Somewhere, Chow Yun-Fat is grimacing. In comparison to the delirious romanticism and escalating heroic bloodshed of the John Woo Hong Kong era, modern action films too often come across as examples of reverse engineering, shuttling through a series of heavily posed, computer-assisted money shots with little concern for the connective tissue in between. Unlike, say, the dour, too-cool-for-school Ninja Assassin, the new Cowboy vs. Chop-Socky opus The Warrior’s Way has a consistently loopy vision guiding it through its increasingly splattery set pieces. Even at its most CGI-stylized, the film conveys the energy and charm of a kid swooshing his action figures through the air.
Beginning with a heavy lift from the Lone Wolf and Cub series, the film follows a mournful master samurai (Dong-gun Jang) who lays down his sword and flees to America, with the infant daughter of his rival clan in tow. Arriving in a nearly deserted frontier circus, he must decide whether to renounce his vow and defend the residents (including town drunk Geoffrey Rush and Kate Bosworth, amusingly channeling Toy Story’s Jessie) from the gaggle of assassins on his tail.
First-time writer/director Sngmoo Lee’s use of painted backdrops and scenery-morphing emotions often comes across as a slightly less berserk homage to the Thai cult classic Tears of the Black Tiger, while his color-coordinated bad guys and raindrop-splitting swordfights borrow heavily from Zhang Yimou’s Hero. The ease of spotting the influences, though, does little to diminish the ridiculous amount of glee that the filmmaker is clearly having in mashing together genres. Aided by a wonderfully ersatz spaghetti western score, Lee’s cranked-to-11 curio is a shameless, sharply written (secondary villain Danny Huston gets an exit line for the ages), thankfully unironic chunk of fun. And that’s even without factoring in the occasional clown used for target practice.