    Not to disparage Eileen Jones.
    Just sayin’.

  • 17. Tim  |  February 10th, 2011 at 3:57 am

    I was looking forward to seeing this, oh well, back to 70s kung fu schlock it is then. Such as in “Legendary Weapons of China” where a man rips off his own balls to prove how hard he is, why do you even need to watch the movie after that?


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