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The Warrior's Way movie poster


The Warrior's Way

(3 December 2010)  100 min.

Written and Directed by  Sngmoo Lee

"Ninjas. Damn."

 

If you think this movie was shallow . . . 

Dig Deeper
The movie, for all its eastern aspects is also a damn good western. It makes you think of words like "ornery" and "varmint", and delivers all the fun of a shoot-em-up plus a martial arts movie. If you didn't think much of this movie, you didn't think much.
After I saw The Warrior's Way it stayed in the back of my mind, but it wasn't until I tried to write about it that I realized just how effectively its deceptively simple beauty and entertaining story line showcase the concept of yin yang [according to Wikipedia: "normally referred to in the west as yin and yang" (and I think more often misspelled as well: ying and yang)].  If the depth of the parallel with yin yang was not immediately apparent to you either, yet you think you know what yin yang means, dig deeper.

Weed and Feed
[From Wikipedia:] "There is a [mis]perception (especially in the West) that yin and yang correspond to good and evil (not respectively). However, Taoist philosophy generally discounts good/bad distinctions and other dichotomous moral judgments... ." "Yin Yang is used to describe how polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn. Opposites thus exist only in relation to each other."

" ' [In Taoism, the yin yang symbol is called the "Taijitu".] Yin is female and yang is male. They fit together as two parts of a whole.'  ' From a philosophical standpoint practitioners of Zen Yoga see yin-yang as a flow."  "At its heart are the two poles of existence, which are opposite but complementary. The light, white yang moving up blends into the dark, black yin moving down. Yin and yang are dependent opposing forces that flow in a natural cycle, always seeking balance. Though they are opposing, they are not in opposition to one another. As part of the Tao, they are merely two aspects of a single reality. Each contains the seed of the other, which is why we see a black spot of yin in the white yang and vice versa. They do not merely replace each other but actually become each other through the constant flow of the universe.9 ' "

Sewing the Seeds of Love
The characters of "Lynne" (sounds like yin) (Kate Bosworth) and "Yang" (Dong-gun Jang) and what they represent
(like the yin yang symbol, each contain a seed of the other. This relationship is conveyed through a tale that is, fittingly, half love story, half action movie. As seems to be true of many of the Asian movies I have seen, the lovers are cannot be together for some noble purpose that involves a sacrifice.  In this movie, their love is clearly like the flowers Yang plants in the desert sand: Out of place and endangered. The events that happen to them separately before they meet, seem like fate. When they help each other and fall in love, you know it will not last. You want it to, but you can feel the 'flow': As they move into the other's element, you know they will move out again.  The most beautiful thing is why.

Yang
When the movie begins, Yang is more as skilled a swordsman than you can imagine. The beauty of the opening sequence of killings is shocking in its lethality, speed, and beauty. Yang does the killing so viciously and ruthlessly, yet gracefully, you feel guilty for appreciating the violence. Get used to it. There's plenty more to come. Faced with having to kill baby who is the last member of a clan he has wiped out, Yang stops killing in order to save the baby. The baby brings out the seed of yin in Yang who escapes to a far-away place with the baby to start a new non-violent life. He even seals his sword shut.

Yin
In this new place Yang meets Lynne, who helps him to re-start his life and re-open a closed laundry business. The character of Lynne is soft but the seed of yang in her came out when her family was killed. You can see that she will not rest until she gets revenge. She has been learning how to use a weapon so she will be ready when she has the chance to kill the man who killed her family. Yang can see she is not skilled enough yet, and gives her lessons. For all the critics who jumped on Dong-gun Jang's Yang for showing no emotion, you can still tell the character understands Lynne will not be able to let go and move on until her family's killer is dead. He (Yang/yang/violence/the flow) helps her get to that point.

Lynne helps turn Yang from a warrior who saved a baby into a more loving and caring man. The calm of Yang's face is in keeping with his true nature. If you think about it . . . He would have seemed insane if his emotions swung wildly in the other direction, and he was laughing and smiling all the time. Keeping true to his yang nature even as he flows into yin by staying stoic lets you know that this is temporary, and fits perfectly with the theme. In fact, it adds a deep-but-subtle beauty to his transformative experiences. The less emotion he shows, the more deeply you understand he was affected when his actions convey his true feelings. Lynne helps Yang and Yang helps Lynne in return, by teaching her to fight so she can exact her revenge when the times comes, and in doing so, break free from her past.  She brings out the love in him, and he brings out the warrior in her. Each of them achieves balance in their lives through the other, and they fall in love. 

Simple Beauty
This movie reminded me of why I like John Woo movies.  So visually stunning in a stylistic way. Directed by Sngmoo Lee, it really brought home the "big sky country" of the west and created that MAGIC feeling you get from a fairy tale. The creativity in the look of the set is Art (with a capital "A").  The whole town just sitting there in the desert also looks as fragile and misplaced as the flower garden Yang plants. The town is struggling to bloom with its circus and the ferris wheel they are constructing. Like Yang's garden, for a while it seems like it might happen, but also like the Yang's garden, it gets destroyed by violence. The 'staged' look of the town brings to mind the temporary nature of life for us all, and the flow.

