The Warrior’s Way is best thought of as a live-action anime; the characters, action, and plot would all be completely at home in something like Samurai Champloo or Gungrave. In that respect it joins other live-action cowboys ‘n’ samurai adventure films such as Sukiyaki Western Django and The Good, the Bad, the Weird, both of which featured cartoonish characters and plots. The Warrior’s Way to takes the animated aesthetic to a higher level than those other two thanks to a near-constant reliance on computer-generated effects, green-screen scenery, and anime-esque action choreography; it’s also strongly reminiscent of the Star Wars prequels, at least as far as the “feel” of the picture goes. There are times, as in a fight lit only by staccato machine gun fire, where the computer-drawn vibe works out beautifully, but for the most part it has the lightweight plastic feel we’ve come to expect from movies with too much CG and not enough of anything else.
The performances are all over the board. Dong-gun Jang as good guy ninja Yang (and I had to imdb that, because I’m pretty sure nobody calls him that in the course of the movie) is impassive to the point of being inert. Geoffrey Rush makes a glorified cameo that’s completely oversold by the trailers, but spends the time he has well. Perennial “oh yeah it’s that guy” actor Danny Huston has a nicely reptilian turn as an impossibly evil army Colonel gone bandit, and Tony Cox continues to prove that you don’t need to be able to act as long as you’re a midget. Special awful credit goes to Kate Bosworth for channeling Toy Story’s Cowgirl Jessie in her portrayal of a knife-flinging rape survivor. It’s as inappropriate and ludicrous as it sounds.
All of this is tangential to the action, really, and it’s not bad. The film starts off strong with a healthy dose of Lone Wolf & Cub-style ninja/baby insanity, but goes largely talky for its second act. Once the training montages begin in earnest and the bandits start getting ready to ride into town, things pick up quite a bit. The last 20 minutes or so are a pretty constant parade of ninja/cowboy throwdowns. The Warrior’s Way is on the cusp of having not quite enough ninja goodness going on – it doesn’t top last year’s ninja champ, Ninja Assassin – but what it has is pretty high quality, especially if you dig the more cartoony vision of, say, Ninja Scroll.