The Warrior's Way
(3 December 2010) 100 min.
Written and Directed by Sngmoo Lee
If you think this movie was shallow . . .
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
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,
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.
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.
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
gives her lessons.
For all the critics who jumped on Dong-gun Jang's Yang for showing no emotion, you can
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
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.
This movie reminded me of why I like
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
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.
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
when the town is threatened by the return of the men who killed
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
[Cowboys vs. ninjas may have been done before but I doubt it and
I couldn't find it,. The guys at
[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.]
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
In killing the man who killed her family, Lynn
breaks free of her past and regains her 'self'.
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