Mad Flow
The flow also applies to the other characters like Geoffrey Rush as "Ron". What can I say about Geoffrey Rush?! He always surprises in the best way. From the first time I saw him, in Shine, I was astonished by the depth of emotion his performance brought to me. He might have looked only slightly more weathered in Pirates, but the contrast of his character's well-worn look brings out the innocent beauty of Kate Bosworth and the baby even more. The circus-character cast is as quirky as they are likeable.

Rush's character rises to the occasion when the chips are down. His circus folk, like the flowers Yang planted (so much for 'putting down roots'), get trampled when the bad guys ride through town. The town drunk in pain from losing his wife, Rush plants his violence in the ground literally by burying his guns in a casket. Turns out he's a marksman with a rifle. He's not just a construction worker on the ferris wheel or the town drunk, he's the ring master of the circus, and reassumes his leadership role when the town is threatened by the return of the men who killed Lynne's family.

The creative use of the partially-constructed ferris wheel as a defensive post is worth the ticket price alone. Oh, and yeah . . . they blow shit up! There is plen-ty of action in this movie. If you've ever wanted to see cowboys vs. ninjas, hold on to your hat, because the fighting is really creative.

[Cowboys vs. ninjas may have been done before but I doubt it and I couldn't find it,. The guys at allouttabubblegum.com might know].

[How BAD ASS is this movie poster?! If I was Geoffrey Rush I would hang this in my living room! Hell, I'd laminate it onto my front door! The fact that they made this version shows they appreciate his talents beyond just casting him. It must be a great feeling.]

Darkness Descends
Yang's past finds him again when the bad guys return and he is forced to use the blade he sealed in order to help defend the town and his love. The idea that violence and death are a note or 'song' the blade sings that will be heard by the men searching for Yang is beautifully sad (and also scary that someone could be so 'in tune' to violence that they can hear it).  I occurred to me that the ninja warriors Yang is being hunted by for not finishing the job could be just symbolic.  Even though in this shot the cowboys are looking up at them, and even though Yang kills some of them, when I saw the ending with the ninjas coming out of the snow, I thought all the ninjas could be symbolic. As black-clad warriors descend from the sky, it could be seen as the darkness/violence/yang side in Yang coming back to him.  Like the ninjas, circumstances (flow) make him unable to not kill. Danger follows and finds him, either literally (the master and the ninjas exist), and/or figuratively because that is his true nature returning and in partaking in violence to defend the town, he is fighting the ninjas likes he fights the violence inside him.

Dancing With The Stars
There is a yet another beautiful scene in this movie of Lynne and Yang 'dancing' in the sand under a sky full of stars.  An yet another gorgeous sky shot.  All those stars might have seemed fake to you if you've never been somewhere far from 'civilization' where there is a pitch black night because there are no city lights. As beautifully styled as this movie is, it is the real beauty of nature that serves as a backdrop. That sense of realism grounds the story, bringing it from allegory to fable. The moonlight dancing scene is a perfect example of what I mean by deceptively simple beauty. What you might consider simple, I found staggering. The contrast of the beauty of nature with the ugliness of the men and the town, the contrast of violence and innocence, the suggestion of the temporary nature of life and love as a flower blooming desert: all right in front of you  . . .   and yet, you missed all that, didn't you?

Coming Full Circle
Lynne and Yang (and yin-yang) come full circle in an emotional goodbye, and in the ending you can almost see her soften as she goes back to the innocent beauty she was before the violence took her family. She wants Yang to stay and for them to raise the baby, but in order to keep her and the baby safe, he knows he has to leave and leave the baby with her to raise. This photo speaks volumes about innocence and horror, safety and danger, life and death, and the cycle of yin-yang. 

In another battle mirroring a scene at the beginning of the film, Yang fights his 'master' (and/or himself/his nature) against a magenta sky (representing the bloodshed about as beautifully as such a thing could be imagined). In the beginning there was the whiteness of snow. The 'purity' of his magnificent violent skills.

From when the flowers in the town were trampled, lavender petals float by and the lavender color against these shades of red is a definite wow factor in its beauty!  For someone to not say this movie is at least a visual masterpiece, they must be short-sighted indeed. It succeeded on so many levels.   If a scene like this (hell, the whole movie) didn't impress you, you're seriously spoiled, and jaded.

The use of the ferris wheel they are building as symbolism—circle/cycle of life and death—and as a weapon for defense is genius. The tiniest details are simple yet symbolic: They show a trampled flower with blood on its petals in a pool of blood. Not just any flower: A Black-Eyed Susan: a yellow flower with a black 'eyes'. These details are not accidental and you should not take them for granted. I read one blurb that said it was Moulin Rouge meets blah blah blah. I don't like those comparisons when they discount the films involved (I do like it if its creative and positive.) The fact that so many critics discounted this movie is reversely proportionate as a  compliment to the direction and the 'simple' beauty of the film.  In the end, each of the characters flows back into balance with what they were before.

 

 

 

 

 

________________________________

I wish the movie had stayed in theaters longer.  I would have loved to see it a second time. I found it easy to write about but I am sure there were many great details I missed and would have loved to point out.

For sure I will buy it when it comes out on DVD. It would be an amazing first movie to watch on Blu-Ray! If you were on the hater bandwagon for this movie, you need to seriously reconsider!

 

 



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