With a main character uninterested in verbal communication, a narrator who uses phrases like “learn stuff” and strange background changes mid-scene, The Warrior’s Way initially comes off like a disorganized mess, but as the film charges ahead with its strange vision, leaving a mangled trail of dead bodies in its wake, the rounds suddenly click into place. Set in the Old West where heroes learned to be ruthless and villains murdered and raped as they saw fit, The Warrior’s Way has no interest in neutering or normalizing its main characters. Men are disarmed, then stabbed, women are ruthlessly shot in the backs like cattle and even puppies fall victim to the blade. It takes a sick mind to let a villain decapitate a puppy, it takes an even sicker mind to let his hero do the same.
The hero, in this case, is Yang (Dong-gun Jang). He’s a member of an elite ninja squad known as the Sad Flutes, so named after the noise the throat makes after it’s slit. They’re at war, and it has taken a toll on their enemies. Down to one last unit of men, Yang single-handedly, and without pause, massacres the last members of their creed, save one baby he doesn’t bother naming. Furious he has spared an enemy, the ninjas turn on Yang, prompting him and the baby to flee to America to visit his old master, a dangerous legend named Smiley. There, he meets an affable, rednecked woman with sadness behind her eyes. Lynne (Kate Bosworth) informs him of Smiley’s recent passing, but the two strike up a largely wordless friendship. She too loved Smiley. He taught her the sword and spoke of a protégé that would one day visit. She rightly suspects he was talking about Yang; so, in order to keep him around, she reopens Smiley’s laundry shop and gives him a job.
The days pass slowly in the desert. The town is populated by circus performers lazily assembling a giant Ferris Wheel. There’s a little person named 8 Ball (Tony Cox), a mean-spirited drunk named Ron (Geoffrey Rush) and a few dozen other random castoffs, clowns and bearded women. They’re suspicious of Yang, but they have bigger problems. Over the hills lives a ruthless Colonel (Danny Huston). Drunk on power, whiskey and unchecked masculinity, he rides into the town every so often to terrorize the clowns and pick out one woman to rape. He does this by lining them up and selecting the one with the nicest teeth. It was one of these visits that left Lynne with the sadness behind her eyes; it’s the next one that the rest of the town dreads. All except Lynne. Under Yang’s watchful eye, she’s improved her already deadly sword skills, and the two have entered into a nervous affair. She’s confident the townsfolk can rise up against the Colonel, but she doesn’t know about the ninjas.
They’ve followed Yang to America, led by their leader, the Saddest Flute (Lung Ti). All this heads to an epic final showdown, pitting cowboy against ninja, clown against cowboy, ninja against clown and a boozed-up and angry Ron against everyone. Hell has no fury like Geoffrey Rush betraying his final wish to his dead wife never to kill again. A man cannot change what he is. Ron is a killer. So too are Yang, the Colonel, the Saddest Flute and at least two dozen other psychopaths hellbent on dragging fellow souls to hell. My God, do they succeed during the final act. Henchmen, main characters, men, women and teenagers alike are shot, slashed and blown up without second thought. By the end, the carousel is littered with blood and severed limbs. It’s a carnival of demented intentions and unencumbered manliness. Buy the ticket, take the sick ride.
Action movies have a way of being disposable. The characters are often dressed from the same mold, creating end products more distinguishable by the lead actors rather than the characters they play. Not The Warrior’s Way. There are no less than four characters entirely specific to this movie. Take Geoffrey Rush’s run at the town drunk Ron. He doesn’t need to get sober to smell the blood on Yang, the same spilled platelets he can’t wash off himself. Or the Colonel, a nameless, teeth-obsessed sociopath too vile, even as a supervillain, for your average action movie. His vicious, perverted tongue never wavers, even as he delivers a disgusting final goodbye.
I loved The Warrior’s Way for the same reason I love any movie that exists without apology. There are no caveats here. Men impose their wills because they can, because they need to in order to survive. Talking problems out isn’t an option when your enemy isn’t the type to change. None of these men are the types to change. Even as the affable circus performers rally around Yang, help him plant a garden and usher him toward his first love, he never wavers in his unrelenting rancor. There are still scores to settle, scores that cry out for blood atonement.
If you’re expecting a cutesy ending to come, you probably haven’t read the previous paragraphs close enough. The Warrior’s Way does have a resolution, but it’s not the Hollywood final act many will be looking for. If you set up rules for your characters to follow, they must then follow them. Most films forget that, discard it when it’s convenient. The Warrior’s Way dies by the sword, and in doing so, becomes a balls-to-the-wall, bloodthirsty classic that should live on long after it exits theaters.
I suspect a lot of people will hate The Warrior’s Way, but this movie wasn’t made for them. It was made for the guys that don’t think the villain deserves the right to explain himself. It was made for the shoot first types, the throwbacks, the badasses and the girls that aren’t interested in men with feelings. It is the anti-Rush Hour, a merciless, cold-blooded dagger of unquestioned death and originality. I loved it, and if you’re a sick bastard like me, you will too.